When he looked to create Guidestones, an interactive Web series combining traditional filmmaking with the intricacies and global outreach of the Internet, Jay Ferguson initially thought he'd have an easy time of it.
The 43-year-old Ottawa native, who studied theatre before majoring in film at Concordia University in Montreal, already had 15 movies to his credit as a producer, director, cinematographer or scriptwriter.
And the Web? How hard could it be? Just upload and wait for viewers, right?
As Ferguson discovered in the five years it eventually took him to bring his idea to guidestones.org, the Web poses challenges to storytelling, mostly having to do with the humans for which it is intended. People need a reason to return to a site after a first visit. But don't ask them to pay for the experience, which is a problem when your product costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to make.
Ferguson's solution was to create a unique model that keeps viewers hooked while letting them off the hook for having to pay for the thrill of watching.
Financed by the Independent Production Fund and Ontario Media Development Corp., and through branding relationships with Pizza Pizza, the Toronto Blue Jays, Samsung and Karbon Clothing, the slick 50-part series, about two journalism students who uncover a global conspiracy, can be accessed through e-mail instalments or through Facebook. Each three-minute episode engages audiences through online treasure hunts for clues to deepen and enhance plot, characterization and setting.
Since launching last February, Guidestones, employing professional actors as well as teams of young filmmakers and Web designers, some straight out of school, has attracted the interest of iTunes along with the Canadian Screen Awards, which this year gave the series the prize for best original program or series produced for digital.
Last week, Guidestones, inspired by true events, won an International Emmy Award in the category of best digital fiction at the MipTV festival in Cannes, France.
For Ferguson, a married father of a young daughter, it is a happy ending to his own story of dogged determination behind the scenes. "I learned so much building the first season, there were successes and there were mistakes," says Ferguson, whose studio is called 3oclock.tv. "The second season is my chance to refine the format and make it really work as an entertainment experience, a unique platform and a sustainable business model."