e can all appreciate the importance of film as a medium. It can become a means to immerse yourself in heavy subject matter and artistry that stays with you long after you’ve left the theater or simply as a means to escape reality for a couple of hours. Television has the same appeal but with the added advantage of the ability to spread its story arc over multiple episodes and hopefully seasons. But with the advent of the internet and today’s portable media players, we see the emergence of a third screen — and therefore the emergence of new possibilities.
Beyond the myriad of original content available on YouTube and other sites like the Independent Movie Channel, I first became seriously interested in the concept of the Third Screen when I discovered Green Porno. Funded by Robert Redford and the Sundance Channel, Green Porno was conceived by long time David Lynch collaborator Isabella Rossellini who writes, directs and stars in the series. These 1 to 4 minute short films are based around the reproductive habits of various insects and more recently, marine animals — capitalizing on the various kinks and quirks of each species’ sexual life. Its subject matter is fascinating enough, however, the real substance comes from Rossellini’s comedic performance and passion for the material. Where else are you ever going to see a former Lancome model shit on her own head (performing as a snail of course)?
Originally filmed and art directed with the Internet and portable media players in mind, the series has been so well received it was recently adapted into a book — a curious move that must have had the marketers in the publishing industry scratching their heads. After all, finding an audience for hardcore S&M, hermaphrodite orgies and 7-foot penises would probably be a little easier if your protagonists were humans rather than earthworms, cuttlefish and dragonflies. Green Porno remains my favorite example of cutting edge Third Screen media.
As subsequent searches for original web content as exciting as Green Porno failed, I soon settled for original material ranging from the hilarious lo-fi antics of Barley Political’s Auto-Tune the News to the HD quality of Bitter Lawyer’s Living the Dream and David W. Cooper’s A Man of Principals. But it wasn’t until I discovered the wonderful 2/8 Life that my interest in the Third Screen’s potential returned.
Unlike the celebrated Green Porno, 2/8 Life seems to have slipped under the radar of discerning viewers and critics. That could be due to the fact that the show itself is an obvious parody of the successful web series Quarterlife. Quarterlife, created for the web by the people behind Thirtysomething, was in fact almost a major Third Screen success story being picked up by NBC in an attempt to try it as a full-blown T.V. series. Dismal ratings found the show dropped after one airing, although personally I don’t consider 31 million viewers to be dismal. Basically, Quarterlife is a twentysomething version Thirtysomething. Its merits have been debated elsewhere, but I have to say its parody is so much more worthy of discussion.
2/8 Life seems to have no idea how special it is. Beyond the subject matter itself, there is a quality to the writing and production that can only be described as full of heart. How else could you fall for such vapid characters? Whereas Quarterlife attempted to describe Generation Y, it’s actually 2/8 Life’s parody that reveals the truly valuable insight into modern youth culture through its disconnected characters and their selfish pursuits; a wannabe actress states, “They say you have to sleep with the right people to make it but they never tell you who the right people are, so I’m just sleeping with everybody.” Another character blogging about ’saving the world’ becomes annoyed when interrupted by a Greenpeace canvasser. There’s also a sparse B-line story about a displaced Rwanda survivor that is solid gold and his story arc over the two seasons is just hilarious. You can watch the entire series on Hulu and become a fan on facebook.
What the above mentioned shows have in common is they are all filling niche markets. This is where I see the biggest advantage to the Third Screen and one that again seems to be slipping by the majority of producers and studios — it can fill markets that have never survived on television and even struggle on cable in many cases. Living the dream and its story of a young lawyer could easily be adapted for a television audience, but only by rewriting it so many times in an effort to reach a wider audience that it would lose its point, and definitely its charm. The Guild, a web series about a group of devoted gamers feels right at home on the web. Although it suffers slightly from a lack of solid acting, its theme alone has proven sustainable as the show moves into its third season. Another strong contender in a gamer-themed world is Roleplayed. I’m very impressed with the sound design and editing of this new series. Simple yet effective.
The future looks healthy for the Third Screen. It’s still a relatively young medium with many unexplored possibilities. So many, the entertainment industry doesn’t quite know whether to join it or buy it. College Humor is teaming up with MTV to bring their web shows to cable while NBC launches a Heroes spin-off as a web series. And then there’s Hulu who seems to think we want to see yet another teen reality show (sponsored by Ford and Pepsi). We don’t. We want to see filmmakers take full advantage of the potential of the the medium and utilize all the blank space left behind by Hollywood and television. And thankfully people are.