140: Possibly the first film inspired by twitter

TORONTO (CUP) – What happens when a large number of people from around the world participate in a social experiment? How does knowing that we share similar experiences of using online technology shape our identities?

In making the new film 140, 140 independent amateur and professional filmmakers from around the world synchronized their actions around the social networking website twitter.com in order to explore themes of home and questions about how people are connected.

Directed by Frank Kelly in London, UK, the yet-to-be created film promises to examine how twitter can be used as a positive tool rather than as a distraction.

Twitter is a micro-blogging website that asks its members one simple question when they log on—“What are you doing?”—in 140 characters or less. Users can follow other users’ responses (dubbed ‘tweets’) to that question in a chronological feed.

When completed by 2010, 140 will likely be the first film inspired by twitter to surface.

Kelly said in a May phone interview that with his film, he plans to reveal from a distance, with a birds’ eye view, how we can look at social patterns – and specifically how humans construct their connections to home.

Kelly explained that he got the idea for his film through using twitter itself. He said he first signed up in January 2009 after hearing of it through actor Stephen Frye, whom he wanted to follow. He said he first thought twitter would be yet another distraction, but soon he found himself wanting to follow more people.

“I wanted to know if it can help me and if I can use it as a tool,” said Kelly. What still strikes him most is that “it’s all about instant connection and immediacy with other people. It’s fast, too. People all around the world can see what everyone else is doing, at once.”

He thought it would be interesting to use the social networking website to synchronize 140 filmmakers to film at the same time.

“All 140 filmmakers will shoot on the same day and time for approximately a hundred and forty seconds.”

In May, Kelly said his plan was to “send a message out for free on twitter and everyone will see it at the same time on their phones or the net. That will be the ‘Go’ signal to start shooting simultaneously around the world.”

That’s just what Kelly orchestrated. On June 21, via twitter, Kelly sent the ‘Action’ message to the recruited volunteering filmmakers and they all shot for approximately 140 seconds.

Now the filmmakers are finished shooting, and they’re sending their footage to Kelly from countries all around the world, including Brazil, Costa Rica, China, Mexico, Germany, London, Scotland, New Zealand, Portugal and Australia.

Once Kelly receives all 140 clips of submitted footage, he says he’ll edit them and incorporate music.

Kelly said he first pitched his film idea to friends who liked it, and then sent out press releases to media outlets. He got personal contacts on board, and soon the project snowballed. To date, the project has been written up about in the popular Paste Magazine (online), Metro Newspaper (UK), The Salt Lake Tribune (USA), The Irish Film and Television Network and Wired.com.

On Kelly’s website (frankkelly.blogspot.com), the names of the 140 filmmakers are listed. On the list are several Toronto area residents: Paul Gitschner (134), Simone Fried (126), Stephen Clark (99) and Jill Carter (22). The only other Canadian to appear so far is Alberta’s Brian MacKay (101).

Kelly said he’d like to promote the film by the end of the year and have the feature length film ready for festivals, broadcast and online sometime after January. As an experienced filmmaker Kelly is confident of landing a distribution deal and having a DVD release as well.

The film will be produced by Pale Stone Productions Ltd., which Kelly co-founded with Thomas A. Kennedy in 2005 while producing their debut short film called Emily’s Song. That film went on to screen at 25 festivals and on television, winning awards including the Crystal Heart and UNICEF awards.

As for 140, Kelly thinks the film will encompass a very broad range of footage from the filmmakers.

“I might cut it chronologically, from time zones,” he said, “starting in China, around the world, and back. Or I might splice into continents or around the themes that come out. I think I’m going to see a lot of landscapes and cityscapes.”

When asked in May how he was going to choose the filmmakers for the project, he said that he didn’t want to say ‘no’ to anybody.

“I wanted to give anyone who’s interested a chance. I have 17-year-old students and professionals involved. We have two professional feature filmmakers working with us, Adam Abel and Ryan Little, who co-directed Forever Strong last year.”

“I think it’s a really wide concept,” Kelly said. “What people’s connection to home is can have so many manifestations. I think it’s a lot for people to grasp: ‘How do I connect to my home?’”

Kelly expects the footage to come to him in many formats.

“Some people were concerned they didn’t have professional equipment. I said they can shoot on their phones or digital cameras if they don’t have video cameras.”

He continued, “Another filmmaker in Australia reminded me it will be night time when he has to film and he asked about taking lights to shoot with. I think other people are going to head out into the wilderness and drive out to somewhere special. So, people are putting a lot of thought into it.”

To follow the filmmaking process and learn more about Frank Kelly’s 140, check out: http://www.frankkelly.blogspot.com/ or follow him on twitter @frankwkelly.

From the twitter feed on action day:

11:59 AM, June 21st from mobile web
“this is it!”
11:59 AM June 21st from mobile web
“at location, here we go, 140 of use get ready, 5 minutes till Action!!!”
11:57 AM June 21st from mobile web