Online Video Could Be So Much Better — Just Ask Martin Percy

By betsy.isaacson@huffingtonpost.com (Betsy Isaacson)

Ever seen an interactive film? If not, take a quick jump to Martin Percy’s “Lifesaver,” a BAFTA- and Webby-nominated emergency procedural in which you race the clock to try to save a stranger’s life.

Done right, interactive video offers a whole new window on story telling — one that Percy, a well-known British director, has been exploring through pieces for Tate Modern and with Ian McKellen at London’s National Theatre. For the film “Lifesaver,” he worked with the Resuscitation Council UK, which seeks to educate the public on resuscitation methods.

Percy recently talked to The Huffington Post about “Lifesaver,” funding and the future of his budding genre.

So why do you think interactive film — this tiny niche, not currently popular — is going to take off?
There’s an interesting parallel with the early days of cinema. The vast majority of early film was this really boring crap. People thought, “We know what this film thing is; it’s a way to distribute theater and musical.” So there are cases full of these early movies where people just took one camera, set it in front of a stage, and it rolled while the actors did their thing. It’s quick and easy to film a piece of musical — you need one camera, you just roll. None of this close-up nonsense or tracking shots or panning or anything difficult.

Then people started to have this breakthrough where they said, “Wait, hang on a bit, maybe film isn’t just a way to distribute theater and musical. Maybe it’s a medium in its own right.” And movies, real movies came out of that.

I feel like today the majority of online videos are where early film was. But gradually people are going to start using Internet video, Internet-native video, interactive video as a medium in itself, not just as a way to distribute video.

Then why are most interactive films we see these days so awful?
It’s so easy to mess up a linear story by adding interactivity to it. Like, how often do you go to a movie and say, “Hey, ‘Taxi Driver’ was sort of a good movie. I just wish I could have been able to choose the ending?” Never. Never. Nobody does that. But people keep on thinking, “Here’s a video, we’re going to take this story we’ve thought up and add interactivity to it.” It just completely messes it up and they’re like, “F**k it, this proves interactive video doesn’t work.”

What are your rules of thumb for making a good interactive film?
To make a good interactive film, you need to think of something the user can do and model that with film and interactivity. Think a conversation or emergency procedure or touring a museum. You don’t want the user to be stuck in just a straight linear story.

And you want to stay away from stories and scenarios where choosing what the character does makes them uninteresting. A great idea for a terrible interactive film would be …read more

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