Interactive Musical

The World's First Interactive Musical

Ana Serrano and her colleagues at the Canadian Film Centre are still receiving accolades for last year's Late Fragment, North America's first interactive feature film, but that hasn't stopped them from pressing ahead with their next project - the world's first interactive musical.

Think Chicago, or as Ana prefers, Grease, but with Sarah Harmer instead of Olivia Newton John and, uh, maybe Ryan Gosling instead of John Travolta.

Anyway, this yet to be named production will be their second interactive film and will build on the lessons learned from Late Fragment and will include musicians (expect some Broken Social Scene cameos) as central characters and singing and dancing segments like a traditional musical film.

Earlier today I caught up with Ana to find out more about it. Here's our Q&A:

Aside from the musical component, are there going to be many format or technical differences between this and your first interactive film?

Since we decided to use the Blu-ray platform for this project we are hoping to use some of its unique characteristics. We're really interested in the notion of "saving your cuts", as well as the use of the seamless menu interface overlaid on top of the film; there may also be some ways we can play with soundtracks.

From an interactive structure point of view what we really want to play with in this project is the notion of 2 points of view - male/female. Imagine an interactive Grease where you get to move between Olivia-Newton John's perspective and then John Travolta's.

It's a bit more complex than that but by and large that's where we are starting from.

Sounds interesting....I guess watching the DVD version will be critical to getting the most out of the film then? (As opposed to a theatrical or web viewing)

That's one of the lessons we learned from Late Fragment: we need a theatrical release! So we are seriously thinking about having a non-interactive version of the film go to theatres making it very clear to fans that the DVD is where it's at - more songs, more content, maybe even a different take on the story.

The web is something we're very eager to use as part of our production process. We are hoping to confirm a partnership with a major social network who will be providing VIP access to its community of the process of making this film starting even at the development stage. We'd like our audience to participate in some of the decisions we need to make and maybe even help us pick extras, supporting actors, other bands, locations, etc.

This kind of audience-driven process is now becoming more common and I think is perfect for the kind of film we want to make.

What stage are you at right now in the process? When is your target completion/release date?

We are now in the process of prototyping some of the Blu-ray functionality and the interactive structure. We will be shooting and designing an interactive "pilot" with Sarah Harmer and the yet to be named male lead, in about a month. Our ETA is to start production this year late fall/early winter.

So, Sarah Harmer is the female lead? Do you have a wish list for any of the rest of the actors? Should we expect any of the cast from Late Fragment to make an appearance?

Our wish list right now includes Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene; Jason Collett; and Ryan Gosling who just started a band! Don't know yet about other cast members.

Ryan Gosling would certainly be a catch. Do you have budget for someone like him? Is the film going to be shot in Toronto?

We are hoping to have the same budget as Late Fragment and maybe a touch higher. And yes, the film will be shot in Toronto, and may even be a tribute to our city, highlighting places like the Dakota Tavern perhaps.

I'd like to touch on Late Fragment for a second. What were some of the other key learnings from this film?

Let me break this down in no particular order:

Late Fragment is a dark and heavy film. Its content is quite serious and unrelenting. That was the kind of interactive film we wanted to make, the themes we wanted to explore and the Writer/Directors did a superb job delivering on this vision.

With this new movie, we want to go the opposite way. Find a lighter story and actually try our hand at a "genre" film - the Romance. Had we decided to do the thriller or rom/com for the first film, I think it would have been very difficult.

We learned a lot about the relationship between interaction and immersion making Late Fragment because we did not need to worry about audience expectations regarding what they are seeing on the screen.

It's amazing how much hidden language there is in film and in genre films in particular - everyone knows that one is supposed to get tense when a naked girl is in the shower alone in a Horror. Trying to subvert those kinds of conventions, languages, and expectations with interactivity takes some clever maneuvering.

We needed to get our feet wet first on something less heavily laden with "symbols" like the melodrama that is Late Fragment before we tackle the genre film.

With this next project, though, we're ready to take on that challenge.

I think we could have done a lot more during the production of the film itself had we known more about the specificities of our interactive structure to begin with.

For example, had we realized that we would be playing with toggling between past and present more in the interactive structure, we may have shot those scenes to mirror each other more.

Actually there are some nice examples of this in Late Fragment like Faye and Marty on the couch then clicking into Faye alone on the couch.

If we know exactly when those "scenic relationships" would occur we can plan for them during the shoot.

As I said I think we learned that we needed a more mainstream venue than the DVD market and festivals. I think for Late Fragment we actually did pretty well. But it still takes a theatrical release to capture the imaginations of larger audiences. That or a web release.

Overall, we always understood Late Fragment to be the first step. AND we would like to encourage everyone to build on what we did with Late Fragment and make it better.

The DVD for Late Fragment is currently available for purchase online. Are you still trying to get it into festivals or other theatrical viewings?

Late Fragment is doing extremely well on DVD. For a DVD that was released in July it hovered in the 200-300 DVD mark of bestsellers on for the last couple of months (mainly thanks to to the Wired article). That's pretty amazing considering that there are tens of thousands on that list.

So right now we are in the process of negotiating distribution deals for late Fragment in the US and Europe.

The festival life of Late Fragment is in its second stage meaning that now people are asking us to place the film in their festivals or shows as opposed to us submitting Late Fragment.

Ana Serrano was one of the co-producers of Late Fragment and is currently collaborating with writer/director Anita Doron, associate producer Tina Santiago and lead actress Sarah Harmer on this yet to be-named musical. Photo by Janzen Photography on Flickr.

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