We chatted with Michelle Feuerlicht, Executive Producer from Somethin' Else, about Footballers United
So what is Footballers United all about?
Footballers United was one of the landmark digital pieces for the BBC’s World War 1 season and is an experiment in how innovative you can be in digital storytelling. It's aimed at online/mobile audiences and tells the story of a Scottish football team (who were top of the league at the time and destined for greatness) that signed up and headed out to fight in France, as well as the women left behind.
How was it made?
We started with this incredible story of the Heart of Midlothian football team - in 1914 they were top of the Scottish League and when the war started 11 players signed up to join McCrae’s Battalion. They did this to lead the way and encourage men in their local community to do the same.
We then explored the women in the community at the time and found a remarkable football story there - women’s football teams were being formed in munitions factories. We knew these two interlinked narratives formed a really compelling story.
We also knew our audience - they were younger, on mobile, and wouldn’t necessarily consume the story as a linear piece in one go. So we designed a story system made up of parts - you could come into the story at any time, through a piece of archive or a video, or the drama itself and know where you were in the story. It took quite a while to work out the UX, but it ended up being pretty simple and elegant (in my opinion!). We spent about 6 months researching and finding all the archive - some of it never seen before - as material for the drama. It appears during the film at relevant points, so you can choose to read more if you’d like.
We filmed for 4 days in Edinburgh, using a cast of young local talent. We wanted it to feel very modern, real and relevant. Then we put all the video in sequence, and added all the archive assets on top. Finally, we got Gemma Fay involved to do the overall narration - she’s captain of the Scottish women’s team and was a brilliant spokesperson for the piece.
How is it different from a linear documentary?
It was designed from the beginning as an experience you can dip in and out of. If you want you can just watch archive footage of women playing football, but it would still be in context of the larger piece. At any point you could hit play and watch the story from there - or you could bounce around the site just looking at archive or some of the drama. You choose how much you watch and you are never forced to go in any particular direction. So it can be a totally linear experience if you want it to be (you can even turn off the archive alerts).
How does using Facebook enhance the experience?
Footballers United is in many ways about social networks. In the present day they are non-geographic and online, whereas in the past, social networks used to be geographic - the local community, the family, the factory. Back in 1914 the community encouraged recruitment, nowadays ideas are spread through social network communities online.
Facebook also allows us to bring the story closer to home and demonstrate how the events shown in the piece would have affected you and your community. So if you connect to Facebook you get information on how many people in your friendship group would have signed up, what happened to them, and so on. The scale and impact of the war really hits home when you see it in that context.