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24: Conspiracy – 1st Ever Made For Mobile Series

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Conspiracy looked sensational, with production values of unexpected high quality…  the narrative proved immediately gripping… filled with exciting action.” – Jack Meyers’ Meida Village, Ed Martin

24: Conspiracy was the first live-action drama created to premiere exclusively on mobile phones. A spin-off of the hit show 24, Conspiracy was nominated for an Emmy Award for best Interactive Programming and was a winner of the Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF) Award in 2005.

Released in 24 one-minute increments, the events take place at a CTU in Washington D.C. CTU agent Martin Kail (Dylan Bruce) is called in to investigate when former lover and fellow CTU agent Susan Walker (Beverly Bryant) kills a DOD official.

Can you see me now? Say hello to cell TV
The next big thing in broadcasting is actually quite small – and it’s coming to a cell phone near you

The Orange County Register,
Sunday, May 8, 2005

On the first day of shooting a spinoff of the popular “24” TV show, director Marc Ostrick kept a sense of secrecy on the set, telling the unknown actors very little about the final product. The scripts were just one or two pages per episode. And the whole season was to be shot in seven days.

Three months later, the new series, “24: Conspiracy,” began airing – on a 2-inch screen.

“They knew it wasn’t a normal pilot. The scripts came out, Minute 1, Minute 2, Minute 3,” said Ostrick, who works for Sparkhill, a film production company in Burbank. “We just mentioned that this was a pilot and left it very ambiguous. The actors were just so happy to work.”

A new 60-second episode drops every Monday, but only to subscribers of Verizon Wireless V Cast service, which debuted in January for $15 a month.

As cell-phone companies search for new features to make more money from customers, TV has been tapped as the next cell-phone craze. Sprint TV launched last August, while Cingular’s version, using MobiTV, debuted in January. Today’s video may look more like a fast-moving slideshow on a subpar TV. But technology is improving, and cell-phone companies and their entertainment counterparts are lining up to get a piece of the not-quite live action.

“The technology is so new, it’s like TV in 1948,” said Ostrick, hired by 20th Century Fox Television based on his documentary work included in the “24” DVD.

“I think people are going to want this more than streaming Web movies. Every body has a cell phone. It’s a technology that is right in front of you.”

The companies that want this and are offering content include ABC, NBC, CNN, Discovery, ESPN, Cartoon Network, E!, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and VH1.

And, of course, there’s Fox. Big time.

In addition to “24: Conspiracy,” which mimics the TV show but with unknown actors and different plots, Fox created mobisodes – or mobile episodes – from a soap-opera TV pilot and outtakes from “The Simple Life.” Live Fox News is available to Sprint TV users.

“We thought of V Cast as a way to reach more viewers for ’24’ and ‘The Simple Life,’ ” said Lucy Hood, senior vice president of content and marketing for News Corp. who oversees Fox Wireless Entertainment Group.

“The idea of creating episodes for cell phones seemed farfetched to some, but what we found was that because it’s such a personal experience – you hold the cell phone 1 foot from your face and it’s a 1-minute episode – you could get a lot of story into it,” she said.

Mike Wellins, an independent animator whose short cartoons can be seen on the CellToons channel on Sprint, said filmmakers make films for an audience.

“As a filmmaker, we sing for our supper. Anywhere we can get someone to watch and want to see me, we go for it,” said the Portland, Ore., animator and author of “Storytelling Through Animation.”

Wellins left it to Tustin’s In-Fusio to shrink his cartoons to cell-phone size. Ostrick is pleased with the result, even though the video is more pixelated and the action jerky. He now keeps the 2-inch screen in mind when he works on new films.

“The trick would be to move things less. A motion blur would connect those actions,” he said. “Now it seems that it was a no-brainer. I feel really good to be in on the ground floor.”

A growing industry
Cell TV is just starting out, but one market-research firm already projects that this year, the industry will approach 3.2 million subscribers and $269 million in U.S. revenue, which includes monthly subscription fees plus charges from sending video e-mails. By 2009, revenue is projected to jump to $4.5 billion and subscribers to 31 million, according to In-Stat, a market- research firm.

“The cellular network is a two-way medium. It’s a more interactive network that viewers haven’t experienced, with polling and voting right on the phone. If you’re watching ‘American Idol’ (today) you still have to grab your cell phone to vote,” said Allen Nogee, principal analyst with In-Stat.

Nogee predicts we will see more cell-sized shows because the movie studios and TV networks are interested.

“No one wants to be left out of any medium. Regular viewership of TV has been going down, while other areas like the Internet has been going up,” Nogee said.

But producers may have an uphill battle persuading consumers to trade their big screens for the small screen. A recent In-Stat survey asked people if they were interested in TV on a cell phone.

“There was not a whole lot of interest, actually,” Nogee said. “It’s harder to view things on a cell phone. You have to hold it in your hand for so long.”

One thing is certain, said Hood, who oversees the wireless content for Fox: “Let’s just say that it is much, much faster and much, much less expensive to create mobisodes versus TV,” she said.

Behind the scenes at ’24: Conspiracy’

After Fox green-lighted the project in October, Sparkhill rushed to produce 24 one-minute mobisodes of “24: Conspiracy.”

A script was written, actors hired and a crew assembled. They filmed on a sound stage in the Valley, and most of the time it appeared to be just another TV pilot in the works.

“The only difference being was we used very small digital cameras,” said Eric Young, executive producer and director and founder of Sparkhill.

Ostrick, co- director, would shrink the new footage on the editing system so they could see instantly whether the shot worked.

The original TV show has a lot of dark scenes. For the cell phone, which has limited colors and can’t offer the range of shadows of TV, the crew had to light up actors’ faces to avoid dark shots. They kept action scenes and movement to a minimum because a cell phone can’t process moving images as quickly as TV. And sometimes, they punched up special effects so they would be noticeable on the small screen.

“Because the image is really tiny, some of the effects had to look bigger, like the bullet hits on the walls. We were afraid it wouldn’t read on a cell phone, so we made them larger,” Young said.

Young believes that someday, cell- phone TV will be interactive and offer viewers an experience not available on a regular TV. A character, for example, could ask the viewer to call his cell- phone number during a mobisode.

Until then, Young and Ostrick would love to do this again, even if it means cutting the closing credits to fit in a few extra seconds of story.

“Just taking five to 10 seconds out of our run time is a good percentage of the piece. These had to be pretty exact,” Ostrick said, estimating that each episode runs 55 seconds, plus five seconds to identify the program and episode.

“What was the biggest surprise personally was how much story you could pack into a minute,” Young said. “I thought it was pretty fabulous.”

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