White Ninja's six-second stories

Vancouver filmmakers bring narrative storytelling to Vine

Six episodes of White Ninja were available for viewing by the time I interviewed one of its creators – and I was able to screen them all in under a minute.

Technically, I watched the first episode three times, and the second episode twice. That’s when I realized that the episodes restarted automatically, and that in order to get to the next episode, I had to scroll up the page.

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Even factoring in the repeats, in the minute before I picked up the phone, I watched half a dozen episodes of this new, locally-made show. Usually I need a couple of hours to accomplish this kind of binge. Or a weekend. Or at least a pee break.

White Ninja is a web series, but it isn’t your average web series, where episodes typically clock in at four minutes or less.

It’s the first original narrative series to be developed specifically for Vine, the social media platform where users upload and share six-second videos.

“Well, they say six seconds, but you can get an extra point four in there,” laughs Tyler Funk, head honcho at North of Now Films who co-produced White Ninja with David Kaye and Jameson Parker of Whiskaye Films.

“It’s like scrolling through your Instagram feed. It’s something you can watch when you’re on the bus.”

6.4 seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but apparently it’s all you need to tell a story.

In this case, that story revolves around White Ninja, star of more than 1300 web comics that ran from 2002 to 2012 as part of the National Lampoon Humor Network, and, for a couple of years, on Cracked.com

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Source: Contributed photo

The creation of Scott Bevan and Kent Earle, White Ninja – according to the synopsis on the series’ Vine page – operates “on the same mental level as turtles and peanuts.”

“He’s just out for adventures, like chasing down a high-five, searching for treasure, or getting into trouble,” says Funk. “He’s not necessarily super-aware of what happens in the adult world.”

Funk had been a fan of White Ninja back in high school, and thought it was the perfect candidate for a Vine series because the individual comics were always hilarious and brief.

“I think what translates well to Vine is that they are these short little snippets,” says Funk.

“We don’t necessarily have narrative arcs of White Ninja trying to achieve an objective. Rather, there’s a certain sense of absurdity to it that works well with the Vine format.”

There’s a civic planning sesh with an adversarial cowboy, and a high-stakes showdown with a rogue banana peel.

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Source: Contributed photo

What happens when White Ninja gets in a pool and suddenly needs to pee? Where does he stand on the age-old pie vs. cake debate? The Vine series answers these questions, and more, 6.4 seconds at a time.

Don’t let the diminutive length fool you: it’s taken a lot of work to bring this 60-episode series to Vine, not the least of which was trying to explain the concept to potential funders and creative partners.

“Even with the IPF [Independent Production Fund, which ultimately green-lit the series], we said, ‘Hey, we want to make six-second episodes,’ and they’ve never funded a Vine series before,” says Funk. “It becomes one of those things of, how do you measure success on a platform on which no one has tried to do a project like this before?”

Besides the IPF, Funk and co.’s recipe for success required at least 30 people. Among them: multiple writers, directors, and actor Paul Scheer, the latter of whom is best known for playing Andre Nowzick on FX’s The League.

Scheer recorded 60 episodes’ worth of dialogue during a whirlwind 3-hour session in LA earlier this year.

The production team invited established local directors (like Afterparty’s Michelle Ouellet, and Matthew Clarke of Convos With My 2-year-old) as well as top Viners (like Stewart Reynolds, Brandon Bowen, Gabe Erwin, and Esa Fung) to direct five episodes each.

Animation was the job of one artist alone: Erick Grigorovski.

The team is committed to re-inventing the Sunday comic strip, but not without honouring White Ninja’s static roots.

White Ninja’s creators have acted as creative consultants over the course of the production process, says Funk.

Bevan wrote 25 of the episodes, and longtime fans of the series will see 10 of their favourite comics given a second life on Vine.

“While we’re heading into this new platform, I want to be true to what White Ninja is,” says Funk.

The rest of the episodes were scripted by eight writers during three immersive “writers’ room” sessions last summer.

White Ninja launched at Whistler Film Festival in early December. New episodes are available every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

To date, White Ninja has logged more than 6.8 million loops (that’s Vine-speak for views, and an accurate description because episodes will loop indefinitely until you scroll up or down).

Funk is happy with the numbers, but that’s not how he’s measuring success.

“For me, ultimately, if I watch something and I laugh, that’s the success that I’m in control of,” says Funk. “And I’m laughing.”

If you’ve got a minute or two, you can binge (and immediately re-binge) White Ninja on Vine.

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