Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Documenting a Twitter Road Trip

While Twitter has just launched a new ongoing series of user profiles called "Twitter Tales" with a look at a trio of selected tweeters, Singapore based filmmaker Tan Siok Siok is currently putting the finishing touches on a more ambitious chronicle of dozens of Twitter Nation members. Made in partnership with New York City artist and photographer Geo Geller, the documentary Twittamentary will no doubt attract a lot of attention when it sneak peaks for New York City Twitterati in early October.

Among those featured in the 80-minute Twittamentary are a homeless woman who logs on at the public library, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator and a travel journalist turned "twilebrity." Siok Siok and Geller relied entirely on the networking power of Twitter to make the documentary, opening up their affiliated website for story submissions in August 2009, interviewing potential documentary subjects via Skype and then getting caught up in a whirlwind of viral momentum once their trek across the United States began. A recently released teaser trailer rather comically features a man devaluing the significance of Twitter because it cannot wipe a certain body part.

"People were tweeting story suggestions and calling us on our cell phones as we rode into each city," Siok Siok recalls during an interview with FilmStew. "As a result, the film has a mix of the expected stories as well as stories that came totally out of left field. I think the audience will enjoy the element of surprise that comes out of this heady and exhilarating creative process."

A face in the crowd (sourcing)

"It amazes me that I can find all the resources I need to make a film solely on Twitter, from creative help to partners to interviewees," she continues. "What is even more magical is the fact that I remain connected via Twitter to everyone I have filmed, be it the homeless woman in Chicago or a social media maven in New York City. Over time, we have become friends. That hardly ever happens when you work for TV or traditional media."

Twittamentary is Siok Siok's second feature documentary, following the 2008 Summer Olympics-centric examination Boomtown Beijing. Although she has also been a guest lecturer at the Beijing Film Academy and worked extensively on the commercial and non-fiction TV side, Siok Siok says she is now squarely focused on running her various online video ventures.

Still, during her time in China, Siok Siok was able to determine the class of Internet users with Twitter access. These ranks are essentially made up of the country's digital elite - bloggers, entrepreneurs and web developers who know how to leverage proxy tools such as virtual private networks to gain access to the full World Wide Web.

Another unique aspect of Twittamentary is its inherent elasticity. Siok Siok says Geller has continued to film stories to go along with those currently being post-produced and that any additional material deemed worthy will simply be streamed as extra content via the website. It's yet another Exhibit A in support of how radically social media is changing the artistic process.

Collaborator and self-professed "insultant" Geller

"For Twittamentary, I think less conventional resources such as tech meet-ups are going to be just as important as film festivals," observes Siok Siok. "We see Twitter users as our initial audience and hopefully they will become our fans and ambassadors on Twitter as well as in real life. The film will then make a festival debut at the end of 2010, followed by a theatrical release in the USA."

Although Siok Siok has not yet had any contact with Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, she hopes to be able to interview them when Twittamentary hits the road once more. It would be another feather in the now very overloaded cap of this truly revolutionary communication tool.

"I have always said that if this film gets made, it proves that Twitter works!" raves Siok Siok rightly, whose next documentary project is about a Beijing punk rock group competing in London's Global Battle of the Bands. "The generosity I have experienced in the making of this film has truly been astonishing."


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