Me, I had it easy. Today, entirely via e-mail, I had the chance to pick the brain of a very curious cat — an enigmatic new media pioneer, who, true to his (or her) milieu, thus far is remaining stubbornly anonymous behind their online avatar. Putting the "new" into New Media, this individual, known only as “Project Manager” or "AvZ,” plays a key role in bringing together the talent, funding, and direction behind an ambitious crossover Internet + television show with the working title of Lombardi Street.
Integrating publicity via virtual platforms, top of the line editing equipment, fan participation in the creation of a big-budget serialized show, and simultaneous release of the content through both the Web and regular TV makes Lombardi Street a rather different animal from the typical fare. The line between fans and the show's creators is blurred, as is that between the real world and that of the fictional characters and their nearest, dearest, and most hated. The glue connecting all these previously distant concepts is this newfangled thing known as the Internet, which for many of us has become quite the second life.
“Never follow the straight and narrow,” is the chosen slogan, and indeed, “Project Manager” stays true to these words, as do members of the writing team, drafted from the very same community of fans that follow the show's development. Constant vetting of creative talent keeps the cream of the crop behind the reins and in front of the camera, and keeps the focus on the show's complex characters, not on plot-driven writing.
And now, let's get to the meat of this interview…
You mentioned countless cups of coffee as an inspiration. Where did you drink it? Whom with? Basically, do you have a big team in place or are you going it solo? How exactly did the concept come to be?
There has been a great deal of speculation as to who I am and/or we are. The reason that this is not revealed is rather simple. Most new shows flow from the top down creating assumptions and expectations before even beginning the exploration of the project. If I were Stephen Bochco [writer and producer of NYPD Blue], there would be expectations entered before we begin.
If I were Robert Smith form Portland, Maine — the same thing — only with different expectations. The more important part of this question is how did this come to be. We have entered a whole new world of communication and personal reach, enabled by the Internet. This reach has opened every small corner of the globe and we wanted to insure that it reached into our industry — which is ripe for change.
What exactly is the main thrust of Lombardi Street, making it in the entirely transparent style or preparing it mainly for multimedia field? Are you planning to bypass television?
The primary point of Lombardi Street is to entertain. This is first and foremost a show that we anticipate will entertain its audience. The transparent style is in part based on the concept of entertaining and in part based on the need to bring the secrets of the industry to light. We do not operate in a vacuum; people want to know about the actors, the writers and more, so rather than having it appear in outside Web sites and magazines, we provide it here.
We do not intend to bypass television, but we also do not see it as the only presentational medium. We intend to have this show broadcast traditionally worldwide, but also intend to release it first on the Web. It is my firm belief that in the very near future, viewers will be watching Web-distributed shows on their regular televisions though the use of some new device that facilitates that, as well as watching on handheld (mobile) devices and PCs.
I know it has been answered to an extent in the writer's group, but for the benefit of the public, what is the proposed rating for the program? Or are you going the NR route?
We have not set, and will not set a rating. Life is not rated, neither is the show. The general production will be kept to the norms and conforms of society; however, there will be threads that expand well beyond that. They will be clearly labeled but available for viewing. This show is intended for young adults and up and we will adhere to the standards of the global collective.
Do you have funding already to the tune of $35 mil/year, which you are bringing up on the site, or are you counting on getting it once the word of mouth spreads across the Web and, possibly, the print editions?
We do not have $35 million. We do have investors, advertisers and others that will allow us to start this show, but, again, like any venture, this must appeal to the public and draw an audience which will allow the funding, both from investors and advertisers to grow. The $35mm is the anticipated budget for the production for its first year.
Your writers are all from over the place, and talent and directors are ranging even further. How do you intend to get them in one place? Relocation packages? Trips on-location? Or are you going to be doing this solely on the Web? How about a chemistry test, for instance? What if the actors ultimately chosen do well on their own, but lack that spark together that makes them a "supercouple"?
Many production positions can be handled remotely and will be done that way; however, while the technology facilitates long distance communication, it will never replace face to face interaction. Actors will all undergo screen tests and will be required to read with other candidates exactly to determine on screen chemistry. Writers will collaborate online but will still have to attend regular in person meetings and workshops. We have opened all positions to anyone globally and will select them based on talent, individual capability, and perseverance. When filming begins, we will work with individuals to insure that they are where they need to be, whatever those requirements are.
On the topic of actors, do you mean to use any established talent or draw solely from those registered to the site? What if, say, Jessica Alba registers, would she be in the running? Or are you focusing on undiscovered actors for the time being? Same for directors, etc.
This has been a very hard fought answer. We have developed a policy that ALL personnel for Lombardi Street will come from the Web site. Selections will be based on individual participation and collective response to the Web-based activity. That will include even Jessica Alba. We do believe that talent is everywhere and that only the smallest portion ever has the opportunity to get discovered. Hopefully, Lombardi Street will change part of that by opening opportunity to all, even those who are already famous.
How do you intend to advertise on the show? During commercial breaks? Or via product placement? Or do you mean to do the adverts on the Micro-net once you extend the universe out beyond the filmed segments?
Advertising is an integral part of Lombardi Street. There will be sponsor pre-rolls on the web video and extensive product placement. Broadcast shows will probably have standard ads. The Web site will include banner ads and a new form of non intrusive pull-based advertising. One of the primary differences is that we will not attempt to hide or sneak in advertising. There will be product placement on the show, but rather than a hidden ad, we will laud and fete the support of the advertiser on the Web site, as well as show exactly how well the advertiser supported the show. We believe that if you like the show and the advertiser helps keep the show alive, then you will in turn appreciate the advertiser for its support. Open, honest, and upfront.
How happy are you so far with how this thing is going? I notice you're beating your own estimates as far as signing up goes. How big do you envision your community growing before the show?
Lombardi Street in the Web is not quite a month old. It has surpassed expectations and we anticipate continued growth, but have not placed any specific milestones in place. Our advertisers and sponsors have key points which dictate the level of payment and we know the more members, the easier the continual quest for revenue will be. For me, a key indicator is not how many people we have when the first episode airs, but what the growth is once it is running.
Which brings me to, when do you think to start filming and then release it to the public?
Filming will begin in late August and the first show is to be released mid-September. It is a short turnaround, but this show is meant to be based on life, so we intend to bring real live events into the production in as real a time frame as possible. In addition, because of the unique nature of the integration with the audience through the Web site, we have designed the show to be responsive to the audience, not driven by it, but responsive. We anticipate extensive use of technology to shorten the time between filming and presentation.
And, finally, is there a chance to see the man or woman behind the mask? Who are you, a writer, producer, director, Web junkie? All of the above? Are you yourself planning to contribute to the show other than through overall direction?
Yes. I very much look forward to the day that I get to personally meet the fascinating people that have begun participating on this site. Who am I? All of the things you said. A writer, a producer, a director, and a web junkie. And yes, I firmly intend to contribute to the show directly, but not as a dictator. I have found a remarkable volume of prodigious talent exists in this world and I am thrilled to be a part of what we get to uncover and present.
I found our question and answer session with the mysterious “Project Manager” informative, and I hope you did, too. Lombardi Street truly brings television fans around the world together in not just enjoying a great show, but also participating in its creation; thus, anyone in its growing online community can be considered as a potential team member.
If you think I was just a tad biased, being a member of the writing team myself, well, I quite possibly am guilty as charged. It's not every day I can connect with all my fellow fans and creative minds around the world, much less shape the way the show develops!
I look forward to hearing from you all what you think about this new way of doing television, and what other questions you might like answered before Lombardi Street goes live, both in your living room and a global, virtual world that many of us call our second home.