In the past, we’ve covered the thoughts of VWTV producers on their particular shows; this week, we wanted to give voice to three crew members who have worked with the producers to create these shows, week in and week out: Thinkerer Melville, Starshine Halasy, and Emily Hifeng.
Thinkerer Melville & Lauren Live
Thinkerer Melville has worked with Lauren Weyland on Lauren Live, a live performance stand-up comedy show that is ongoing for Treet TV. He started getting into virtual worlds because of “the potential for making original video content.” His main activities have been to focus on financial backing and promotion of the series. His roles on the series are where his greatest struggles have been as he has sought to bring people, both performers and audiences, into the show. Naturally, then, he said he has learned that “promotion is vital” because of working on this series.
When I asked him to compare Lauren Live with other productions in Second Life: “This is an ongoing, live presentation in Second Life, done for entertainment in Second Life. Parts of the live presentation are captured on video.” He compared the program to traditional television by saying: “Virtual worlds offer huge reduction in costs. This reduction is a game changer. And traditional television makes less use of cartoon representation.” Thus, his experience working with Lauren Live has helped him to understand the strengths of virtual world television and the weaknesses of traditional television.
And when looking at the future, he thinks virtual world television has one because of the strengths of producing in a virtual world. “In my judgment, yes. They have very low cost and mainly depend on good writing. Radio presented effective comedy for years before TV arrived.” Lauren Live is a comedy show, using animations to give form to the comedy being spoken. In olden days, we got comedy into our homes through the radio, where there was only voice. For Thinkerer, VWTV has a future in this instance because it gives body — an animated, cost-effective body — to that voice. And as long as the voice is funny, that is what matters.
Starshine Halasy & The Stream Scene
Starshine Halasy has worked for The Stream Scene, a bi-weekly Second Life music TV show. According to her, she has worn many hats with the series: “My tasks were diverse during the several seasons. I was the assistant of the producer as well as still photographer, and reporter, co-host, location manager, music machinima selector, and more…” She started going into virtual worlds simply out of curiosity, and she started on the series because the producer, Twstd Ruggles, saw her music video work on YouTube and wanted to broadcast it on her show. “I started as a guest in her show, and we continued working together. We started The Stream Scene together. We have worked together for more than four years, now.” Perhaps because of her music video experience, she considers the series to be machinima. “All filmed inworld in Second Life, with only original music, live show recordings, interviews with Second Life musicians, reviews of Second Life performances and a selection of music machinima.”
Starshine said she didn’t really struggle with anything other than the basic tasks to complete the show, from dealing with other team members to preparing footage to broadcast — all of which was helped by having a good production team to work with. “We didn’t always have a strong team, but of course a strong team makes a big difference and helps a lot in producing a good show. Actually that is the most important to make it work. It is a lot of work to make a show like this.” As for learning, much of it seemed to come from how she worked with others to develop her professional identity. “I learned a lot, especially professional attitude, on how to cooperate to make a production like this. I learned to be very practical and pro-active. To follow up and get things done. Also I got more practical and handy at writing reviews as a reporter, and writing scripts. And I learned about presenting, even though I still got a lot more to learn.”
Perhaps because she sees virtual world television as machinima, with all the potential that comes from that artistic form, she wishes virtual world television did more to be different from traditional television. “Sometimes I regret that virtual television often tries to copy traditional television. It is funny on one side, but on the other side, I think there’s more room for experiment and I would love to see virtual worlds TV to be more creative than just trying to copy. That actually is something I would like to see happen more in virtual worlds anyway. Why copy real life in Second Life whilst there aren’t any earthly limitations like in real life.”
Like Thinkerer, she sees a future for virtual world television, because of the talent and interest in the virtual world. “Many virtual worlds TV productions are very well made professional productions made by professional production teams. There’s an amazing force of talent playing with these techniques and skills in virtual worlds. Although I am not sure whether the audience to virtual worlds TV would be a virtual life audience only or also be able to reach an audience out of their virtual group.” While there are users of Second Life who are currently interested enough to produce and watch VWTV, she is concerned about how well the productions will transcend the virtual/real boundary — can television in a virtual world ever be considered as real as traditional television? The answer to this question will determine the future of VWTV.
Emily Hifeng & Pop Vox
Emily Hifeng worked for Claus Uriza on Pop Vox, another live-performance music interview and performance show. And like Starshine, she got into the virtual world because of simple curiosity: “Curiosity about the hype at the time I joined, and curiosity about the creativity of people inworld as it was described in the media.”
Her story of starting with the series is similar to Thinkerer’s and Starshine’s: they all became connected to the series because of the producer. In Emily’s case, she became the series’ set designer by meeting Claus and then taking a more active role in Pop Art Lab: “…first designing some elements, then the whole parcel set-up, then the whole sim when Claus settled down in his own sim. So naturally, when he started the Pop Vox series, I was involved as a primary designer for the TV studio. Additionally, I helped a little in the organization. So, in a few words, what led me to work for the series is the friendship with Claus, the fact that he appreciates my designs, and the opportunity to be a designer in a great sim and a great show.”
Emily differs from Starshine in seeing the series Pop Vox more as television than machinima: “The big thrill about Pop Vox was the live broadcasting, therefore this closer to television than machinima. Well, to me, it is to live TV what machinima is to cinema — machinima is more related to movies, in my mind.” Her opinion may have been informed by how much she felt that her time working on the series felt like getting experience producing traditional television. “It was like a sneak peak into real life TV shows production. Exciting.” In real life, she suffers from a handicap that could preclude her from getting involve in real-life production. In Second Life, while it is a hindrance, it didn’t prevent her from being the show’s set designer. “Being deaf, I could not participate in the Skype or voice chat discussions during the production, as most of the coordination, and, obviously, the interview of the artists, were made through voice.”
She also learned, and felt hindered by, other people in Second Life — especially for how conventional they wanted to be in the production they wanted to create. A perception and critique she shares with Starshine. “Also, I learnt how people could be conventional. I had hard time getting real crazy in the designs, I had to keep it acceptable for all people involved. Sometimes, people just want to see in Second Life what they know in real life. So I had to learn how to keep real life elements to make people comfortable inside a Second Life kind of design. The lack of craziness of people occasionally kept the design below what it could really have been.” This was a hindrance Claus expressed in his own, separate interview.
While she may have felt held back by the need to be somewhat conventional, she still saw Pop Vox as being different because it tried to push those boundaries. “We also tried to be a little crazier than other TV shows, not mimicking the actual shows, but trying to set standards on how it could be on Second Life.” The ability to be unconventional even separated the series from traditional television. ‘The infinite possibilities in set design, avatar design, screenplay — no laws of physics! — makes Second Life TV shows unique. Also, the moderate production costs make it accessible to enthusiast people rather than to professionals.”
And, like the other crew members, she also sees a future for virtual world television, as long as it embraces this ability to be unconventional. “If people use it to express their craziness — this is a concept I seem to like! — or if they use Second Life to do things that they cannot do in the real world, then virtual world TVs can be a great thing, unique. If people use it to make it look as close as real world TV as they can, then there is no need.” In a way, the producers have already embraced the unconventional, by using a three-dimensional digital environment and social medium to produce what is equitable to television; it may be, as Emily discusses, that the producers need to embrace the abilities of their producing medium and produce television that does not look like the television that comes over-the-air, via cable, or over the Internet from the traditional television producers.