New digital technologies are allowing creators to explore compelling new types of storytelling. Interactive videos, Transmedia, Social Films, and user generated content — the techniques vary, but the results are deeper viewer experiences and improved audience engagement.
Established networks and studios tend to simply re-purpose linear video content that was created for one medium (television/cinema). They post it on the Internet and simply attach functionality to it, generally at the end of the piece. This approach is flawed and inconsistent with the most basic tenets of the modern web experience: non-linearity and social interaction.
No surprise, the indie crowd is leading the way. A crop of new filmmakers and digital storytellers are pushing the boundaries to explore how to integrate interactivity and social mechanics into video narrative. The results are both promising and inspiring. Let’s take a look at a few.
Indie-rock darlings Arcade Fire pushed boundaries of the music video with The Wilderness Downtown, (launched in the Summer of 2010). Through a partnership with @radical.media, B-Reel, and Google, Director Chris Milk created an entirely new type of music video experience.
A viewer inputs the address of their childhood home and the video begins a fantastic journey through various Google Earth views of the viewer’s neighborhood. The visual experience is multi-layered and climaxes with a drawing application that asks viewers to write a message to a younger version of themselves.
The experience is highly personalized and for a fan of Arcade Fire, creates an even deeper connection with the band and it’s music.
Another innovative video project from Director Chris Milk is The Johnny Cash Project, an interactive website where participants draw their own portrait of Johnny Cash that is then integrated into a collective whole.
As drawings are added the project evolves and grows, one frame at a time. Viewer-submitted drawings are strung together in sequence and paired with Cash’s haunting song. The result is a living, moving, and ever changing video portrait of the Man in Black, created by his fans.
Created by Transmedia pioneer Lance Weiler, Pandemic 1.0 is a comprehensive storyworld that extends beyond one medium. So far it consists of a short film (“Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259”) and a multimedia, real-world story experience first presented at Sundance 2011.
The Pandemic 1.0 storyworld unites film, mobile and online technologies, props, social gaming, and data visualization. It ran during Sundance 2011 and allowed audiences to step into the shoes of the Pandemic protagonists anytime during the day.
This approach of telling the story across a variety of media channels reveals a number of compelling results. The creators are able to “R&D” various story elements, new business models/revenue streams are created, and the potential audience size for the story is dramatically increased.
Collapsus was developed by Submarine Channel in partnership with Dutch public broadcaster VPRO. The project was directed by Tommy Pallotta and combines video blogging, interactive maps, fictional newscasts, live action footage, and animation.
The story explores the impending energy crisis and was created to raise awareness of the global issues of peak oil. As viewers interactive with Collapsus they assess information and make decisions about the world’s energy production at both a national and global scale.
As a hybrid game/film, the experience immerses the viewer in a true cross-media narrative. Collapsus is presented in a unique three-paneled interface that allows users to switch from interactive game, fictional film, and documentary. In this way the user is able to determine how they want to experience the story.
Created by my company, Social Film studio Murmur, Him, Her and Them is a short film released as a Facebook application. The film tells two interwoven stories that involve an average young man living in the city — the narrative shifts back and forth between the lightness of a burgeoning office romance, and the dark, unsettling memories of a recent mugging.
As a Social Film it combines a cinematic narrative with social interactivity. The film contains both linear narrative and interactive scenes. In the interactive scenes viewers can add to the film and their friends can too. This approach embeds social functionality (sharing, commenting, liking) into the narrative thread.
This mix of original and user-generated content creates a highly personalized experience, one that is intimate and shared within one’s social circle of friends.
The above projects show the promise of a deeper integrated, interactive, and social film/video experience. New business models are being created and audiences are engaging in ways that were previously not possible.
As interactivity and social functionality continue to play an ever-increasingly important role in entertainment it will not be long before these types of experiences are the norm.