If you’re not careful, plotting an interactive story can drive you insane (hello Bandersnatch) – here’s how eko Producer and Creative Director Marli Scharlin kept things under control.
Talk us through how to make interactive videos, from idea to execution. How does managing multiple story outcomes change the process?
When creating an interactive video I think about what’s going to be fun, how’s it going to feel for a viewer to make choices, and how many choices are enough choices to feel satisfying. Then I have to put on my producer hat on and think “is this going to be producible?”
Managing multiple branches doesn’t have to balloon your budget if you can get creative. For example, in partnership with BuzzFeed for Interactive Tasty, non-dairy vanilla ice cream and regular vanilla ice cream look the same in a blender so we can use the same video clip for 2 different branches. We’ve got quite a few of these “cheats” in Interactive Tasty and they don’t take away from the fun.
What about the process of creating a choose-your-own-adventure video makes you the most excited?
Creating a live action choose-your-own-adventure video is really exciting to me because it’s the best kind of puzzle. I love walking production partners through designing and ultimately assembling the puzzle. It’s part tech, part storytelling, and all close collaboration. It’s enjoyable problem solving because there are a lot of tools to tackle the problem with – narrative logic and design, writing code, identifying production hacks, and the more traditional film processes: re-writes and video edits.
Do you consider yourself a more or less decisive person as a result of working this show?
More decisive. Crunchy peanut butter is unacceptable.
How has creating interactive work changed your perspective as a creative director?
Creating interactive work makes me think more critically about storytelling. Even in our “non-fiction” shows, like Interactive Tasty, I want the viewer to be a part of every major story beat. For Interactive Tasty that means we don’t need to let the viewer “add the eggs” to a baking recipe, but we do want them to participate in the personality-based, sometimes divisive, and most fun moments of the show – like choosing between Smooth or Crunchy peanut butter.
The same goes for fiction shows. The inclusion of frequent, meaningful choice moments helps me think more critically about character values and stakes. Inviting viewers to participate in the moments of most tension/excitement/drama/romance means the creator needs to be more discerning and aware of if a character’s stakes are high enough for the viewer to care about every story beat.
What are the biggest challenges when creating an interactive video?
Generally, the biggest challenge is getting linear creators to think about user experience. That’s why we work side by side with Eko UX directors who look out for the viewer while we’re in development. So while our creators are doing what they do best, creating great characters and stories, our UX directors are constantly asking our partners the relevant questions: is it clear what the viewer is supposed to do? Is it fun for them to do it? How will they know their choice registered? It’s easy to get carried away in the story details, but none of that matters if the viewer doesn’t feel like they are making an impact.
Working with the BuzzFeed team to create Interactive Tasty was such a pleasure, they really took UX into consideration right off the bat and made suggestions like adding the fun confetti-pop to the button after the viewer selection. This sound cue and animation burst is a small addition but extremely satisfying UX!
How many choices is too many choices?
It varies dramatically from project to project, but generally if a choice moment is well crafted and entices the viewer to make a decision then it should stay.
If you were a *interactive*Tasty dish, which would you be and why?
My office snack of choice is putting anything on a rice cake. I’m more adept at assembling than cooking… The recipe would start with the choice ‘lightly salted rice cake’ or ‘caramel rice cake’. Can I answer this question with a tree structure?