Sophia Stuart is an award-winning digital strategist with over 17 years experience in creating online games, apps and sites for brands including 20th Century Fox’s The Devil Wears Prada, New Line Cinema’s Take The Lead, COSMOPOLITAN, Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire. Voted one of the ‘Top 21 Social Media Superstars’ by Min Online, sophia is now based in LA and runs Thedigitalcheckup.com.
She was a judge for both the SheSays global awards (2014) and the Bookmarks, South Africa (2013). Her latest project is writing and directing Mayfair Brooks, an episodic drama for mobile phones, commissioned by Pocket Gems and recently picked up for 10 more episodes after the pilot’s success.
Your latest project, Mayfair Brooks, is showing on Pocket Gems Episode platform. What drew you to this particular form of mobile entertainment?
Because of my experience in writing games for Hollywood studios, including 20th Century Fox (The Devil Wears Prada), Pocket Gems approached me to write a pilot for their Episode platform. This was a whole new form of entertainment. I’d never seen a ‘mobile episodic drama’ before this – and it’s curiously entertaining. When I was little, growing up in England, I remember thinking people lived inside the television and when we turned it on, there they were. As soon as I saw an example of mobile drama I wondered if children are going to think people live inside their phones and when they turn them on, there they are, ready to tell a story.
Where did you get the idea for Mayfair Brooks?
I always loved the television series Friends and that was my starting point. But I wanted to write something about a group of friends before they head out into the world, when they are still finding out who they are. When I’d done my A Levels in England I did an extra year at a tertiary college, studying drama, film and photography, before I went to London University. Mayfair Brooks is inspired by my adventures there and the different people I met.
How different is this project to the other work you’ve done (your book, writing for movies and magazines)? What were some of the challenges you faced?
When I wrote the games for The Devil Wears Prada or my book How To Stay Sane In A Crazy World (Hay House, 2014) I handed over my words to someone else to make them into a product. This time I got to write and direct the product to completion. It felt amazing. I found the biggest obstacle was in learning the Pocket Gems software. Both writing and directing are done inside the Episode portal. Basically, I have three screens open on my computer.
The centre section is for the script (what the characters say) and action commands (the animation codes that govern how they say it and how they move and interact with each other). I also chose the backgrounds to each scene, and modified the original avatars to create the characters and style their outfits (the fun bit!) from hundreds of individual pieces inside the Episode assets catalogue. The first time I compiled about a 100 lines of code and then picked up my phone to do a test – and Mayfair Brooks walked out and turned to the camera on my mobile device. I burst into (happy) tears – it was amazing – she was alive!
The main character writes a blog about life as a teenager in a seaside town, where did you draw inspiration for her character and the friends whose lives she writes about?
I grew up in a seaside town in England. At this stage blogs didn’t exist, so I wrote a diary and short stories (all long gone, thankfully). But I remembered what it was like to be 17 (and three-quarters) and for every day to be an agonizingly big adventure.
How did the character evolve in your mind?
This is weird but she came fully formed in my mind. I was back in England on a business trip earlier this year and found myself in a cafe in Mayfair. I thought that would be a great name for a character. I’d already got the commission from Pocket Gems and was musing on ideas and there it was. Mayfair Brooks. As soon as I had her name I started to sketch out what she looked like (the homage to the Vivienne Westwood mini kilt, thick black tights and Doc Martens) and wrote a few lines of dialogue in my notebook. It flowed really easily and I started imagining her group of friends and it grew from there.
Early on in the series, Mayfair is faced with a major life decision – whether to take a big risk and pursue her dream or to follow conventional wisdom and go to University first. I know you don’t want to give away the ending but do you know how the series will end?
Pocket Gems asked me to write three episodes for this pilot. They then test that pilot with tens of thousands of their current users all over the world (particularly teenagers in Asia where mobile episodic drama is already very popular). Based on feedback and engagement data (because they can see how many people start each story, whether they wait for the next one to ‘unlock’ the next day and so on), Mayfair Brooks might become an entire series. So there’s a cliffhanger at the end of all three episodes – including a dramatic chase through Heathrow Airport followed by some people in uniform (I can’t say anymore!). As to whether she chooses to become a media star in Manhattan or finish her studies at university – you’ll have to wait and see.
Mayfair dreams of being a writer; you are a writer. Do you feel a personal affinity with her?
You know, I really do. And until I’d started writing Mayfair as a character, I’d forgotten how much longing (and angst) I had as a teenager. I hope it inspires other young women to pursue their dreams. I’ve had the most amazing adventures myself.
What do you hope to achieve through this project?
I have two aims with Mayfair Brooks – one is to inspire young women to have big dreams – and then work hard to get them and to not give up. The other is a personal one. I was an executive for many years and really missed being creative (I started as a writer on British newspapers and magazines in the mid-90s). Since I moved back to Los Angeles in Spring 2013, I’ve gone through a reinvention and now have my own consulting and writing company and Mayfair Brooks has been opening doors into new worlds (like mobile episodic drama gigs) that I had not dreamed of.
I’ve written a YA (young adult) novel called Emerald, which my literary agent in NYC is taking to market (*crossed fingers*). And, due to people talking about Mayfair Brooks, I was invited to a meeting on Sunset Boulevard the other day where a big suit (can’t say who!) asked me to enact the opening scenes of my screenplay The Goddess, the Writer and the Eternal Soul, and then took a copy of the script to read. I squealed with excitement (once I was safely back in my car) – you never know what will happen next. Finally, I’m off to Dublin in January to speak about my work at Digital Biscuit, the emerging technology conference for the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland (http://digitalbiscuit.ie/project/sophia-stuart). So Mayfair Brooks has been a very lucky project for me so far and I’m ever so grateful.
Mayfair Brooks is available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store through interactive mobile app Episode.
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