Working up a viral “Storm”

The 9-minute beat poem “Storm” is the brain child of the incredibly talented Tim Minchin.  For those of you inauspicious types, unconscious to his existence, here comes a brief biography of who he is.  Born in Perth, Australia, Tim (the Rock and Roll Nerd) has found fame through composing music, acting, writing and his infectious, in-part risqué ranty comedy, making many TV, theatre and festival appearances and winning numerous awards including Best Alternative Comedian and Best Comedy Performer.  If you want to know more, check out his website here.  I’ve had the absolute pleasure of seeing him live twice this year, once at Robin Ince‘s School for Gifted Children May Ball and once at Sonisphere festival this year.  Here’s a picture I took of him at the latter:

Tim Minchin performing live at Sonisphere festival, Knebworth 2010

The “London Skeptics in the Pub” meeting on Monday 30th August, invited Tracy King to give a talk.  This blog is a review about her talk with a few of my own additional comments and contributions around the topic.

Tracy is the managing director of February Marketing, organiser and promoter of The Amazing Meeting (TAM) London, co-organiser of The Big Libel Gig, has had her work appearing in such publications as Nature and Skeptical Inquirer and also regularly writes for and The Skeptic Magazine.  With all this, it’s amazing to find she has any free time to do anything else, however (lucky for us), she did attend one of Robin Ince’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People where she saw Tim perform “Storm” live.  Of this performance she thought that’s exactly how she feels, how she would like to express it but (in her own words), she’s “just not that funny”. At that time, only the audio of the beat poem was available to the public; if you’ve yet to hear it, it’s well worth nine minutes of your time:

Tracy’s fellow skepchick, Rebecca Watson, later introduced her to Tim and, once she thought he was sufficiently drunk, asked his thoughts on making Storm into an animation with her and director/animator DC Turner.  They threw some ideas around and after realising they all had the same vision, Tim agreed to it.

So why animate it?

DC Turner and Tracy King

Well, as you can see from the YouTube clip available at the moment, despite how genius the lyrics are, it’s just not as universally appealing as having something visual.  Most people do prefer having something to watch, therefore, by animating Storm, it would have the potential to reach a much wider audience.  Not only this, Tracy explains, but the animation also has the ability to soften the aggression within the message by paying tributes to the comedy factor; it adds a new dimension on points you wouldn’t think of and it explores the fantasy worlds of both DC and Tim.  Animation also paves the way for the more modest budget for achieving visually impressive special effects that, otherwise, would be very expensive.

“You know what they call viral videos that are proven to work?….Impossible.

(this is because there is no formula to show that it works).

A video is labelled “viral” when it tolls up ten thousand or more hits.  One example of a previous viral that Tracy worked with was the Richard Wiseman “Colour Changing Card Trick” which received more than 80 thousand hits in its first two weeks (Tracy reassured us this was all achieved above-board and completely anti-spam), by 18 weeks it had around two million hits and after going global, had over 80 million.  It was then recreated by National Geographic for a show called “My Brilliant Brain“, became a classroom teaching aid and was further recreated by students.  In this video, science was depicted “cool”, it engaged many children and the science communication mission was accomplished.

Another great example of a viral that Tracy gave was the Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment” of 2006, which was not intended to promote any product.  However, the idea soon became funded by Mentos and subsequently sponsored by Coca Cola.  This was, in fact, created by a juggler and a lawyer, not scientists; yet the underlining message was science based and, to date, it has achieved over 12 million hits.

Pointers about how to make a successful viral were then shared (I will add these when Tracy has completed her rounds of giving this talk).  Tracy also gave examples of why videos are a great way to promote something, why people like to share them (self-promoting!!) and how you can get your work noticed (again, I will post these at a later date).

One particular good point was: if there is a message that people want to relay or if it is educational, it usually works better to be stealth about it, by using any of the mentioned tactics (to be added to this blog soon!!).  Tracy wishes this for Storm; the audience thinks they’re being entertained, but they’re in fact learning something about pressing issues including homeopathy, Deepak Chopra and the importance of evidence-based policies.  Who would have thought that?

