Where’s the Drama?

How do you open horizons for filmmakers by the many new opportunities opened up by interactive media? This is an evangelistic mission we’ve set ourselves and so far we can report significantly more success with documentary makers and TV producers than die-hard drama directors.

The value of extending the documentary experience by providing access to research, additional materials or archive is a no brainer. In Australia the fine work of the AFC/ABC Broadband Production Initiative has facilitated productive partnerships between documentary directors and interactive producers. When I first saw Trevor Graham, Rose Hesp and Rob Wellington’s Homeless I could immediately see the potential of broadband to move web-based entertainment to a new level. But it doesn’t seem as obvious a combination when it comes to drama.

We recently ran a workshop for drama students at AFTRS on cross media opportunities and developments and found ourselves challenged to make an impression with our audience.

One of the main problems seemed to be a question of production values. If there was a badly written script or a dodgy performance they tended to reject the whole thing outright rather than thinking of it as an opportunity for them to get involved and do better themselves.

We were relieved when one example we showed seemed to inspire the audience the game ‘Indigo Prophecy’ which is very filmic by design. The hybrid narrative/game play is very engaging and the production values are high. I came across an interview with the game designer on the project, David Cage, at Gamasutra.

The purpose of this organization was to have an “auteur” approach to game creation i.e. to create a context that gives one person full power to express his/her vision. This specifically made it possible to adopt strong-willed stances without constantly seeking compromises at all costs, which would have been disastrous for a project that claims to be innovative.…For me this is going to be a strong trend in the industry in the years to come, making it necessary to question a certain number of preconceived ideas.

I’ve heard this one before many times: it’s the ‘director’s vision’ mantra that enforces the hierarchies of the film industry as we know it. And it definitely works to create the kind of cinematic experience that allows an audience to inhabit someone else’s point of view and get an insight from another cohesive view of the world.

The games industry definitely needs more of this in order to create emotional games experiences where we identify with characters rather than shooting them. But in a networked world the film experience, or the Indigo Prophecy experience for that matter, both seem static and limited. The connections between people and media that are the success of ebay, amazon, myspace and youtube I’m convinced will make headway into more traditional entertainment. It’s not as if drama is going to go away but I think ‘walled garden’ closed entertainment experiences – whether console games or films or even those on-line documentaries – are going to be fundamentally challenged by their audiences in the future. Interactive stories are one thing, but if your vision dictates all the options then you are not really creating a space for your audience to contribute.

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