Lost Zombies: A storytelling experiment

Lost Zombies, a project developed using a popular social networking site called ning that allow users to create communities around similar interests, took the honors in the Community category in SxSW ’09. The project aims to create a community-generated documentary about a worldwide zombie outbreak. The project is a successful experiment in mobilizing a social networking site in order to explore innovative ways of story-telling. As such, it is able to make use of emerging technologies to open doors to unprecedented forms of narrative models.

Scot Leach, a filmmaker who is also one of the master minds of this project has been interviewed by Lance Weiler of The Workbook Project.

Referring to this project as a crowdsourced zombie film, Leach says that their ultimate goal was to facilitate user-generated content with quality. To that end, the team brainstormed a theme, or a concept that would be universal enough to be able to unite disparate content in a coherent fashion. In order to create a community around the project, the team set up a ning, a social platform that allowed users to formulate groups, upload various content including videos, photographs, blog posts etc… Those interested in the project go to the ning site (lostzombies.com), create a profile, and submit content in any form that suits them. The basic premise of the project is that zombies are real. The understanding is that there has been (and still continues to be) zombie outbreaks all over the world. We just don’t know about them. Since no one knows for sure, all outbreaks are rumored to have happened. The users are able to create subgroups within the lostzombies ning that are conveniently referred to as “outbreaks.” Users who join a specific outbreak group submit evidence of that particular incidence. When there is enough evidence for that outbreak, then the outbreak is considered to be “confirmed.”

While the ultimate goal in the end is to try to create a zombie documentary, Leach notes that the project evolved organically permitting users to take the core story to whatever direction that they deemed to be interesting. Users also submit various media content that gives evidence of these outbreaks, such as videos, photographs, and blog posts narrating the events that occurred during a particular outbreak. Some users are even posting real news stories, speculating on whether or not these news stories may be zombie-related. Leach, in his interview with Weiler, notes that the transmedial approach they appropriated ensured that those who are interested in the project are not only filmmakers, but are also those who are genuinely interested in the horror genre in any shape or form. This approach, in addition, gave the story a depth that it may otherwise not have had. Although they would like to pull together the community-generated zombie sightings into a cohesive documentary, Leach states that if the community starts taking the project into different directions, they intend to acknowledge these new perspectives and incorporate them into their vision.

Not surprisingly, this massive zombie apocalypse is not without its own distribution challenges. Ultimately, the producers will have to go through inordinate amounts of content to select the ones to include in the final documentary. Leach hopes that they would be able to come up with a substantial amount of quality content to include, but he surmises that tracking down the content owners may present some challenges. However, he notes that this is crucial because the team wants these users to get compensated for their work. The team is considering distributing the content online as a part of creative commons which would eliminate a lot of the copyright hurdles that they may have if they were to choose to release it only as a documentary. Ultimately, Leach notes that a hybrid distribution option would be best for what they have accomplished in this project. In such a model, a separate documentary will be released, some content will be shown in live events or festivals, while others are distributed online through various platforms. He even thinks that it may be a fantastic idea to have a zombie day at the end of project where groups of users dress up as zombies take the streets. That would be a day when zombies all over the world would walk the earth. How cool would that be in terms of exploring the boundaries of story-telling???

Here are the submissions for the Breathers Contest. The rules were to write a note that begins, “In the event that I am bitten…”:

Find more photos like this on Lost Zombies

Here are some of my pics with these zombies in SxSW ’09:

Lost Zombies at the Tradeshow in SxSW ’09

In the arms of a zombie

A zombie coming after me

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