In the world of reality TV, crafted stories and character arcs have been an open secret with audiences for some time. With weeks to months of footage, producers can usually carve out stories with clear heroes and villains, no matter how those people actually are in real life. All that may change, however, with @SummerBreak, a “reality show” that will play out over the next few weeks via social media only.
The “show” features a cast of nine Los Angeles area high schoolers, nothing too different from shows like Laguna Beach, except instead of screening on TV, the story unfolds 24 hours a day, seven days a week via Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, and Vine. You don’t have to stay glued to your phone or computer, though, as there will be daily minute-long updates on YouTube, as well a weekly omnibus of around five minutes or so. It’s a format that hasn’t ever been tried, at least not on this scale.
@SummerBreak cast members need to keep it clean and socially acceptable (no excessive language or racy photos), and cast posts are reviewed by a team of nearly four dozen moderators, except from 3:00-7:00 am. Other than that, the cast are encouraged to do whatever they normally do and be themselves. Part of the reason these teenagers were selected to participate in the first place is because they already use social media extensively. Their number of followers was not important, but their number of tweets and Instagram photos was something the producers considered. They wanted people who were already comfortable and knowledgeable about these social media outlets, and already avid and prolific users.
Apart from being told in real time and presented strictly through social media, @SummerBreak is also groundbreaking in that it is the first attempt to structure a story around the medium in which it is being presented. Producer Billy Parks is confident the fully interactive aspect can only help the project succeed. “There’s no reason that we can’t make this [kind of storytelling] the full experience on [mobile device] platforms,” he told Entertainment Weekly. Producers will also be able to closely monitor which story lines, characters, or activities are most popular with followers. The benefit of telling stories this way is you can immediately tell what is working for the audience and make quick changes to anything that isn’t working. Traditional broadcasters, on the other hand, have to wait many weeks or even months to air an episode after it’s been filmed, meaning making on-the-go changes are almost impossible.
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