It’s regarded as the first scripted drama to roll out on Instagram. And for the creators of “Shield 5,” it was a creative feat to roll out a mystery thriller via short form video and images that, from start to finish, could take a viewer only 10 minutes to enjoy. Since launching in February, the series has accumulated over 30K followers on Instagram, with its premiere episode having clocked over 30K views, to date. And despite its micro-length, the series does a great job at capturing the essence of a traditional length project. Co-created and directed by Anthony Wilcox (“Layer Cake”) and written by award-winning short film scribe Adam Dewar (“North Atlantic,” “Hardwire”), “Shield 5” unfolds after protagonist John Swift is arrested for his involvement in a diamond heist, as the audience is taken along on a game of cat and mouse.
VideoInk caught up with Wilcox and Dewar to get a behind the action view of distributing a scripted project on Instagram.
VI: Where did the inspiration come from for Shield 5 and why on Instagram?
Dewar: Anthony was keen to direct something online — something that could reach a wide audience quickly. Instagram instinctively felt like an intriguing platform because of its popularity and relatively small amount of scripted content. Telling a story through 15 second episodes and stills felt like an exciting challenge.
VI: I see that Lorton Entertainment is a production partner. How did that come about and are you guys funded through them?
Wilcox: We pitched to Lorton Entertainment and they funded the project along with some partners. It was a zero budget production, with only enough money for locations, food and parking. The production relied on generosity from actors and a filmmaking team who all believed passionately in the project.
VI: Clearly, you both have experience in longer and shorter format project but what were the nuances of writing and directing a project that was so short? How did the images fit into the development of the project?
Dewar: When it came to the writing we had to think outside the box. We wanted to make something that felt big, with a narrative you might typically see on the big screen — but were limited to what seemed like an impossible 15 seconds per episode. During early discussions we hit upon the idea of including stills with the episodes. This idea was implemented and evolved in the first draft. It allowed us to tell a big story by using the stills to fill in character back story and plot twists we didn’t have time for in the videos. We still had gaps in the narrative but we realised we could use those to create mystery, so the narrative became as much puzzle as passive experience. During the shoot the time restrictions didn’t impact that much in Anthony’s dealing with the actors but there were a very high number of actors and locations for 7 minutes of screen time.
VI: What have you found, generally, are perks of producing content for Instagram? Do you have sister content that rolls out on other platforms too?
Wilcox: We loved the instant reaction from all corners of the world. Having an audience discover the work simultaneously from UK to US to China to Colombia etc etc was a refershing experience. No touring festivals or release windows, just direct to audience. “Shield 5” is the first time we’ve experimented with filmic storytelling online or on social media.
VI: So on that front, given it is a new distribution approach and creative approach. What is the most important metric for you as you look at the series performance?
Wilcox: Instagram introduced the ‘views’ metric when we were three quarters of the way through the story so that hadn’t been part of our original thinking. We’d always considered the number of followers to be an important indicator. However, ultimately, the most satisfying metric wasn’t the numbers or the views but the interactions and responses in the comments as the audience worked out the story. We always hoped to create something that would transcend a more traditional short film and the level of investment the audience seemed to have, in both story and characters, was extremely pleasing for us.