Video games and films may be coming closer together. On Oct. 11, Paramount Studio executives hosted a screening of the experimental “interactive” film, Late Shift, for an audience of around one hundred film executives and students on the Paramount lot. While Late Shift is not the first interactive film, it is one of the most recent and prominent examples of the experimental sub-genre, which aims to combine video gaming and film through the use of real-time audience participation via a mobile app. Here, audiences can vote on character and plot choices as they happen on-screen, essentially dictating the course of a movie in the same way gamers navigate through branching narratives.
Late Shift itself is classified as a thriller and follows the story of a brutal London heist. While it is set up and filmed as a normal live-action movie, audiences have the opportunity to vote 180 times during the movie to trigger variant scenes with different dialogue, plot beats and sometimes settings and characters. These choices range from minor scene-altering decisions like deciding whether or not two characters should kiss to major plot-altering selections where audiences may be given the choice of which supporting character should die. However, the true genius of Late Shift is that it utilizes a “velocity of choice” mechanism meaning that the movie does not stop and start for audiences to vote. It simply progresses in a set plot and it is up to audiences to react and vote on choices as they happen within the film. When all is said and done, the film has a runtime somewhere between 72 and 94 minutes.
What is particularly special about this screening is the response it got from the industry audience. Though some at the screening laughed at obvious/cliche character choices, the majority of audience members agreed in an informal poll that they would be open to see this sort of format applied to a future Paramount property such as Paranormal Activity. Such a franchise would be a huge boost to the status of interactive film and might prompt other major studios to undertake similar projects.
Even more importantly, Paranormal Activity could lend itself excellently to an interactive format. In fact, the horror genre as a whole, where tropes are widely known, celebrated, and ridiculed, presents a great opportunity for the medium simply because audiences will be more accepting of binary, stereotypical choices in this genre than in many others. In fact, the concept of making a cliched horror-comedy movie as dictated by the audience would be an interesting, fun way to rejuvenate horror franchises like Paranormal Activity, Halloween, and Saw that have become stale and predictable in recent years. But no matter what, the very fact that powerful executives are experiencing interactive films for themselves bodes well for the medium and provides hope that we will soon see a mainstream example in the coming years.