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Mayfair Brooks, a mobile drama created by Sophia Stuart last year. Mayfair Brooks

From dial-up to The Devil Wears Prada: How the internet helped this writer's career

Sophia Stuart’s career began when the internet was taking its first steps, and her fascination with it took her all over the world.

WHEN YOU CONSIDER how ideas are told and presented, a lot has changed in the last few years thanks to the internet.

The influence and exposure to different ideas, cultures and approaches has broadened our horizons and the opportunities it’s allowed us were probably unimaginable ten or fifteen years ago.

It’s very easy to take the advances and opportunities it has allowed us for granted, but it has made things richer, and it’s rare that we stop and reflect on just how much things have changed since it became more accessible.

One person who has experienced this change is writer and director Sophia Stuart whose career has spanned the good part of 17 years.

Originally from the UK, her career has covered a lot of ground, having worked as a journalist for the Independent UK, Hearst Corporate – a major media group which has 300 magazines and saw her work for the UK branch before later leading its digital strategy globally – and running digital campaigns for major movies like The Devil Wears Prada.

But all of these moves have one thing in common: they were rooted in technology. This interest began at her time in university in the early 90s and being the only theatre and film student to have a key to its computer lab certainly helped facilitate this. 

I had huge insomnia like most students and I would go into the computer lab and teach myself a little code. I was absolutely fascinated by what was happening… [and] everything that happened, I either had to teach myself or find someone, often someone younger than me, who would teach me because they’re slightly ahead of where the curve is… as soon as Chrome could auto-translate, I was reading blogs in Russia, so I just always had that curiosity and there still is a different world [out there].

That fascination has taken her all around the world, and the ability to read sites, blogs and articles that normally wouldn’t have been accessible because of language barriers was a major boost. This came in handy since part of her university course dealt with cultural theory and how that’s expressed through the art that’s produced, particularly movies and technology, and it’s a curiosity that’s served her well.

“I always joke that because of my job at Hearst, I spoke 12 words in 12 languages as I like to be friendly in anyone’s language,” she said. “I remember going to Korea and I learnt the different bows that you do and how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ and I had read something that one of the editors [who was part of Hearst], who didn’t really speak English… through Google Translate, and they were just astonished and a tiny bit freaked out [by this].”

Before this, she had worked at a boutique agency in California directing a number of digital products, one of which was for the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada. Stuart’s work with Hearst meant she was familiar with the film’s target demographic, and as part of the campaign, she and her agency created an online scavenger game, but it wasn’t designed with just the core audience in mind.

“I wanted guys to go and see it, that’s why we built a scavenger game because men understand the way that you have to battle at work and I think women are learning that now but that’s why we wrote it like that, because for all the guys I tested it on, I would say  ’you see, it’s like a strategy game’ and they would say ‘I want to go see this’.

The Devil Wears Prada- more Anne Hathaway As part of the promotion of The Devil Wears Prada in 2006 which starred Anne Hathaway (pictured during a shoot), an online scavenger game was created as a way to appeal to both male and female demographics. TLVshac / Flickr TLVshac / Flickr / Flickr

Those experiences held her in good stead as she looked towards other areas of telling a story. One of the recent experiments Stuart undertook was that of the mobile drama, a trend she first spotted when she was working in Asia between 2008 and 2010.

Noticing that most of the people looking at their phones weren’t texting, she discovered that the reason behind this was down to mobile dramas. When she moved on from Hearst, and wanted to get back into doing something creative, her work with Pocket Gems, a LA app company which also specialises in the area, gave her the opportunity to create her own three-episode version and another opportunity to learn something new.

Those who keep up to date with gaming would know similar episodic content has seeped into adventure titles like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Tales of Monkey Island to name a few. While those examples are very much interactive, the format of Mayfair Brook is more linear, but creating it still presents its own challenges.

“I’ve used Final Draft when I’ve been writing screenplays but this was really interesting, this was a combination of code and screenwriting and something that was entirely new, explained Stuart. “The first time to compile it all on your desktop, you test it via a special URL on your phone, and it was the first time Mayfair Brooks walked onto the screen, and turned to the camera and said something [was exciting].”

Mayfair Brooks Screenshots from Mayfair Brooks, the mobile drama Stuart created. Mayfair Brooks Mayfair Brooks

While the mobile drama isn’t going to set the world alight, it’s a good example of how despite the advances of the internet and how it’s broken down barriers, there is effectively a different world out there that we can learn from and incorporate into our own works.

That’s something Ireland could capitalise upon. Considering our penchant for storytelling and writing, creating these kind of experiences isn’t limited to just novels and films, other experiences like mobile dramas and newer technologies like Oculus Rift – which allows you to use virtual reality to create unique scenarios – require narration or storytelling in some form to be truly effective.

That demand is only going to grow even further and the way to improve this is to expose as many different people to these ideas as possible.

“It makes sense that Ireland would become very big in it just because of the nature of storytelling and creation and I can just see that… I wanted to do Oscar Wilde [for my talk] because he’s obviously a national hero and very important but I thought, I’d mention Mayfair Brooks in it because I love to give new information wherever I go. If you learn one or two new things from someone speaking, it’s entirely worth it. I love doing that.”

Sophia Stuart will be speaking at the Digital Biscuit festival, which will run at Dublin’s Science Gallery from Wednesday 28 to Friday 30 January. Speakers will include David Chase and Michel Gondry.

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