When partners Brian Weidling and Paul Galichia formed Tumbleweed Entertainment in Venice, CA 18 months ago, the idea was to produce content for the Internet as well as reality TV, screenplays, documentaries for TV and theatrical and commercial production. The mobile platform wasn’t on their minds at all.
“When we got into business, we didn’t even know there would be this world of mobile work,” says Weidling. “It didn’t seem like mobile was ever going to play the role of being a legitimate place to bring original content. We were trying to figure out how to do the Internet, as far as how to do original content, get distribution deals.”
Then came the opportunity to produce “Go Green!” for Discovery Communications. When they took on the 12-episode series, focused on ways that people can “green” their lives,” they thought the series was headed for the Internet. [“Go Green!” debuted on July 10 on V-Cast, Sprint, Amp’d, MobiTV, Helio, SmartVideo and Modeo.]
Aimed at the 18 – 40 demographic, “Go Green” episodes are 3 to 4 minutes in length. The format includes a host, middle school science teacher Andrew Kupersmith, who introduces experts and describes the segments. Episodes include “Under the Hybrid Hood,” about hybrid car technologies; an allergy-free home; water waste prevention; and how to get better gas mileage out of your existing car.
Weidling says that, in preparation, he and Galichia watched a lot of Discovery programming, especially on the Internet. “You do produce differently,” says Weidling. “We knew that uploading files that have a good look to them can be difficult.”
Drawing from his past experience, and from programming he’d already seen on the small screen, Weidling had already come to some conclusions regarding camera movements. “You try to not put too much effort into camera movement,” he says. “If there was a big camera move from left to right, it would pixelate. And it blurs when the image gets compressed down that small.”
Thinking that the content would play on the Internet, Weidling was also concerned about bandwidth issues. “It was more important to get across good solid information substantiated by good research that would come across in a way that would appeal to the audience, and not look schlocky because of bandwidth issues. We tried to keep it simple.”
How do you be creative in those constraints? Weidling says they had footage of the same shot from a variety of different angles, to see what worked best. “We experimented to make sure we got the best look we could get,” he says. “We ended up shooting a lot of wide shots, a lot of tight shots. We tried to make a decision of what we thought looked best, and then got feedback from Discovery. They gave us a good bit of guidance as to what they were seeing, issues they were having.”
Although the episodes would have a host and experts, describing the problem and explaining solutions, Weidling knew one rule of thumb from his production experience. “We needed a lot of B-roll,” he says. “We’d need 180 shots to get that B-roll.” One huge benefit was the ability to make use of Discovery’s rich archives. “We were able to get a lot of beautiful footage, which was very helpful,” he says.
The feedback Tumbleweed got from Discovery often related to the fact that the series would play first on mobile phones. “As the phone component became part of our production, we then decided to try to really take that into account,” says Weidling. That especially included graphics. Graphics that previously filled a single page was broken down into three pages. “Rather than put three facts on one page, we put one fact per page so it’s easier to read,” says Weidling. “We also made sure they were presentable on a mobile screen. We did many many tests, uploading them to a mobile screen size to check.”
“You’ve got to think visually and take into account that it’ll be three times the size of a postage stamp,” he continues. “That plays into not making what’s happening on the screen too busy. And you certainly want to make sure it’s really well lit so each character looks good and doesn’t have a lot of shadow where it gets blurred out. The lighting was very important to the whole process, so that everything looked as it did, so you had confidence you could separate out each object wth your eye.”
Tumbleweed Entertainment used its Canon XL-H1, an HDV camera that Weidling deems “amazing.” “It was really perfect selection for this content,” he says. “We could have gone with a $100,0000 HD camera and that probably would have got us a little bit something more in certain areas. But for the kind of budgets we’re working with for mobile productions, and for the tight timelines, we had to be mobile to get as much done as we can. Mobile budgets aren’t the same as TV, but the productions are worthwhile enough so that if you can figure out how to get as much possible out of each shooting day, and that’s what the Canon XL-H1 helped us do. Economically it put us the ballpark but also gave us a professional look and gloss.”
Lighting was a 2- ton truck lighting package. “It was a huge set of lights, not just a couple of little fill lights,” says Weidling, who says the package was rented from Wooden Nickel in Burbank. “This is probably one of the areas where we spent the most money. It really makes a difference.” The production company had six primary shooting days for the stand-ups, and another 8 days of B-roll production, all around Southern California.
Now that Tumbleweed has a mobile series under its belt, partners Weidling and Galichia are open to more. In the final analysis, how different was it than producing for the Internet? “I don’t think it is that different except taking into consideration your audience,” says Weidling. “The Internet is a little more of the wild, wild west and you can have content that might be a little bit too racy for mobile phones. Whereas on the Internet, people expect it. The mobile phone audience is very tech-savvy but isn’t necessarily into the gross-out factor that the internet can give you.”