Last night we sat down in front of the television with no plan other than to chill out. I had some knitting to do so I turned to my husband and asked, “Can we watch a movie?”
I’ve been finding that sometimes I just want to watch a short movie that doesn’t require bingeing on episode after episode.
Much of my television watching stems more from a desire to knit uninterrupted for a couple of hours before going on to do something else such as making dinner or whatever. So now, movies to me are a perfect way to allocate a short – less than two hours – time to sit, not think and chill out without committing to a full series of drawn out story lines.
We settled on a movie called Bandersnatch. It’s part of the Black Mirror franchise and I had not heard about it. Truth be told, it was the first icon that attracted me and I shrugged my shoulders and said, “that’ll do” with my knitting beckoning.
“You do know that it’s an interactive movie?” asked my husband Tex. “It’s like those Choose Your Own Adventure books but in a movie,” he added.
“Yeah whatever, just put it on,” I said picking up my knitting. (Funny how we still say, “put it on” – anyone would think I’m still living in the 90s with a VCR machine).
The movie started well although the acting was slightly off (I’m finding some acting in Netflix movies slightly “off”. I have no idea why. There’s something ever so slightly unbelievable in some acting styles that you just can’t put your finger on it. I also found some of the camera angles of this movie a bit too “direct” or jarring. Watch one scene when the protagonist enters the kitchen and his father turns around and says to him, “I’m defrosting mince meat in the microwave”. That shot was too abrupt; and don’t get me started on the lighting of that particular scene which was poor; and some of the lighting in the bedroom where the sunlight was strobing and creating a rainbow of light on the shot.
When I watch movies, I’m not paying attention to the story line but I’m looking at the shot set up and trying to figure out how they did it.
Choice Driven Entertainment
Nevertheless, let’s go back to Bandersnatch story line as being a “Choose Your Own Adventure”.
The story is about a young programmer called Stefan (I also had an issue with his name – didn’t “sit” right) who takes on a job to create a new game for a software company and becomes OBSESSED with it. Throughout the movie, we see him spend long hours in his bedroom coding the game (it was 1984) and learn about the relationship with his father and why his mother had died. The story line was okay – bit simplistic however, when you see what they’ve done with that, you wouldn’t want it to be complicated.
Within some minutes of the storyline being set up, we are presented with a choice of what Stefan wants for breakfast Krispies or Frosties. The scene stops and you have 10 seconds in which to make your choice. At this point, I stop knitting, and I have Tex asking me, “Hurry up! Make a choice! ”
“Frosties!” I yell.
So Frosties is selected and the movie continues.
Throughout the movie, when major decisions need to be made, the audience (us) makes them and the storyline continues. It took about 90 minutes for us to go through to the ending (it turns out, it’s one of five endings) but it left us wanting to know what the character would have done if we selected something differently.
In the movie, you have two choices to choose from but they take you down different paths.
In one scene, Stefan is anxious to complete his program in time that he shouts out to the room, “Give me a sign!” and we can choose an option mentioning Netflix. In this scene, we are taken down a path where Stefan learns what Netflix is. A program in the 21st century that makes entertainment choices for you. In some small way, I felt that this was quite genius for Netflix to do this in this scene, as we, the viewer are making the choices for the character in the movie in some way – it was a bit meta.
Choose Your Own Adventures were all the rage growing up in the late 70s and 80s (and funnily enough, the movie is set in that same era so there was a level of familiarity with the scenes – and the music soundtrack was superb). I would spend hours reading these books and go through all the different combinations of endings that I could to see if I could read them all. Now, seeing it on the big screen in movie format was interesting and it piqued my curiosity to do a bit more exploring.
Now, this is NOT NEW. Tex is a gamer and he spends long drawn out hours in a darkened room for days on end playing the PS4 and sometimes I wander in and sit beside him on the sofa watching what he does but as I have relatively little to no interest in gaming myself, I find HOW these developers create these games far more interesting than the game itself. I have a sneaking suspicion that the makers of the movie Bandersnatch were really doing what game developers have been doing for years. That is, creating a non-linear story line and devising combinations and permutations of all choices. This is a HUGE feat for me and I admire their patience.
