Recently, I sat down with a Weber Shandwick colleague, Danielle Deabler, SVP of Media Innovation, to chat about my latest project — End of the Shift — which bypasses traditional novel-writing and instead embraces the most popular visual-first medium: Instagram. This is our conversation:
DD: What Is “End Of The Shift?”
JSR: At its core, EOTS is a serial, sci-fi, noir fiction that takes place in a future society that has just abolished working. It explores what I believe is actually a very contemporary societal issue — a desperation to find meaning outside of our jobs, while remaining fixated on the wealth and sense of achievement jobs provide. This story simply projects into a future where that issue has been resolved, on the one hand, but seems to be catapulting us into a new set of issues, on the other. The fact that we have such a hard time imagining life without work makes imagining it that much more interesting. And the story is all about that. All the what-ifs and possible human conflicts that might arise from such a paradigm shift.
But beyond that central storyline, EOTS is a collaboration tool for artists of all kinds to work together. Because it takes place primarily on Instagram, which already has all the hooks necessary for co-creation, my central storyline can act as a jumping off point for any number of people, companies, brands, creatives or storytellers. Already, I have actors, illustrators, designers, musicians and other photographers thinking on their own about ways of creating around it. I call what I’m doing the “spine.” All the organs and appendages, those live elsewhere, in the imaginations of people with far different talents than I.
DD: How Will That Work?
JSR: For example, there are fifteen blind people that will be introduced into the storyline. They are the only remaining blind people on Earth, after a “War of Plagues,” sometime preceding the story. That’s as far into the “War of Plagues” as I’ll get into, but that backstory is being picked up by Martijn Rijven (the artist behind @boltgraphics), who is a super badass comic book illustrator and just so happens to create these characters that wear hazmat suits and live in a nebulous retro future time period. It was just a natural for him to run with that, so he created @warofplagues. Now we only need to figure out where the hooks are, so we can continue to have our storylines propel and intertwine with each other.
Likewise, Daniel Branco is a graffiti artist in Brazil (who also works for Weber Shandwick), the storyline is going to incorporate the cool graphic tag that is already a theme of his street work down there.
Creativity in all its forms is a major plot line. So, I consider every element of the story an opportunity to do something collaborative and creative.
DD: Is It Funded?
JSR: True to the storyline, money doesn’t factor in to the content. All partnerships and collaborations are done purely out of enthusiasm for the idea and to push the idea forward through helping each other come up with ideas. Obviously, this echoes some of the same issues that content providers, like Medium, are dealing with right now, too. There are certain kinds of content that absolutely need to achieve a marketing goal, this just isn’t one of them. It’s a story.
I suppose in some respects there’s a kind of reverse revolution taking place. I mean, when I talk to a people about getting involved and I mention that I’m not looking for money, I think it kind of takes them back. But as soon as that head-scratch moment is over, the discussion quickly gets very creative.
DD: How Would a Company or Brand Get Involved?
JSR: The quick answer is through creativity. There will be brands that will only look at the reach of something like this and probably not be interested until it hits some kind of critical mass. That’s okay. The brands that would get involved now would be ones that really care deeply about creativity and we’d work on inclusion in any number of organic ways. Product placement is an easy one, but what would be awesome is if they dug the storyline and wanted to play along. For example, in the subreddit “No Sleep,” when someone posts a (horror) story, the group is encouraged to play along as though the story really happened. Letting go and embracing a storyline is really the fuel that pushes it forward — brands can do that as well as people.
DD: And You Are A Character In The Story?
JSR: It was hard to avoid, as it emanated out of my own photography and searching for some kind of narrative to hold it all together. In so doing, I ended up with a story that I was narrating and that needed to make sense of the fact that it was taking place on my Instagram photography feed. So, at some point I just pulled the camera back and let myself be me. Kind of.
DD: Because There’s An Actor Playing You?
JSR: Yes, Phil Lubin plays the narrator. We’re both Jewish, but that’s really where the similarities end. He’s a hulking 6'4", way younger and so handsome. This is what happens when you cast yourself!
