At the Tribeca Film Festival, New Movies Let You Choose How the Story Unfolds
At a recent screening of Possibilia, a new short film about an excruciating breakup that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the movie’s two directors sat crouched over a glowing MacBook on the stage to the right of the screen. Every few seconds, small boxes — representing different narrative choices — populated at the bottom of the movie screen. Each time these boxes appeared, one of the two directors would warn the audience that the experience was about to change. With the click of a button, the actors onscreen — Alex Karpovsky, of the HBO show Girls, and Zoe Jarman — would go from having a quiet conversation at their kitchen table to breaking valuables in their home. Unlike other interactive experiences, there was question posed or pause to wait for the screen to load. The conversation flowed seamlessly into an entirely different dramatic scene. It was almost as if the bearers of the laptop had willed the breakup themselves. “I’m self-conscious about screening this movie in this theater, because I’d rather you’d be touching it,” Daniel Scheinert, one of the film’s directors, said as soon as the lights came on. “It’s not a funny three-act structure film that’s supposed to send you out of the theater laughing and high-fiving your friends. It’s built to be an experience where you put on headphones and you discover things and you’re confused and you’re implicated in the story and you’re like, ‘Oh, no, it’s my fault they’re still breaking up.’ ” Most good movies are filled with moments we wish we could prevent ourselves. Mu-
fasa plunges to his death in The Lion King, Wilson the volleyball breaks loose from the raft in Cast Away, and Jack floats off into the icy Atlantic Ocean in Titanic. This year, the Tribeca festival featured two “interactive films,” movies that let you take part in the narrative, so you can adjust the fate of the characters on screen based on your own desires. The films use a platform from a startup called Interlude that’s specifically designed for these types of interactive experiences. In partnership with Scheinert and his partner Daniel Kwan, the 4-year-old company helped to create two short films with “nonlinear” narratives: Possibilia and The Gleam, a documentary centered on a community in a small town in Guntersville, Alabama, as seen through its community newspaper. The film’s interactivity depends on the movie itself. The Gleam, for instance, starts with a randomized introduction to the town through the eyes of a few individuals. It then settles into a start screen that resembles a town newspaper. Each individual’s story is separated into a different square. You can click on any square to explore a particular thread of the narrative further. If you do nothing, the film automatically switches from square to square, playing interview footage for each person. As the film comes to a close, the viewer is offered a randomized ending. No two viewings of the film are meant to be the same. Possibilia, on the other hand, is a much more calculated use of Interlude’s technology. It’s based on a six-minute script that was filmed over and over and over again in different scenarios. Every few seconds in the film, the options for the narrative’s progression will double at the bottom of the screen, allowing for the viewer to switch between scenarios with a quick tap. The dialogue is timed to seamlessly transfer between scenes without ever interrupting the conversation. So at one moment Karpovsky and Jarmon might be sitting at a table, calmly discussing their imminent split. The next, they could be knocking framed photos off the walls as they charge up the stairs, yelling. This is
what Scheinert and Kwan call the “multiverse”: After running its course, and expanding from two narrative options to four to eight to 16, the film coalesces to a final ending, melding each of the scenes back into one. “It translates really well in an experience,” Kwan said onstage at the event after the film ended. “We all have this kind of personal stake in wanting the relationship to work, and it hurt on set to watch it over and over again.” Aside from using Interlude’s platform to show the video, the actors went to great lengths to ensure that the film’s transitions were seamless from the start. “We had our own dialogue playing in our ear; that was a big thing,” Jarmon explained after the screening. “So because of the timing and how every version of the scene had to time out in a specific way, we had to keep up with ourselves.” As new storytelling technologies like virtual reality and three-dimensional films become popular, Interlude CEO Yoni Bloch says Interlude fills a need that’s often overlooked. “There’s immersive and there’s interactive,” he told Yahoo Tech after the screening. “I had some really cool filmmakers watching it and saying, ‘This is like 3D for the script.’ That’s what we like. It’s harder, because it’s not just taking what exists and enhancing it; it’s building something new.” The two films were backed by Xbox, which is partnering with Interlude to integrate the platform into the Xbox One and the Xbox 360. Bloch hopes to allow other filmmakers to publish to his company’s platform themselves and eventually take advantage of the console’s voice and gesture detection features. He’s also discussing with Nancy Tellem,
Xbox’s entertainment and digital media president, the possibility of developing serialized content that allows people to change and affect the characters views. According to Bloch, who has previously made interactive music videos for his band in Israel and for Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Interlude videos are watched, on average, three times the length of the actual video — an uncanny attention span for your average Internet user. Bloch thinks that this interest is partly piqued by the fear of missing out. “When you go to Disneyland, you can’t get into all the rides,” he said. “It’s just not built that way. When you finish and you have to go home, you then really want to go back and see it again. That’s something that doesn’t really exist today, the feeling that you can watch a film 50 times and you would find new content each time. With this, suddenly it’s the road not taken. They feel like they’re missing something. Watching it over and over again, they get more attached.” To see some of Interlude’s previous projects, visit the company’s website. Or check out some of the entries in the Tribeca Film Festival’s interactive music video challenge. Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her here.