So I started thinking about the story flows and how I can create a simple video like this myself.
In one scene, we see Stefan have a story board like a flow chart behind him with all the two-choice decisions the character can do. Part of me thinks that it could have been the SAME work of that actual movie up there on the wall. So in some way, we were watching the process of how Stefan was going through creating the game which was the same process of the Bandersnatch movie makers!
This got me intrigued with how the movie makers had to come up with the story line with multiple endings and different decision points. I pondered how the script would have been written and organised according to which decision paths. I wondered how the actors would have had to act multiple different scenes in the same scene depending on how people choose. I also thought about the horrific editing process that would have ensued post-production to make sure they all flowed. In my head, I was thinking of multiple “tracks” in the editing process. How on earth could they keep a track of it all?
I was asking these questions out loud and annoying my husband, nevertheless, the day after I started reading about this because part of me wanted to make my own “Choose Your Own Adventure” just using basic video skills and using the “text boxes” on YouTube that can link you out to different videos. I think you can easily create your own CYOA video if you wanted to with basic YouTube Editor with the use of interactive cards (you know the YouTubers who say, “click the link above to my video on XYZ” well, you can actually design your video to show a choice and then LINK to these but you’d have to create your videos in such a way to “flow” based on the decisions chosen. In fact, I think it can be done in Camtasia with the use of hot spots – or a lot of cutting, copying and pasting and using different tracks for the choices made).
My mind boggled at how the movie editors would have done this but I could rest easy. It turns out that Netflix used a specific program designed and developed by Netflix themselves called Branch Manager.
Check out what they say here:
It’s really an amazing feat to create this short movie (which in the end turned out to be over 2.5 hours of us going through every decision to find multiple endings) and then work backwards to see how they all fitted.
Certain scenes “made sense” after going through the multiple selections. For example, in one scene, the father looks out the window yelling at something. In another track, we find out that he was looking at a dog digging up a garden scene but it wasn’t lost on me that people watching this movie – although would have got the “general gist” of the storyline, they would have made different choices to get there and had a different “time” experience of getting to that story line at different times to others.
It got me thinking that it’s perfect for television (you can’t do this at a cinema – but then again, maybe the days of cinema are numbered post-covid?) and it also made me reflect on whether I want to be entertained like this?
If you recall, all I wanted to do is to spend less than 2 hours on a movie that doesn’t make me think and that I could mindlessly watch and knit and instead, it drew me on and used up more time than I had originally anticipated. It got me thinking about how they made it, reading about how they made it, and writing a blog post about it. Also intrigued enough to create something like this myself.
Also part of me was also “slightly annoyed” I had to think of the storyline myself and I caught choosing “normal” responses. That is, after years of watching movies, you get to know the character’s journey but this time around, some of the decisions were illogical. For example, when Stefan kills his father, you’re faced with an impossible choice: to bury or to chop him up. Or in front of the computer, it was “throw tea over the computer” or “destroy the computer”. If he did the latter, there wouldn’t be a story line because it’s 1984 and it’s unlikely he’d have a second computer laying around. This ain’t 2020 where we have computers proliferating in every corner of the house….
I was “what?”
Why are these the ONLY choices?
Then I started to think, what data is Netflix collecting with our choices? Who would choose chop him up versus bury him? And sure enough they do. Netflix now knows to advertise Frosties to me because I selected it first…
Data collection aside, is this something I’ll be doing a lot more? I doubt it. I’d have to be in the mood for it because at times, all I want to do is to sit down and enjoy a movie in its entirety rather than select the decisions on behalf of the character and then have to sit and watch them “go through the motions” of some action that is misaligned to their character personality or story line. In that way, I do like a linear story telling fashion where I watch the character make the choices themselves (and I get to GUESS what they may be feeling and thinking about and WHY) as opposed to being in the driver’s seat with the storyline. Maybe for game play, this interaction suits perfectly but if you want to be entertained maybe interactivity in small doses – and for certain times when you feel like it, would be the better option.
References to Make Your Own COYA or Get Lost in Them
- Branching and Choose Your Own Adventure Video using HapYak
- A Comprehensive List of 53 Interactive Video
- Check out Eko for more choice-driven entertainment