An original draft sketch from the animated version of “Storm

Tracy hopes that “Storm” will become a term famously used by our generation – there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be!!  However, the sad truth may be that, as a subliminal “skeptic” message, it may not achieve a viral success, maybe because it is too niche?  Let’s hope it does work because it works for other niche areas such as for the creationists….check out this video and then this one about “The Atheists Nightmare“.

Early sketches of Tim’s character

Many hours and a lot of hard work has been put into the making of Storm and we were given a sneak preview of some of the original sketches by DC when trying to create Tim’s character for the animation.  The aim was to create something that Tim liked and also, importantly, something his wife liked too.  Earlier sketches were scrapped when Tim thought he didn’t look sexy enough (one in particular looked very similar to an Einstein figure if you ask me, so I can see where he was coming from).  Other characters were named “Penis Nose Tim”, “Shaggy Tim” (relating to the character from Scooby Doo) and “Panto-shoes Tim”.  After six months of sketches and ideas, Tim, finally gave instructions for what he actually wanted to look like (probably six months overdue for an input on that!!).

Tracy presented a small number of clips, demonstrating how the animation developed and progressed along the way, with new ideas being brought in all the time.  One additional feature, which was demonstrated, was the use of animated typography designed by motion graphic designer and animator, Fraser Davidson.  This added a very clever, new dimension to the animation and I’d imagine it gave DC a nice break from his slogging on this too.


Tim, Tracy and DC on stage, at TAM London, after the first public showing of "Storm"


Storm is completely funded by donations (if you’re feeling generous, you can donate here), it also runs on the complete goodwill of all those involved.  It premiered at this year’s TAM London on Saturday October 16th- from which the team will gain some revenue – and, from here, it will be shown at various festivals including “Animated Encounters” at the 16th International Film festival in Bristol, this November, TAM Australia, YouTube and will eventually be available in HD on iTunes, for anyone wants to buy it.

The subliminal message in Storm focuses on raising awareness of pseudo-science.  People, who watch this and become interested in this message, may want to find out more and soon open a whole Pandora’s box of other alternative therapies and medicines out there.  Further avenues could lead to knowledge of the libel case between Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association and the importance of libel reform, maybe even sign the online petition (you can sign it from this blog page too, the link is flashing over there in the right hand column!!).  People may also become aware of the great works of Ben Goldacre and Simon Perry and follow their blogs about their campaigns against pseudo-science.

Storm is not just a potential “viral“, it is also “vital” for increasing the awareness of real science, proven to work and proven to save lives. A disturbing number of people are unaware of the truths that lie behind readily available alternative therapies and if Storm generates only a small fraction of additional awareness in such areas, this will be an immense achievement.


Me with Tim at TAM London 2010



P.S. at the Skeptics in the Pub meeting, @carmenego did a great rendition of the lyrics about malaria and homeopathy that were axed from the original (even longer) 15 minute beat poem!!
2 Responses to “Working up a viral “Storm””
  1. noodlemaz says:

    Great post! Was sorry to miss this one, I was in such a bad mood that day and could not drag myself out of my flat (or indeed my pyjamas…) so really glad you’ve taken the time to write on it.
    Looking forward to Storm, love it; was overjoyed when he performed it at the Big Libel Gig and loved seeing his live show at the Hammersmith Apollo last year.
    Also hope to see it go completely viral when it’s done 😀

    • dellybean says:

      Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I really enjoyed the meeting and Tracy, in this talk, was a refreshing change from the usual opinionated skeptic pro/antagonist (not suggesting at all that I dislike these, it’s just nice to see a mix). I had to edit quite a lot of my post as Tracy is still presenting this talk at other SiTP meetings and she asked me to reduce the details until she gives the go ahead (fair enough), so I will be adding those in soon, hopefully. It’s a shame you couldn’t make it, I think a lot of people had the bank holiday lethargy/hangover that day so you weren’t the only one missing out. As far as viral, if the audio clip can do it….this will definitely do it, the sneak preview clips were awesome!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: