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Meanwhile, the Interactive Film


Last Thursday I attended the unveiling of three new media prototypes created by the wizkids at Habitat, the 6 month intensive new media programme at the Canadian Film Centre.

One of the prototypes was an interactive, non-linear film called Meanwhile. I watched it in the school's screening room. The film started with a random scene. Then, after each scene the audience got to vote whether they wanted to see a scene that came before, after or during (meanwhile) the just viewed scene.

With audience participation, a clever story and good acting, this was the most fun I had watching a film in a long time. Well, at least since Syriana.

You can now watch the film online. Next up? If all goes well, it might one day come to a theatre, DVD or TV set near you. Shelley Simmons, one of the students who created the film, filled us in on where they came up with the inspiration, how it got made and some of the other juicy details behind Meanwhile.

Q. What is Meanwhile?

SS: Meanwhile is an interactive non-linear screwball comedy where the scenes are viewed at random or the viewer gets to choose which direction he or she would like to go in the timeline in between scenes: earlier that day, meanwhile or later that day.

Q. This was a product of your group's work at the Habitat new media lab. What was the inspiration for Meanwhile and how did Habitat support you in your efforts?

SS: We wanted to create an interactive movie where the interface was smoothly integrated into the story. Our story inspiration started with an English urban legend where two burglars broke into a house and mistook a dog's ashes for cocaine because it was labeled "Charlie", which is what cocaine is sometimes called in England. Other story inspirations snowballed from there.

As for Habitat, they have been, and still are, fantastic supporters of our project. It was a nurturing environment where we developed the concepts while being exposed to other projects and people who have also explored the fresh territory of interactive film and new media. Also, every week we presented our progression in our project to faculty members and advisors. They were extremely insightful.

Q. You had a relatively small budget to make the film. Describe how this impacted the production process? Where did you find the actors? In what Toronto locations was the film shot?

SS: Similar to most independent films, a low budget forces you to depend on creativity and the generous support of volunteers. Most of our talent and crew came through Craigslist and word of mouth. We were blessed with an amazing team.

Also, we were able to secure a few locations downtown; Kembass Cleaners on Bloor West and Iamstatic, an animation studio on College and Spadina for our back alley scene and pet clinic. Everything else was shot up at the Canadian Film Centre.

Q. Is Meanwhile the future of film?

SS: It's difficult to say where exactly the future of film is heading. Digital film making has changed the industry for both creators and viewers. It is financially more accessible for creators to create a film with a high production value and downloading films and DVDs are a major growth in the industry. We are at an interesting time where the market is starting to open up as well. Meanwhile is a new way of merging two platforms. The film is very versatile and can be viewed in many forms (Interactive DVD, online, potentially downloadable onto handheld devices in episodes).

Q. What's next for Meanwhile? Any plans to distribute the film on DVD? What about screening it in theatres?

SS: Meanwhile is at the beginning of many viewings. It will be posted online at meanwhile.ca and sent out to the festival circuit. Screening it in theatres and on DVD is another life it will take on. Being a non-linear film, it has a twist. The DVD and theatre version will also be viewed in random sequence.

Q. Will you make any more films?

SS: We would like to make more films. We had such a pleasure creating this one. It was a great experience.

Meanwhile is a non-linear film by DAVID CLARK, JEFF HOWARD, CHRIS MENDIS and SHELLEY SIMMONS. STARRING RICK GRAYSON LOU ISRAEL JENNIFER LIEBERMAN CLAIRE REID CINEMATOGRAPHY BY JOSH ALLEN ART DIRECTION BY KRISTIN TRETHEWEY. EDITED BY JEFF HOWARD MUSIC BY JEFF TOYNE. SOUND MIXED BY JOHN HURLBUT. PROGRAMMED BY CHRIS MENDIS. PRODUCED BY SHELLEY SIMMONS. DIRECTED BY DAVID CLARK.


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