• The CW films Gossip Girl “machinisodes” in Second Life

    Second Life has been touted as a place to market real-world brands, as a teleconferencing tool, and as the future of social networking. But increasingly, Hollywood has been eying the virtual world’s potential as an inexpensive film studio.

    Gossip Girl, the CW television network’s popular show about teenagers on New York’s Upper East Side, is filming what it calls “machinisodes” inside Second Life. The mini-episodes, shot using Second Life avatars and sets, follow script outlines developed by the show’s writers, and will eventually debut on CWTV.com.

    The Second Life-based shorts are endorsed by the network as part of the show’s official plot line, or “canon.”

    “It has the feel of fan-fiction, but it’s not,” said machinisode producer Al Reitz. of Reitz Lange.  “We’re using the sims as a backlot.”

    The CW invited fans to participate as extras in the machinima filming. And just like being a real-life extra, Reitz said it involved a lot of standing around without ever knowing what the scene was about.

    VIRTUAL UPPER EAST SIDE

    Gossip Girl maintains a series of four Second Life sims built by metaverse development company Millions of Us in September 2007. According to MoU statistics, 116,000 unique avatars have visited to the sim, with total visits of more than half a million.

    Together with Showtime’s “The L Word”, Gossip Girl is one of the most substantial tie-ins between a virtual world and a television show. Daily events for fans of the show are held in Second Life, and avatars with the “GossipGirl” surname can be seen milling around the site at all hours.

    Unusually for Second Life, the Gossip Girl sims maintain a strict moderation policy. Staffers from the Metaverse Mod Squad, the Internet moderation company that also provided security to Newt Gingrich during the former Speaker’s Second Life visit, check in on small groupings of avatars.

    “Just making sure two dots in one point are PG,” said one moderator, who suddenly teleported into the middle of an interview.

    At first Gossip Girl’s strict PG-only policy was a tough sell. “People were not happy about the restrictions here, that the rest of SL generally doesn’t have,” said Metaverse Mod Squad CEO Amy Pritchard. Her company has been moderating Internet bulletin boards since before Second Life was founded, and found a natural new market in virtual worlds. “We used normal SL tools to get some control. And then we started giving everybody clean fun alternatives.”

    WRITERS STRIKE HANGOVER

    Production of the television show was paused during the Hollywood writer’s strike, and the machinisodes being filmed in Second Life fill in the gaps.

    “They went on ‘Spring Break’ during the strike,” said machinisode director Jason Smith (Second Life: Shatner Gumbo). “One character returned with a broken arm, we show how she got it.”

    Smith had a background in machinima, having produced “Medal of Honor: Pathfinders” for EA Games. While he had never been in Second Life before getting commissioned by CWTV.com, he praised Second Life’s machinima potential.

    “With a very basic understanding of object creation, we can build props and sets,” Smith said. “And with a huge supply of animations and gestures, we can give our characters life that other games can’t.”

    The CW’s move to film machinima in Second Life follows the recent debut of SL machinima on Cinemax and River Runs Red’s Webby win for its Coca-Cola Second Life machinima campaign.

    If machinima continues to expand its popularity, it could become a new business opportunity for Linden Lab.

    “World of Warcraft and Halo appear to be the top two platforms for machinima,” said Sasha Rudie (Second Life: Moo Money), who led last year’s machinima track at the Second Life Community Convention. But unlike Second Life, the terms of service of other video games makes it hard to capitalize on success.

    “I talk to WoW machinimators all day long and they get hundreds of thousands up to millions of views, yet they can’t make more than a couple hundred bucks from contests they win,” Rudie said.

    Second Life’s more liberal terms, and proven machinima success on Cinemax and the CW may result in more filming going on in Second Life.

    “In SL, you have almost complete control,” Rudie said. “The only thing that’s wildly unpredictable is the frame rate and the fact that you need a new computer with every update.”

    Reuters

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