I sold a show to Quibi. Now what.

Yesterday it was announced that the travel show I created, High&Low, would be part of the line up for the new streaming service Quibi on its launch. When I tell people this, there is usually two reactions, either, “wow, how did you manage that” or “what the hell is Quibi”. One answer fortunately applies to both.

First, what the hell is Quibi? It’s is a streaming service helmed by Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder and CEO of Dreamworks and one of the masterminds behind Disney’s golden age in the early ‘90s. While it’s like your basic Netflix or Hulu, it’s nothing like them at all, as programs on this network are all under 10 minutes and under at a time. This however is not what makes Quibi so different.

Quibi has a bit of a magic trick…

quibi
source Gizmodo

Quibi can only be watched on your phone, and is meant for you to watch during the day in “QUIck BItes”, like while commuting, waiting for your sandwich, or for something to render in my case. The reason you can only watch it on your phone is depending on which way you hold it, horizontal or vertically (Landscape or portrait), will actually change the camera shot in the show.

Yeah, it’s like choose your own adventure, but with TV.

It might be hard to wrap your head around what that could do for a show but it’s much more than a gimmick and really does give the audience a fresh new way to watch content. For creators like myself, it’s the things that dreams are made of.

Since the advent of streaming media to phones I’ve been asked countless time to create content in portrait mode, sometimes filming entire projects twice, for multiple formats. With Quibi, they’ve done some serious tech work under the hood to seamlessly have the ability to switch between viewing modes, which allows filmmakers to add context, meaning, and generally enhance how the story is told. Alex Craz of Gizmodo explains it best:

in Catherine Hardwicke’s new show, Don’t Look Deeper, the portrait mode version provides a much more intimate experience, with close-ups of the actors and a focus on expressions rather than actions. Flipping to landscape mode reveals more of the action and gives you that sense of scope you’ve come to expect from really wide shots.

This is just the beginning really, since flipping the phone can cut to whole other perspectives, like in a horror film seeing just security camera footage vs what the protagonist sees, or on cooking shows going from the wide shot of the stove to a list of ingredients or close up of techniques.

source Gizmodo

For me personally, I’ve been creating travel content for years, and have constantly wanted to take people deeper and further into experiences, to have them feel what it is like to be somewhere new rather than just show them. With this new format it is possible to have them truly interact with the content to let them decide how to explore a city or what to focus on. That’s a huge deal because it means the experience for the user will be that much richer.

It’s also a lot of fun. Travel shows can be pedantic and slow unless you’re into shoving weird food in your mouth or Richard Ayoade (love him). So this is an opportunity to get weird with it, to be unexpected, which is one of the main things that really turn me on about travelling in general. If I can bring that into the content it’s a win-win.

So now what? Well, on my end a lot of work, good work I hope, to try to push the limits with this new format and set the bar high for others that come on board. Quibi is aggressively fattening up their lineup with almost 200 new shows which is well beyond anything Apple or Disney+ launched with, so I’m sure I’ll be in good company, especially with icons like Steven Spielberg and Steven Soderbergh creating original content for them. Gulp.

Fortunately for me, my show is about travel, which is something I don’t have to think twice about, and will star two fantastic women, who I have no doubt about. In the end this idea came out of real experience from being a traveller, and from a lot of help from friends and colleagues that had faith in what it was about, which is really just getting people excited to get out there and make the world a smaller, better place. Either horizontally or vertically.

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So this is how pandemics start: Beijing back alley market.

China and the Wuhan Coronavirus flu have been in the news lately, so it seemed appropriate to share this little impromptu video I shot while in Beijing, discovering friendly local markets, some killer street food, and the very cool 798 Art Zone in an abandoned military factory.

We were staying at the East Hotel], which is a phenomenal place in itself. Connected to an opulent mall that puts most in the US to shame, it is a palace of light and glass, with amazing shops, fantastic restaurants, and luxurious accommodations. While this complex certainly exudes Western sensibilities, the Jiantaixiang district it’s located in is very much proletariat China.

Taking one of their loner bikes out, my friend Mikko and I donned our very necessary face masks to battle the thick haze, and went for a little adventure. Traveling south over the Bahe River on the busy Jiuxianqiao Road we ducked off down a quiet alley to come to a sprawling  market, overflowing with energy. Sliding inside I felt like we were seeing the real city, not the one built for Westerners. Butchers and fish mongers, spice sellers and repair men, this place was like Amazon.com but alive and visceral. Eels were being skinned and frogs chirping as we waded through the crowded isles. Off to the side a woman used an electric sander to descale a river fish, scales flew like sparks off a grinder, and a female butcher slurped noodles sitting amidst large bricks of pork.

For me it was a beautiful site, to see such a collection of interesting food and services under one roof, people buzzing from stall to store arguing about the price or weight, but it made me understand how easily influenza and disease can spread in places like these. I never understood how they could trace a pandemic back to a single market, even a single animal, but once you see how fluid everything is here, you see contamination isn’t a possibility, but a probability. If you have Netflix, and want a quick and well produced understanding of exactly how this happens, let me suggest watching “Explained: Pandemic” produced by Vox. It’s excellent (albeit frightening) 

Looking back, it’s a pretty ballsy move to eat street food anywhere, especially in a market with livestock. That said, I think irrational fear is truly the scariest thing of all, and keeps all of us from exploring and connecting. I’ll gladly risk an hour in the bathroom to make the world a smaller place. With this benevolence, I dove into one of the hawker stalls making some sort of fried dough sammy that smelled pretty damn good. Basically a pancake in a pancake with a fried egg, it was a delicious snack (meal) that would fuel another few hours of bike riding.

One thing that has to be said is that the people were outstanding here. Lovely, friendly, interested to share, and made an equal effort to try to communicate. I’ve been to countries where I fluently speak the language that aren’t remotely as welcoming as China, so discovering the people here was a true gift.

After a quick game of Chinese Hacky Sack, we headed north to the 798 Art Zone, which is a reclaimed abandoned Military Complex that is now full of contemporary and street art. This place is not to be missed, first the art here is provocative and brilliant, but the complex itself is a bit of a wonder. In a country so controlled by the state, having a military complex turned into a center for free thinking and art is remarkable, and the art doesn’t hold back from viciously commenting on the current state of affairs. It reminded me of the Biennial in Havana many years ago, where the art movement fueled revolution from the art galleries to the streets. In any case, this area is lousy with shops and restaurants too, a bit safer than pancake sammy’s in the back alley.

While I love making more in depth/produced segments, I do cherish these random off-the-hip videos that to me illustrate the true nature of “place”. This is an experience that literally anyone would have jumping on a bike and cruising round Beijing, although it does make me laugh seeing a 200 lbs Italian kid from NYC trying to make friends in a river of Chinese shoppers.

Oh, if you are wondering about my bondage gear (camera strap) they’re this super hipster jam called Holdfast. I did a little video about them too … they rock, and definitely save your back.