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Quizuna: Producing a Hit Live Quiz Show During Quarantine

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The last 2-3 months have yielded countless unanticipated pivots to remote production in the video world, as social distancing and shelter-at-home have left traditional on-location and on-set productions cancelled, or rendered them logistically difficult or impossible to pull off. In early March, Japanese Hollywood actress and one-time Miss International Ikumi Yoshimatsu and her manager and partner, Producer/Director Matt Taylor of RIM Entertainment, found themselves quarantined in their Tokyo apartment with current production plans dashed and an abundance of time on their hands.

Determined to make the most of their quarantime time and connect with others in Tokyo and around the country who were sheltered at home as they were, Ikumi and Matt decided to do what they do best--develop and deliver a new show with Ikumi on camera and Matt producing. They conceived an original live talk and quiz show called Quizuna (inspired by the Japanese word "Kizuna," which means "to bond"), combining interviews with renowned guests on timely topics with an interactive quiz component reflecting topics covered in the interviews. And they did it all from the bedroom of their Tokyo apartment.

"We wanted people, especially here in Japan, to have something to do" during quarantine, Taylor explains. "In Japan, it's a little bit different than quarantining in the U.S., where most people have a nice-sized apartment or home with a yard, and they can go out and do what they want. Here in Tokyo, a lot of people are in a one-room studio apartment. Ten feet by eight is the average living space for Japanese. So we really wanted to make something for them so they could interact with other people and with Ikumi through the chat mechanism. We've been locked in the room between trying to figure out how to do this and then actually executing it for 10 weeks now."

While producing a live quiz show from their bedroom that would connect with an audience would seem like a tall order, Taylor says the two of them were able to draw on past experience--at least in part--to make it all work. "Ikumi and I have been involved in various quiz shows in the U.S. and throughout the world," he says, "and the most successful show that we had in terms of ratings was when Ikumi could be live on camera and interact a lot with commenters in real time. She would catch things, like somebody in the audience is playing from the hospital and she would reach out to them right there, live on camera, and talk to them and wish them well and things like that. They might be having a baby, or having a birthday, and she would have the entire crew and the whole studio yell 'Happy birthday!' She really began to interact with viewers and with the players beyond the game, and we realized that that is really the winning element that brings the numbers to the game."

From the outset, they built that kind of interaction into the show, and also made an effort to engage viewers with the content of the interviews, having familiar and interesting guests comment on world topics, and then revisiting those topics in the quiz at the end. With that approach, he says, "the engagement is a hundred percent. Everybody who starts watching at the start of the show wants to be there for the quiz at the end, typing in their answers in the comment section. That has never been done in Japan before."

One indispendable component of the live Quizuna production workflow is the Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro--a new multiview-capable, streaming-ready stablemate to the popular ATEM Mini, which shipped shortly before Quizuna premiered. But that doesn't mean the Quizuna crew of two had an easy time acquiring a Mini Pro from their bedroom in Tokyo to get their show off the ground. "I called Europe, I called the U.S., I called Singapore, China, Korea. I tried to reach the OEM factory that might be manufacturing it, and we absolutely could not get our hands on one," Taylor says. "Suddenly Ikumi found one shopping online in Japan. I kind of couldn't believe it, but immediately she pushed the 'Buy' button. We couldn't sleep for three nights while it was coming to us. Finally, the doorbell rang and we put our mask and gloves on and we went out, we opened up the box and there it was, the ATEM Mini Pro, the first and the last that we've ever seen come online in Japan to this point."

Taylor says the ATEM Mini Pro proved well worth the struggle to track one down. "Ten days after getting the ATEM Mini Pro," he says, "we were able to go to air with a multicamera switched show, with all the different elements flowing in using the media portion of the ATEM Software Control combined with the laptop and the other HDMI connection, which we use kind of like a hyperlink. It's a great solution. It's high quality and it has a level of intuitiveness you don't get with other products. Somebody who wants to get into streaming or wants to do a show remotely can open the box, download the ATEM Software Control Panel, and be off and running literally within minutes."

The live interview-plus-quiz Quizuna show airs weekly on YouTube, with participants typing in their answers in the comment section and a server on the back end recording the answers and determining which answers are correct and which participant entered the right answer first. The show then returns the following morning for Ikumi to announce the winners. 

"For the top three winners," Taylor says, "we send out care packages. Ikumi is a Hollywood actress, and she's the first Miss Japan ever to win the world title of Miss International. She has a lot of sponsors and a lot of companies that give her products and things like that. From these we're able to put together really nice care packages for people who win. Sometimes we've sent them chocolate, along with body and face and health care things. We've even thrown in rolls of toilet paper and things that we felt could be helpful for people. The love and the comments and the gratitude that we've received from doing this show have been overwhelming and made the whole thing worthwhile." 

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