Building bridges with Oz

When Shawn Bailey speaks at this month's GameON: Finance event in Toronto, he will impress upon the games industry crowd that it really is a big world out there, and that his multi-platform company is well-positioned to take advantage.

When Shawn Bailey speaks at this month’s GameON: Finance event in Toronto, he will impress upon the games industry crowd that it really is a big world out there, and that his multi-platform company is well-positioned to take advantage.

Startup Chocolate Liberation Front, of which Bailey is one of two directors of Canadian operations, launched in June with offices in Melbourne and Toronto, looking to maximize synergies between those two centers.

‘The production environments are quite similar,’ Bailey says. ‘It’s very easy for us to work across both in terms of the funding agencies and the type of content that people are looking for. There’s a lot of opportunity opening up there.’

While the company’s two bases can’t set up treaty coproductions with one another, the Toronto firm will, says Bailey, look to ‘work with Canadian producers and introduce them to our Australian arm, and vice versa – [the Melbourne office will] look for the talent in Australia and bring that to the existing talent pool in animation shops and things that exist here in Canada.’

Running the show Down Under is Dan Fill (the other director of Canadian operations) and Frank Verheggen. Both recently left the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and ex-pat Fill is well known in these parts as the former VP interactive at Decode Entertainment and a past producer of the year at the Canadian New Media Awards. He has achieved the same level of recognition in his new home, having nabbed 2008′s digital innovation award from national newspaper The Australian.

Bailey, meanwhile, also comes from public broadcasting, having until recently served as head of interactive for CBC’s entertainment division. He must have left a good impression on his old bosses, who have called on CLF to provide interactive elements for Death Comes to Town, the forthcoming Kids in the Hall reunion miniseries that, according to one top Ceeb exec, is the best thing on the pubcaster’s current slate.

Bailey’s legacy at CBC includes the websites for The Tudors and Being Erica, the latter putting him up for a Gemini Award for best cross-platform project along with series exec producers David Fortier and Ivan Schneeberg of Temple Street Productions and writer Jessie Gabe.

The Being Erica microsite (www.cbc.ca/beingerica) is a model for what a broadcast series can offer online. The design is clean and easy on the eye, and simple to navigate. And in a time when networks usually offer at best a couple of behind-the-scenes clips as web-exclusive content, this show’s makers wanted to do more.

‘Until you’ve seen the scenes you don’t really have that much of an interest in ‘behind the scenes,” says Bailey. ‘We’d already seen the pilot and we really knew Erica [played by Erin Karpluk] would hit with people. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we just spend some time with her?”

It was decided to feature Erica in a series of 20 funny video blogs set in the old job that she leaves at the start of the TV series, with creative provided by Temple Street.

The Tudors site (www.cbc.ca/tudors), meanwhile, is state-of-the-art, surpassing what commissioning broadcaster Showtime offers on its own site. Even mundane features like the episode guide are presented with eye-popping 3D animation. But for its second season, that wasn’t enough.

‘[CBC arts and entertainment boss] Fred Fuchs issued a great challenge to us,’ Bailey recalls. ‘He said, ‘Okay, so we’ve got a beautiful show; we’ve got a beautiful site; we know that people love it. Let’s not give them the same thing again. Is there some way that we can measure the conversation? Is there some way we can visually represent just how successful this show has become?”

The interactive team responded with an engine that scrapes the web so that every time anyone blogs about the show or posts a photo tagged with Tudors keywords, that info is pulled onto the site. Visitors can even see on a world map from where the references originate. (It’s available in the site’s ‘Kingdom’ section.)

In addition to fielding service work and seeking out copros, Bailey’s new company is developing its own IP, the main push being The World of Infinite Curiosity, which was originally envisioned as a feature film but now has CLF talking to broadcasters. The project follows a young boy who imagines a fantasy world populated by the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. It also has a game component that has scored financing from Telefilm Canada and Down Under equivalent Screen Australia.

CLF is ramping up to see these projects through, having recently hired five staff to work with Bailey, including Trevor Shaikin, a former manager at teen social networking site Habbo, and Suzanne Wilson, whose many credits include working on BBC’s Teletubbies, and in another lifetime, writing for Playback.

The GameON: Finance conference, produced by Interactive Ontario, takes place Oct. 27-28 at Toronto’s Design Exchange.