Audience Response

14 04 2008

Years ago, I remember there was a movie called CLUE, based on the board game. The gimmick of this movie was that there were four versions of the film distributed to theatres with different endings. The “who did it?” was dependent on which print you saw. Wikipedia says that the alternate endings were “filmed” to prevent the ending from being revealed by the press, though I remember it had a marketing spin as well.

In any case, the film stunk and dropped dead at the box office.

But I digress.

The idea of audience interaction with film has been a holy grail for some filmmakers for a long time. After all, it’s all about how we impact our audience, isn’t it?

[The side issue of how much we want the audience to control our works is another one entirely. Personally, if I never have to sit through another bogus focus group, that will suit me just fine.]

There are some who want more control by the audience than others. It’s up to the filmmakers and that’s how it should be.

Still, I’m intrigued by this article from Che-Wei Wang, entitled Feedback Playback, on his blog.

The interactive piece is basically a real time bio-feedback mechanism that use skin and heart monitoring to change the way a film is edited and presented to the audience. Here is part of Wang’s description of the experience:

In a darkened, enclosed space, the user approaches a screen and his or her rests fingertips on a pad to the right of the screen. The system establishes baseline for this users physiological response, and re-calibrates. Short, non-sequential clips of a familiar, emotionally charged film– for example, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece “The Shining” –are shown. If the user responds to slight shifts in the emotional tone of the media, the system amplifies that response and displays clips that are more violent and arousing, or calmer and more neutral. The film is re-edited, the narrative reformulated according to this user’s response to it.

In other words, if the user is excited by scenes from THE SHINING then the content is changed as well (no word on whether the cutting pace changes). If the user responds to a slow-paced scene of a landscape then, presumably, the content would be changed to reflect that. It is unclear whether positive and negative reactions are differentiated and how they might be treated differently.

It’s fascinating and, I’d imagine, could portend some interesting trends for the future. Can’t you just see automatic surfing on the Web based on links that you react positively to?




One response

14 04 2008

I think Lucas did some kind of interactive cinema back in the early 90s maybe? I remember there being a lot of hype over this – allowing the audience to vote to etermine an outcome.

It failed miserably. I think cinema is destined to remain a passive activity. I don’t have an issue with that personally. I think the interactivity in this instance is tantamount to listening to a story being told by a master story teller and then interrupting them to tell them how the story SHOULD go.

Now, all that being said, the ability to tailor a story based on passive reaction could be huge. However, I suspect that it might remain in the realm of single user experience as opposed to the collective audience of a theater.

But I think there are some interesting ramifications to this. For example, if you monitor a physical reaction to a cinematic presentation, you might be able to derive information concerning what an audience likes or does not like and use that information as a guide to creating new content… Unlike the cards at the end of a preview or a viewer interview, you would be able to see exactly what was working and what was not working and adjust appropriately.

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