On March 2nd, a mysterious Second Life machinima appeared on YouTube, purporting to be a documentary by a heretofore unknown Resident named Molotov Alva (now viewable here) describing his disappearance from the material world into SL. At the time, I called it "evocative, vivid, and beautifully produced", but knew little else about its origins. Later I learned that Alva was the SL avatar of Douglas Gayeton, an accomplished multimedia director. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one impressed, because Gayeton just let me in on a truly gigantic announcement:
"HBO purchased the North American television rights," Gayeton e-mails me. "They have decided to first submit it for an Oscar in the Animated Short Subject category." It'll soon be screened in a Los Angeles theater to meet the Academy's qualifications for nomination. "They are then hoping to premiere it at Sundance. It will probably screen next spring on HBO." (Originally called "My Second Life", it'll probably air under a new name, likely something reminiscent of a 19th century novel title.) [Update, 4:00pm: According to Adam Reuters, the deal was for "a six-figure sum."]
This is the rare Second Life news that is worthy of full superlatives: it's the highest profile example of an SL-to-RL rights deal so far, leveraging Linden Lab's policy in which Residents retain the underlying intellectual property rights to content they create in-world. (It far eclipses Tringo's SL-to-Nintendo Gameboy deal of a couple years ago.) It's the first SL machinima to sell to a major TV broadcaster. (Longtime SL auteur Pierce Portocarrero recently landed a well-deserved development deal with NBC on the strength of his Second Life machinima like this one, but to my knowledge, the network didn't purchase the broadcast rights to Pierce's existing works.) It's also the first time SL-based content has landed someone a Hollywood agent, for in the acquisition process, Gayeton secured representation with UTA, among the industry's "big five" firms, which also counts Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford, and the Coen Brothers as clients. I suspect some non-Second Life superlatives are in order too, though I'm less sure here: it's probably the biggest Hollywood purchase of a video which first aired on YouTube, and the most prominent distribution deal for a machinima project made in any 3D platform.
Because of all this and Gayeton's relations in the film industry (more on those later), the HBO deal might very well be a disruptive one, transforming SL machinima into an accepted tool for established filmmakers. And in the process, one hopes, make stars out of artists like Lainy Voom, Robbie Dingo, and China Tracy, Residents who have already mastered the form.
How did this all come about? As it turns out, mostly by accident. Gayeton explains after the break.
Well-versed in tech culture (working with William Gibson, he created a multimedia version of Johnny Mnemonic, the first interactive CD ROM), Gayeton learned about Second Life last year, and proposed the project for Submarine.
"[It's] a Dutch company run by Bruno Felix and Femke Wolting," Gayeton explains. "The idea was to make an episodic documentary that could be distributed via the web and TV." It was meant to debut on an experimental web/television portal in Europe, but a Submarine staffer inadvertently uploaded the first episode to YouTube. Before they could take it down, I spotted and blogged about it on March 2nd, Net doyenne Xeni Jardin Boing Boinged it on March 5, and very quickly, several hundred thousand people had seen it. "It went to number one on that site in a matter of days," says Gayeton, "then attracted the attention of a number of US networks."
In the subsequent bidding war, the United Talent Agency came calling (the Beverly Hills firm has been snooping for Net-based video for nearly a year now.) That then led to one of the most implausible noobs in SL's history: UTA power agent Jeremy Zimmer created a Second Life account to explore the world with his family. In the end, Gayeton goes on, "Sheila Nevins and Sara Bernstein at HBO clearly had the most far reaching vision for the project so I decided to move forward with them."
As for the machinima itself, Gayeton insists it's a documentary, tracking his own personal, six month exploration of Second Life in all its strange and wonderful nuances, as guided by "hobo king" Orhalla Zander, creator of the famed Infohub in Calleta. "He taught me everything about Second Life." To create it, Gayeton worked with just one other collaborator in the same room, adding most of the post-production elements (including the sound design) himself in his editing suite. In-world, he assembled a team of top Resident talent: Orhalla gets a co-credit as Art Director, Chip Midnight and Fia Hartunian created the custom avatars, Heather Shortbread the character animation, Yadni Monde on model building, DC Spensley and Dancoyote Antonelli the eerie dendrites featured in the first episode. (Full credits at the Molotov Alva site, or at the end of the YouTube copy, though HBO may have that version taken offline soon.)
In the 90s, Douglas Gayeton was a member of Propaganda Films, a legendary production company whose director roster has included Alex Dark City Proyas, David Fight Club Fincher, and Spike Being John Malkovich Jonze, among many others. Gayeton says he's shown fellow Propoganda alumni his Second Life machinima, and explained the development process behind it. Uniformly, they're impressed not only with his movie, but with SL as a creation and pre-visualization tool, describing it as "like driving race car while building asphalt in front of you", since "you have the experience of creating in real time". (Machinima as Dogme platform?)
This is why I think other major filmmakers will soon be playing in Second Life-- if they aren't quietly doing so already. Gayeton recommends they work with an experienced Resident to guide them, acting as their combination location scout/production designer/casting director.
So Molotov Alva's pioneer exploration into SL may encourage Hollywood to follow. His machinima, says Gayeton, seems to be "something that helps them wrap their head around Second Life and understand it."
Update, 9:12pm: The write-up in The Trades (i.e. Variety.)
Update, 9/5: Changed the video link, as the YouTube version has been removed from public viewing. (Thanks for the headzup, Shava!)
HBO logo used for illustrative purposes only, no infringement is intended. Possibly unnecessary disclosure: Gayeton is now creative director with metaverse developer Millions of Us, a sponsoring partner of this blog, but "My Second Life" was created and featured on New World Notes months before that relationship existed.