By Kely Lyons
Hollywood, CA(Hollywood Today)8/27/12/—Tim Kring is a lucky man, and he knows it. But like most people whom the rest of us often see as “just lucky”, he earned his good fortune the old-fashioned way, with hard work and the continuous honing of his talents. From “Chicago Hope” to “Providence” and “Crossing Jordon”, Kring worked his way up through the TV studio hierarchy until he struck cult gold with the series “Heroes” in 2006.
By his own admission, had it not been for his track record and the success of “Heroes”, it’s unlikely that FOX would have agreed to green-light “Touch”, Kring’s esoteric new drama about the mathematical and cosmic connections between everyone and everything – a show anchored by a severely autistic child who scribbles numbers in a notebook and doesn’t utter a word.
I spoke with Tim earlier this month at the Zeitgeist Media Festival, a brilliantly curated celebration of the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Held at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood and encompassing music, short films, multi-media presentations and art, the mission of the Festival is “to unify the world through annual awareness events that bridge the difference between all nations, races, classes, genders and creeds; to understand we all share the same basic needs;” and to “use the power of Art to effect change in the social “Zeitgeist” – advancing our value system to see how much positive possibility there is for real social change if we choose not to fear it.”
Given this context, it was fitting that Kring was one of the Festival’s guest speakers, there to talk about his groundbreaking 2010 social media experiment, “Conspiracy for Good” (www.conspiracyforgood.com). Kring explained that several years earlier, he had started thinking about a new and interactive way to tell a story, a saving-the-world narrative participants could actually live in and that existed all around them in their real lives – on their phones, on their laptops, in their neighborhoods – where secret messages could be encrypted in a favorite song or decoded by using a phone app to scan for clues, maps and answers hidden in graffiti, bus advertisements and numerous other places that were part of participants’ everyday activities.
And Kring wasn’t interested in his project just as entertainment. It had to have a real-world application, a mechanism for social change, with a practical and humanitarian outcome that would make the whole endeavor worthwhile. To quote Tim on the project’s website, “Conspiracy for Good” was an “interactive story that empowered its audience to take real-life action and create positive change in the world. Call it Social Benefit Storytelling.”
Incorporating Kring’s mantra that we are all part of life’s web of interconnectedness, the project ingeniously used the web, mobile apps and real-life situations to create an interactive storyline that spanned the globe, from the UK to Africa and back. Through real-world game playing and live theater, the story follows UK rap artist Nadira X, who puts her career on hold and commits a year of her life to teaching school in a village in Eastern Zambia. The trouble starts after her plan to build a library for her students is derailed, when a shipment of books from London goes missing.
The likely villain is UK megacorp Blackwell Briggs and its owner, Sir Ian Briggs, who wants to build an oil pipeline through the village. When Nadira asks her friend David Nasofo, a local Blackwell employee, for help, he travels to London with a plea to Sir Ian – but David goes missing before he can get there. Enter the Conspiracy for Good, an ancient secret society whose members deny participation in any such thing. Following clues in a series of videos left behind by David as he runs for his life through the streets of London, Conspiracy members finally track down the culprit. Sir Ian is led away in handcuffs, his chicanery revealed. Over 20 webisodes, with help from Conspiracy participants all across the globe, evil was vanquished – and Nadira’s students got their library.
Produced by Kring’s company TKE Imperative and Sweden’s The Company P, in partnership with Nokia, the ground-breaking interactive project won two “Rockies” for “best cross-platform” and “best interactive” project at the 2011 Banff World Media Festival, and set a new standard for interactive gaming.
Of course, any popular entertainment with social benefits attached risks being labeled un-cool or goody-goody. But with “Touch” entering a promising-looking second season and his new interactive web-series “Daybreak” getting rave reviews, Kring seems to have found a way to balance his fascination with synchronicity and the interconnected web of life on this planet with sympathetic characters and riveting storylines.
I asked Tim if he believes technology and social media can truly change things. Gesturing to his cell phone, he quietly noted that most of us now have more power in our pockets to bring about social change than any president ever has.
One of the quotes flashed across the multi-media screen onstage at the Zeitgeist event was the following, from esteemed anthropologist Margaret Meade:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In keeping with Meade’s truism, Tim Kring has a visionary drive to enable every person on the planet – from the ordinary to the extraordinary – to work for the Good with a capital “G”, to use the power in our pockets to create real-life social change and benefits around the globe in ways Margaret Meade probably never imagined, but most certainly would have approved of.
And we can do it, because in truth, the power of the people can work miracles, and – as Kring and the Zeitgeist organization are determined to prove – we are all connected.