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At POV Hackathon 8, Murmur partnered with director Alix Lambert and Producer Scott Macaulay, to prototype the project Hello, Fat Larry.
A “fast storytelling” app for mobile devices Hello, Fat Larry is a serialized true-crime narrative about murdered ’70s filmmaker Jon Pownall.
Users navigate the stories of witnesses and suspects using intuitive swipe gestures. The app creates a data visualization of aggregated responses, prompting online fan communities to continue the investigation.
When the Internet gets hold of a mystery, or a good whodunnit, many people develop theories, search the web for evidence to support those theories, and collaborate online to validate those theories. This leads to a dynamic and fun collaborative culture.
The mobile web app for Hello, Fat Larry leverages Tinder-like mechanics to capture this naturally emergent Internet culture.
Hello, Fat Larry is told through a series of Tinder-like cards. Users swipe right to respond positively — to agree, believe in or simply consider a piece of information important to the larger story. Users swipe left to respond negatively — to disbelieve a character or consider a piece of information less relevant.
The brevity of the storytelling matches the fast-paced judgments found on a platform like Tinder. At Murmur, we feel there is a lot of value in telling a story in like Hello, Fat Larry in this manner.
As the history of film progressed, audiences got better and better at consuming information faster and faster, so that when “MTV” style editing came around in the 80s, our minds very quickly adapted, and we were able to make sense out of very quick, short bursts of information and rapid-fire cuts.
Likewise, the progress of the web has trained us to make sense out of even smaller bits of information. A Tweet. An animated GIF. A meme. These things communicate very specific atomic units of information very quickly. This is where we’d like to take True Crime storytelling in the 21st Century.
Our team came into the POV Hackathon with this very clear goal in mind. We didn’t spend time ideating on either the subject or the execution. That was all done before we got to the hackathon.
We also came in with very clear goals for the outcome of the weekend. This is a project we will be developing with or without this hackathon. But for us, the hackathon is an opportunity for all involved to carve out the time to get in a room and really focus, with the knowledge that we have to show something to an audience Sunday night.
We understand that in some ways, we are a unique situation. Often at hackathons, storytellers are paired with technologists on the spot. But that doesn’t mean all of the parties cannot set specific goals. Explore a new tech? Get to the core of the story? Whatever it is, the goals can be set before you even show up.
Several Murmur projects use data in interesting ways. Immigrant Nation plots immigrant stories on the “waves” of immigration provided by US census data.Theater of War uses a mobile app to collect real time sentiment data at live performances, and correlates that data to actions audience members take within the mobile app.
With Hello, Fat Larry, Murmur was eager to continue our use of data in storytelling. The story of Hello, Fat Larry is driven by intuitive swipe gestures on a mobile device. But each swipe means something. Each swipe has consequences. And you can never go backward.
The app will record the swipes and use those to indicate how a user is feeling about the story a it progresses. Does the user believe a certain character in this episode? Does the user think this particular bit of evidence is relevant?
All of this swipe data will be used to determine which angles and points of view the user gets down the line. In this way, we hope to create a unique narrative path for each user, so that they can then collaborate with other users online, to get at the truth.
Alix Lambert has been developing the story of Hello, Fat Larry for some time. She has a feature film and a book in development. Each of those media tell another aspect of the story world. But once Lambert started to really dig into the story, she became fascinated with the murder trial associated with the subject of her feature film.
But the film is not about the murder trial. Nor is there room in the film to squeeze it in.
We thought the story of the trial itself would work very well as serialized story, served up in very small installments. Once Murmur presented this idea to Alix and Scott, we all agreed to attend the hackathon and flesh out a prototype.
Leading up to the hackathon, we had the story we wanted to tell, and we had an idea of the way we wanted to tell it. We had one pre-production meeting the Friday before the hackathon, and agreed on an approach. So when we all arrived Saturday morning, we were able to hit the ground running and get right to work.
In order to get content into the app, the Murmur team had set up a very light-weight CMS in the form of a Google Spreadsheet. Google Spreadsheets have a function that allows you to publish them as JSON feeds. You can then consume these feeds in your app via JQuery, or in this case, AngularJS. This meant that Alix and Scott could get right to work writing and editing the episodes in the spreadsheets, while Mike and Mark honed the technology and UX. Each team member could see the progress of their work in the app in real time, and continue iterating very quickly.
Since we already had an idea of the approach we wanted to take, Murmur had spent a day ahead of the hackathon setting up some basic frameworks, choosing software libraries and generally establishing a technology base to work from.
Murmur is a professional company that does all of this kind of thing for clients daily. But even if you’re not a professional and have never done a hackathon before, a very small amount of organization can help you work quickly and efficiently, and make the most of the weekend.
If you’re a storyteller or a technologist (or both!), and you have an idea, do the next POV Hackathon and make that idea real.
Hello Fat Larry won the Participants’ Choice Award at POV Hackathon 8.
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