The truth is, by casting the role, I was able to step away from it a bit and write toward a different character. He’s actually much more apathetic than me. And tougher. He’s sort of a Jake Gittes (Chinatown) type. Again, this is what happens when you cast yourself.
DD: What’s The Central Conflict Of The Story?
JSR: It’s a hundred years in the future and work has just been outlawed. Things still have to get done, though, so the powers make it okay to have “interests.” Meaning, you can make things, you just won’t get paid for it. And you can’t ask for payment. So, there’s two major conflicts happening at once: first, the human condition changes when it doesn’t have the construct of a job to create a sense of accomplishment.
And secondly, there’s a conflict in the idea of freedom, which stems right out of that. Without work, our immediate thought is that we are free. But control can happen in many ways and the story starts to paint a dark picture of how we might essentially jump out of a frying pan and into a fire. How the human desire to control others, to seek power over others, can find new ingenious ways of taking shape. I‘m painting a picture of the devil we don’t know. And that also has ties to contemporary political issues we are facing today.
DD: How Did This New Storytelling Platform All Come About?
JSR: The process was very organic and one that is probably recognizable to many creatives, especially photographers. I was trying to grow my photography feed for the last two years while simultaneously trying to figure out what I even really liked to shoot. That’s a tough road to hoe and any photographer on Instagram can relate. You have a camera, you like to shoot but you want to try to establish your own particular style, look, themes. You’re trying to build on what you’ve done, but always with an eye on reinvention. It’s kind of maddening. I think what photographers are really in search of is a narrative.
At the same time, last year I tried to write a sci-fi novel and it didn’t work out. I did everything right — I was writing every day, I had an online writing app that kept track of my story arc, my characters, everything. I even thought I had a pretty compelling storyline. But I was miserable doing it. After three chapters I gave up. It was like when I tried the Cleanse. I’m not built for that, it just makes me bitter and angry.
So, I had these two things going on. A desire to tell a sci-fi story and this growing imagery bank from the photography I do. It came together when I decided to really hunker down and think about what that narrative might be. I sat with it all through the holidays. In the end, it all came down to one word: Lost. The people in my photos looked lost. It seems I was somehow, subconsciously drawn to capture a sense of hopeless wandering.
Within days of landing on that central theme, I had a complete storyline in my head for End Of The Shift. It was simply the story that would support the imagery I was doing anyway and give it a home. I happen to be drawn toward science fiction and the fact that my work tends to use extreme angles and takes place in Los Angeles, it was already very close to a Sin City storyboard. So, I just leaned into it what I’m good at.
DD: How Do You Manage to Write and Shoot All Of It?
JSR: Everyone has their talent, mine happens to be this. I actually have been through this before. I was CD for the very first sci-fi show on the Internet, called Eon-4. We posted every day following a team of space travelers that get caught in a time/space wormhole, meet aliens and transmit their findings across the Internet, back to Earth. I was shooting live actors, wire armature alien puppets and retouching it all for posting every day. Then we would get on the boards and talk to our audience as well as work with writer teams on the storyline. So, this isn’t totally foreign to me.
But there’s also something about being deeply involved in today’s digital commercial art environment that is very similar to this — writing short-form copy, pairing it with imagery and managing the social media aspect of it. I just have always been able to jump around and do all that pretty seamlessly. It kind of pours out of me and, of course, I enjoy it. I also am a fiend for new imagery. I take photographs at an insane pace. I always have my camera with me and I’m constantly experimenting and trying new things with it. So, my bank of photos is in the tens of thousands. That’s very helpful when I’m trying to find some inspiration.
DD: So, What Is Your Hope For The Future Of This?
JSR: I would like this project to establish a new form of storytelling. I’m calling it an “Instagraphic Novel,” as it borrows liberally from graphic novels of the past, while being very cognizant of living in social media, and taking full advantage of it. There seems to be a new potential in this kind of storytelling: to be more engaged with an audience than traditional media, and that gives it an opportunity to deal with contemporary issues in real-time. And to co-create.
And I hope many artists and creative types around the world get involved in it, to find myself engaged in great creative conversations with people about the themes of the story. I am hoping it becomes bigger than me.
And I’m hoping it proves we are not lost.
Check out End Of The Shift here.