RTÉ’s Storyland competition was no fairytale: success required a huge amount of hard graft. However, for those willing to put in the effort, Storyland did grant some filmmaker wishes: recognition, networking opportunities and the golden egg – funding. Angela Nagle reports.
In a year of crippling industry cuts to RTÉ some unlikely new Irish stars of the low-budget webisode were born. Readers are more likely to have heard of Hardy Bucks than the scheme that launched them, but RTÉ’s Storyland project produced nine original web shows, ranging from sitcoms to psychological drama to high-concept post-modern thrillers, exposing new talent on an unprecedented scale with virtually no editorial steer. Ditching traditional media promotion for viral marketing strategies and online audience participation, it is, in many ways, part social experiment, part funding scheme. All of this cost RTÉ just €230,000 which, put in perspective, is roughly a third of Pat Kenny’s drastically reduced salary, which also fell prey to the recession-time budget cuts.
RTÉ development executive Eilish Kent came up with the concept, based upon her many years of experience as a commissioner and, in particular, her involvement in sourcing new talent through short film schemes. ‘The idea behind Storyland was to encourage programme makers to start thinking about the audience more. Because of the episodic format and your reliance on the audience to keep you recommissioned, it really forces you to think about your audience. What I often found with commissioning short films was that the projects you’re presented with as a commissioner are what people think you want as opposed to what they want to make. They often don’t think of an audience or, if they do, that audience is a festival audience who are filmmakers. We had been looking at the crossover of people coming through the schemes and into TV and we felt that they weren’t naturally progressing to TV drama. They tended to move into feature films or to emigrate and we wanted to see what we could do to get them to think in terms of TV drama. When we look at the follow-through of short film schemes we’ve done in the past, you could count on two hands the number of writers and directors who’ve made it to TV.’
First launched in October 2008, Mark O’Halloran was chair of the selection panel and helped advertise the scheme by appearing on the website and outlining the competition. From 122 applications, nine projects were commissioned to make one episode each and these went up on the website in March 2009. With all nine projects on the website, the public could vote for their favourite and at the end of every month the shows with the smallest response would be ‘voted off’, leaving the remaining teams to make the next episode with the same €8000 budget per episode.
The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.
For more information on Storyland please visit www.rte.ie/storyland/