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'Book of Jer3miah': BYU Web series bridged media, social gaps

Published: Thursday, July 26 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

PROVO — The 2009 Web series "Book of Jer3miah" was a groundbreaking enterprise.

It appeared relatively early in the Web series landscape, made Brigham Young University a pioneer in using transmedia storytelling in a film project and demonstrated that viewers don't have to be Mormon to enjoy a Mormon thriller.

"What makes 'Jer3miah' worth watching even for those of us who have to stop frequently and Google stuff like 'Iron Rod' is not just that it’s a well-crafted mystery, but that it’s a religious thriller that doesn’t take itself seriously all the time," read a review in the New York Times.

By 2008, the concepts of Web series and transmedia storytelling, or the technique of telling a story across multiple platforms that add depth to the fictional world and provide opportunities for viewers to explore other aspects of the world or even affect what happens in the story, were not new. But a university course utilizing these concepts was.

BYU associate professor of theatre and media arts Jeff Parkin and adjunct professor Jared Cardon worked together to create a new media class to educate students on making media for the Internet.

"We were looking at the film market in general, especially the indie market. The Internet was changing it," Cardon said. "We thought, 'We need to start learning and practicing making media for this new form because it's going to change things fast. … Students need to know how to tell stories online.'"

The first class, created and taught by Parkin and Cardon in the fall of 2008, had 11 students, only about half of which were film students, Parkin said. The others came from a variety of programs, including engineering, English and communications. All were interested in storytelling, online stories or gaming.

Parkin had an idea to produce a Web series and worked with Cardon to develop the story about LDS college freshman Jeremiah Whitney, who accepts the call to protect a mysterious Mesoamerican box and is immediately targeted by an unknown conspiracy.

The professors pitched the idea to the students, who at first had mixed feelings about its overtly Mormon aspects (at several points in the series, it's vital to the story arc that Whitney listen to divine inspiration from God).

"It was maybe one of the bigger hurdles we had to get over: Can you tell a story about a Mormon character that's compelling to Mormons and non-Mormons?" Parkin said.

After getting the students on board, the first semester of the class was spent fleshing out the world and its characters. The class size doubled the next semester, with some students who worked on the story development staying on to help produce it.

The class focus changed to writing and producing the 20 episodes of "Jer3miah." The process was challenging because of the range of experience the student actors and crew had in film. To say it was time-consuming may be an understatement, with the group often working late into the night.

"It was an absolutely crazy semester. They had to work around the actors' schedules, and some of us were full-time students. Some had jobs," said Camee Faulk, who played Megan Halling in the series. "A lot of the time we would go to school or work all day, get home and have to go to a shoot, sometimes to like 3 or 4 in the morning. … Sometimes they would have to shoot and edit all night long to make a deadline. It was quite a feat, but they did it."

In addition to producing episodes, other members of the class were responsible for keeping up the transmedia elements, which turned out to be as much a part of "Jer3miah" as each new "webisode." The class set up an alternate reality game, a discussion forum called the Davenport Papers, a host of websites like zoobynews.com and gdtprovo.blogspot.com, as well as Facebook pages for the characters.

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