Commissioning Executive Anna Higgs on creating a prequel to Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank via the most natural storytelling medium possible for the character involved: Twitter
The @JonBurroughs83 Twitter handle is a digital prequel to Frank. It’s the main account in a really exciting storytelling project that we’ve developed over the last year. We’ve taken Jon, who is the lead character in Frank, and expanded his life out beyond the film and started his journey before the events of the film itself. We didn’t want to create a new platform or an app, but instead wanted to really think about the natural digital spaces that Jon – as a young man in the UK who wants to connect with people and start making his own music – would live. Taking our lead from the film, he would obviously be engaged with Twitter and YouTube, but also with popular platforms like Spotify, This Is My Jam and Instagram, where people can visually chart their lives. We started to build up a set of platforms where his work and his life could live, and over the last six months we’ve been slowly building that universe.
So Jon has been tweeting about his mundane life in a place he nicknames Humdrum-on-Sea, from the amazingly boring office that he works in and how he tries to liven up his white bread lunch sandwiches by making album covers out of skittles, all the way through to his first amazing light-bulb moment when he spent a weekend in Camden and heard the Belle and Sebastian song ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’, which switched something on for him and made him feel like he could have a go at being a musician himself and start to explore that world. Yesterday he dropped his first track on the internet and people are responding at the moment, so it’s really interesting to see him start to feel that there are people out there that can listen, but maybe some of those people aren’t listening and he’s starting to get a bit desperate.
His activity online is really agile, but it’s built on a really crafted story arc with a precise journey that will mesh with the film, and I hope this new approach to storytelling will have two outcomes. One is that if you connect with him before the film that you can come to the film with a richer sense of who the character is and where he’s come from, so you can perhaps dive into Lenny’s film in a deeper way from the outset. Alternatively, if you don’t engage in advance but see his handle appear during the film, you can come out of the cinema and then really fall down the rabbit hole and go into six or more months of Jon’s back-story of tweets, pictures, song choices and feel what he’s been facing with people misunderstanding him.
Ever since I joined Film4 when Frank was in development, it felt like a film that really stood out. The extraordinary storytellers behind it – Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan and Lenny Abrahamson – had done an amazing amount of work in terms of the research behind the characters and their world. Added to that as a real slam-dunk no-brainer was the fact that the character of Jon, the lead in the film, uses Twitter and YouTube and blogging within the film as part of his communication with the world while he’s making an album with Frank (Michael Fassbender) and the Soronprfbs (Frank’s unpronounceable band), so it just felt like a perfect fit: Jon is a native to Twitter. He had to have a life there in our real world.
For me, the key was making sure that the filmmakers felt really empowered by exploring this sort of digital storytelling, that they felt like that they could lead a process where we expanded out the world of the film, because bringing a character out of crafted, honed film full of subtext and nuance is a really delicate thing to do. We had to ensure that the digital creative worked with the character and with the story, and that was possible with the amazing research that Jon and Lenny and Peter had done. Creative strategist Hugh Garry (@huey) felt like the obvious candidate to me, not only because he’s a really well-established and incredibly expert digital storyteller, but also because he’s got a really brilliant combination of music and film experience. He worked at Radio1 and 6Music on their digital side for a very long time and had been doing a lot of filmed content with the likes of Shut Up And Play the Hits, so he had the perfect combination of experience.
I can’t wait to see Jon’s world on social networks grow and hope the audience out there really enjoy his journey!