“I just wanted to know: what Internet browser do you guys use?”
That was my contribution to the Q&A, that followed the premiere screening of webseries Brandon Generator, and a question I’m fairly sure has earned me a spot on a Microsoft blacklist. Particularly since the response was noncommittal to say the least. I was hoping for a laugh, and expecting some stock assurance from the panel that, yes, IE9 is fabulous and wonderful and should be used by absolutely everyone.
Instead, the panel were mostly silent, apart from Edgar Wright, who did say he liked IE9, but qualified this by stating he was unfamiliar with episodes 1-8.
‘Ooo-er’ I thought, passing the mic along. Perhaps I had been a little too cheeky? I half expected the bouncers to wander over after the Q&A ended. But no. Of course not: I was free to wander back into the main hall and continue in my pre-screening endeavour, to find out whether the caterers could replenish the store of mojitos faster than I downed them.
Still I suppose the question was always going to be a little on the nose. Internet Explorer, the moneybags behind Brandon Generator, for whom the project is nothing more than a demonstration of technological prowess, is not exactly the most popular browser out there. In fact the opposite is true. I would be stunned to come across anyone under the age of 25 using IE. And this is coming from someone who uses Firefox, which I am given to understand is only marginally more cool. The tech-savvies on the panel, writer/director/Schlubby Jesus Edgar Wright, illustrator Tommy Lee Edwards, and musician David Holmes, probably all use Google Chrome. I’m less certain about the chocolatey-voiced Julian Barratt (who in reality is in fact Howard Moon in a suit) and Supreme Luddite Mark Kermode (who was doing the interview). Though to be honest, I would be somewhat surprised if Kermode gave two flying monkeys for how he accessed the internet.
And yet, from this unloved, senile brand, has come one of the more interesting storytelling experiments to ever get big corporate support. Brandon Generator is a crowdsourced narrative that actually works.
Brandon Generator tells the story of a struggling writer, named Brandon (voiced by Barratt), whose only defining feature, apart from his lack of creative spark, is his addiction to coffee. The story begins with this addiction getting a little out of hand. Brandon drinks 13 espressos in a single sitting, and, overwhelmed by the caffeine, slips into unconsciousness. He awakes to find himself surrounded by mysterious writings, drawings and messages. He is confused as to their origin, but of course, we know where they come from. Us.
The reason Brandon Generator works is that the crowd contributions take the shape of a co-writer Hive Mind. In response to Kermode’s questions, Wright described the creative process thus. He began with an idea and a structure of his own. Then he would turn to the contributions, responding to them as if their ideas were being pitched to him. His thoughts would bounce off of the contributions, and from those rebounds a story would emerge. As such, the story was never shaped by lone contributions: the ideas of many funnelled through Wright. For example, the monster Caffeindo, a giant, tentacled tick made of coffee and wearing a fetching hat, was the result of one contributor’s drawing, while another contributed the name. For Wright it seems to have been a novel experience: normally he is legally prohibited from reading any ideas sent to him by anyone, lest they open him up to lawsuits.
Despite heavily incorporating the ideas of others, the finished product is very much Wright’s, particularly its wryly referential sense of humour. Furthermore, the character of Brandon is based on Wright’s experience of having to write a script on his own, after previously collaborating with Simon Pegg (Shaun, Hot Fuzz) and Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim). Apparently he procrastinates like a champion, and has a severe dependency on caffeine, an admission that was received by the crowd of professional/amateur writers with knowing silence.
With Wright’s humour and writing panache combined with Tommy Lee Edward’s artistic talents (which are considerable), Barratt’s caramel-smooth narration and a brilliantly haunting, yet pacey, score from David’s band Unloved, Brandon Generator turns out a very successful enterprise. It is perhaps a little rushed towards the end. The weirdness gets a little out of hand, and it overpowers the plot. But given how much potential there was here for a complete mess, given that the series had to incorporate an internet’s worth of fevered imaginings, Brandon Generator’s success is striking.
Especially since this innovative, out-there experiment was initiated by the old man of internet browsers.