Interactive Film: The Twilight Zone

I can't think of a better candidate for interactive cinema adaptation than The Twilight Zone. This brilliant show was sort of horror meets sci-fi meets the surreal. In short, the whole schtick was "surprise me." The audience was rewarded in every episode with some kind of twist or paradigmatic shift by the episode's end. 

With narrative progression upended, this was truly a show that defied expectations. Interactive cinema, movies that allow viewers to make choices that impact the movie's progression/direction, is the ideal playground for expanding Twilight Zone's fundamental refusal to meet narrative expectations.

This article in Wired introduces us to the very beginnings of the project, which is truly in its infancy. As you can imagine, the biggest challenge lies in how to craft a film that entails interactivity that truly feels interactive. This means going a few steps beyond Choose Your Own Adventure stories in which the options (which did seem revolutionary to me at the time) were fairly obvious and ultimately it did read like a scripted novel with some room for reader "choices."

The creator, Ken Levine, has this to say about striking that delicate balance:

“Interactivity is a spectrum, it’s not binary,” he says. “I think of it as the viewer’s angle in the chair. When you watch something, you’re sitting back in the chair. When you’re gaming, you’re leaning forward in the chair. This is an interesting place in between … your brain is forward in the chair.”

Levine values the empathy that The Twilight Zone established between the viewer and characters, who are never reoccurring and only stay on screen for 30 minutes. His goal is to add "agency" to the mix. Frank Rose touched upon this in The Art of Immersion as he argues that enhanced engagement requires and creates empathy. The holy grail of interactive cinema is creating an empathy beyond film and TV, by allowing the viewer to have some agency, some say in the trajectory. 

This is one of many projects seeking this goal, but I would surmise that by adapting The Twilight Zone, Levine stands a solid chance of getting there, whatever "there" looks like.

Participant Cinema: Make Your Avatar a Star

Ready Player One is one of the most enjoyable and intelligent trade sci-fi books to appear in years. Without giving away too much, the premise is about regular users occupying and hacking a virtual world named OASIS. Themes of user engagement, activity and collective intelligence run throughout the novel. 

Warner Brothers and Steven Spielberg are working on a film adaptation right now. As I read the novel, I could clearly imagine what a movie would look and feel like. It's a cinematic novel. When I heard that Spielberg is at the helm I felt pang of sadness as I wasn't sure his heavy-handed directorial style would work with the intelligence and subtleties found in the book. But, then I remembered Minority Report. Spielberg did not ruin that adaptation; in fact, I think he did a pretty decent job of depicting Phillip K. Dick's complex story.

One indicator that this movie has hope is the manner in which the folks involved (including the book's author) are including regular users, just as the OASIS engineers/owners do in the book. Follow this link to see the CFA (Call for Avatar). They're inviting gamers and designers to create their own avatars, a few of which will be chosen to appear in the film. The old commie in me sees a red (haha) flag in that the media companies are now asking us to produce content that we will then pay to consume later. But, another view, a less dark one, sees this gesture as one wholly appropriate to the story and our current context.