In the second week of August, the results of a rather unique talent hunt show will be uploaded on to social networking site ibibo
Through June and July, the site announced open online auditions for an Internet-only sitcom it was producing—24 episodes of 5 minutes each—mentored by Raman Kumar and Khalid Hasmi of Zee Networks, both veterans of the Indian soap opera trade. The contest asked people to submit videos of themselves acting any routine of their choice in front of the camera, or short films they had created.
In less than a month, the contest received 973 entries across three categories—actors, scriptwriters and directors. Around 300,000 people voted on the entries to create a shortlist for the judges’ consideration. The winners were then flown to Mumbai for the show’s production, which Kumar calls a “suspense thriller”. All the significant members of the show’s creation were “crowdsourced” from the Internet, and very few had formal training in acting or production.
The average quality of submissions for an endeavour such as this is usually perceived to be mediocre, but soliciting open submissions from the Internet has proven to be remarkably fertile for specific creative projects. “We were really surprised,” says Kumar of the submissions ibibo received. “It was so good—on a par with any real world audition we conduct.”
This is not a statistical aberration. Video-hosting site YouTube, in particular, has a rich history of collaborative musical projects that have succeeded through just amateur submissions over the Internet. In December 2008, YouTube, in association with the London Symhony Orchestra, launched the YouTube Symphony Orchestra —an open orchestra meant to be comprised of YouTube members from around the world. Those wishing to audition were given a piece of music to perform, which they then uploaded as YouTube videos. Judges and votes were then brought in to shortlist submissions, which included an eclectic spread of instruments and styles. The winners, comprising people from 30 countries, performed a live concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall, playing selections from Mozart, Brahms, Bach and minimalist composer John Cage. The Telegraph, which called the event a combination of “technical wizardry, human ideals and ambition”, said “the musicians fired through a varied and challenging programme as if they had been playing together for years”.
In March, composer Eric Whitacre brought together a similar virtual ensemble of 250 amateur singers to form a choir, spliced together from videos of the members singing particular parts in front of a camera. The piece, called Lux AurumQue , was described in a review as a “musical experience that works better than anyone might have expected”. Whitacre was inspired by a YouTube video of a singer performing the soprano part to a choral work he’d written in 2000. Wanting to take this idea to the next level, he created a work specifically for a virtual choir to perform, uploaded a “conducting track” video that people could sing along to, and made the sheet music freely available on the Internet.
This is not to say that online collaboration is the future of all creative endeavours (there have been notable failures with this particular model), but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the “social” platforms currently available on the Web are incredibly efficient at quickly, and inexpensively, bringing together people for a specific, often creative, cause. While the quality of ibibo’s final serial remains to be seen, the ease with which the roles and openings were eagerly populated by amateur actors and directors from around the country is a promising sign.
But while it’s possible for people who’ve never met in real life to collaborate for a work of creative genius, we have to remember that this includes the entire breadth of possibility, from Twitter rallying information during the confusion following a terrorist strike, or a platform such as Ushahidi, which collects and visualizes crisis information, to amusing videos of cats set to obscure pop songs.
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