What it's like to make a show only for Snapchat Discover, from someone who did it

Jennie SuttonJennie SuttonJennie Sutton

Snapchat wants to convince the public — especially advertisers — that it’s the digital destination where the money and attention traditionally paid to television should land.

To make good on that pitch, Snapchat, and particularly its Discover section, can’t just be a repository for entertainment adapted from other platforms. Snapchat has to nurture its own shows that share some DNA with TV, but feel like they couldn’t live anywhere else but Snapchat.

So what does a Snapchat-native show look like?

To find out we talked to Jennie Sutton, a former monologue writer for “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and one of the people who has already made one. Sutton is part of the sketch group Dollar Pizza, which produced the ride-sharing comedy “Poolers” specifically for Comedy Central’s Snapchat Discover channel last year.

“Poolers” ran for a week last year in the Snapchat app, with episodes leaving the platform after a day. Because “Poolers” ran on Snapchat, it was shot vertically. But in creating a show tailored to Snapchat, the team actually went one step further, and sometimes “Poolers” features split-screen windows that are stacked vertically, with one camera showing the ride-share driver and the other showing the passengers.

Here’s what that looks like:

But beyond the practical considerations of how to film it, Sutton said having the show run on Snapchat also affected the writing process. The team had to have “a joke every step of the way,” she said. Someone could click out of the app at any moment, so the team had to make sure there was a quick succession of jokes that landed. “It was good. It makes your writing better,” Sutton said.

Even though “Poolers” played on the small screen, Sutton kept coming back to a word: spectacle. They had to grab people’s attention, especially since the videos on Snapchat’s Discover platform only last for a day.

While that feeling made the writing tighter, it had its downsides as well. “It’s great for one-off jokes,” Sutton said. “But in terms of story … you can’t explain anything, you don’t have any time. If you have a joke that you want to revisit, a ‘call back,’ you don’t have that luxury. It changes the kind of comedy.”

She said Snapchat has also favoured “a lot of talking head stuff” so far, more of a stand-up comedy vibe. That has historically been true on YouTube as well, where a direct interaction with the camera has been a staple of much of the comedy.

But as Snapchat matures as a platform for media, it will no doubt develop its own quirks, pushed by both its technical limitations and the audience it attracts. In particular, Sutton’s comments suggest that creators will be acutely aware of how easy Snapchat makes it to get onto the next story if yours is too boring.

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