<p>The first film to use Facebook as a mechanism for both interaction and distribution strives to set a new standard for “social films.”</p>
Traditionally, going to the movies was always a social experience. Whether we went with friends or alone, sharing a darkened theater with a room full of people was an integral part of the film experience. As filmmaking evolves beyond the “black box” theater, filmmakers are not only playing with new ways of making films, but also the ways in which audiences can experience them. The browser has quickly become the newest medium for filmmakers of all kinds to experiment with reinventing the medium in various ways.
While many of those films have played with a level of interactivity based on one-on-one social media integration via Facebook or Twitter, none have actually used those platforms as a means of showcasing and distributing their films, locating the entire experience on the social platform. More often than not, these films only engage one viewer at a time, rather than attempting to emulate the social aspect of going to the movies by tapping into the existing social networks of the web.
Promoted as the first ever “Facebook film,” Him, Her and Them uses Facebook as both a platform and model to create a social film that engages multiple users within a single friend network at once. It is a story of new love and violent confrontation told over seven parts and is a blend of live action, still photographs and voice over narration.
Although it’s casual, lightweight fare that isn’t attempting to replace the theater experience, it at least adapts film’s traditionally shared nature in a new way. By connecting to the film as one would any Facebook app, a story unfolds that intermittently asks viewers to invite their friends to participate in the experience with them. Viewers can comment and like photos to enhance the story being told. The story will change depending on who is currently engaged and how viewers choose to respond. The film doesn’t require viewer intervention, however, and can be viewed without inviting friends. It’s up to each individual how they choose to let it progress.
We caught up with Mike Knowlton of Murmurco, the company behind the film to answer some questions for us
The Creators Project: What originally compelled you to make this film? To try to use Facebook as a platform or to create a film that was social or interactive?
Mike Knowlton: Originally we wanted to make a film that blended cinematic narrative and interactivity. We first thought about Facebook primarily as a distribution platform, but quickly saw the potential of integrating social mechanics. We hadn’t seen this done before and given the success of social games (like Cityville), it seemed ripe for exploration.
Do you think being “social” or interactive is a necessary or inevitable future for film?
No, we think that feature films released theatrically will always be here (at least, we hope so). We see Social Films as a new genre with compelling opportunities for filmmakers of all types. Watching a Social Film is different from watching TV or film in a movie theater. It is designed to be lightweight, casual, just like social media.
Your film lets viewers jump between chapters, how important is this non-linearity to the interactive experience?
Even though Him, Her and Them was designed as a “singular” experience, we wanted to encourage repeat viewings. To achieve this goal we needed to make it easy to jump to different points within it, especially the interactive scenes.
One of the major aspects of the experience is commenting and liking comments on photographs. Could you elaborate on how this “crowd-sourced” storytelling enhances the narrative?
The Holy Grail of storytelling is engagement. We see integrating social participation into storytelling (whether direct or indirect) as a new, powerful way to achieve this. It changes the nature of the experience in a number of ways:
• by making you an active participant, it creates a deeper level of engagement
• by its nature, it encourages you to think more about the narrative because now you are not just passively watching, you are contributing
• in addition, not only are you doing it, but your friends are too
• now your experience is a combination of the original story, your contributions, and your friends’ contributions.
The result is that there is a shared story that has been “socialized” – i.e., altered based on your social network.
Do you plan on expanding beyond Facebook in the future?
Yes. We see Social Films as being platform independent (independent website, other social networks, mobile apps, etc). We chose Facebook because of the obvious benefits: massive user base, proven app-model/API, existing marketplace, etc.
How did you think about constructing an interactive experience that would effectively convey the story line but was still malleable enough to accommodate viewer participating?
There were many types of interactivity we could have implemented. But in order to make it as intuitive as possible, we chose to embrace social “gestures” that would already be familiar to Facebook users (liking, commenting, and sharing). We see this project as participatory but [participating] is not required in order to have a meaningful experience. In that sense, we see it as being different from a crowd-sourced story. Crowd-sourced content can be impersonal. In Him, Her and Them, the story additions are filtered via your social network, which we believe creates a stronger connection with the story.
You can find out more about the film and its creation by visiting the production website, which features candid behind-the-scenes blog posts from the filmmakers about the making of.
Images courtesy of Murmurco.