MSP class projects let the audience shape the story

The choices of "stairs" or "elevator" appear on the screen in front of the  audience in the TV studio.
At this point in “Thirsty Thursday,” the audience decides whether the main character should take the elevator or the stairs. (photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University)

At the final project screening of the “Genres of Production: Cross Platform Story” class, even the creators of the videos didn’t know how their stories were going to end. That was left in the hands of the audience.

Many of the students worked in groups to create interactive films and music videos that, at certain points in the story line, offered choices as to what happens next. Others developed a story told through augmented reality. Through an app, audience members pointed their mobile device at a photograph to view videos.

In one piece entitled Thirsty Thursday, the viewers decided whether the lead character responded to a text from his girlfriend or best friend and if he took the elevator or stairs to get out of his apartment. Based on the audience’s choices, the character could possibly propose to his girlfriend or land a phone number of another woman.

Assistant Professor Laura Zaylea, an interdisciplinary media artist who has been teaching media studies and production at Temple University since 2012, said the “choose-your-own-adventure” form of video storytelling is growing in popularity with the access to user-friendly software online (her class used interlude). The storytelling technique appeared at the Tribeca Film Festival in a competition to produce a music video and has been used by advertisers to create commercials.

Richard Li, a sophomore media studies and production major, and his group created a video for a song he wrote.

Prof. Laura Zaylea poses in the TV studio where her class is screening their final projects.
Prof. Laura Zaylea introduced a new way to tell video stories to one of her classes this semester. (photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University)

“The lyrics of the song are about dreaming,” Li said. “This whole project, it’s not as realistic as it seems, so it matches the lyrics.”

In creating the music video, Li’s group didn’t build a character first to determine what choices he could possibly make, but instead let the audience’s choices determine the character. During the screening, the audience determined he should keep sleeping instead of waking up and heading out.

“Either this is person is single, or this person is a little bit lazy,” Li said.

He said this genre of video can allow an audience to “realize their own self. They can do whatever they want. They can do things they don’t really do in real life, which is fun.”

MSP majors Ryan Baldwin, Rob Gentile and Max Scholnick created a character that hosts a woodworking show called Let’s Build It! Nothing goes right for this hapless and heartbroken man who seems to injure himself no matter which decision the audience makes for him.

During the final screening, the audience members selected some riskier choices they may not have made in their own lives.

“Because the media creators put up the choices, there’s something safe about it. It couldn’t be too dangerous or it wouldn’t be there, so I’m going to choose to an option like ‘go out’ instead of ‘stay in,’” Zaylea said. “I think it says some surprising things about human nature.”

Gentile said he hopes to produce more of these videos because he likes that the person watching it needs to be an active participant in the content.

“I think this is more along the lines of where media is in general with the Internet,” he said. “It’s a personal experience where somebody’s sitting in front of a laptop and they have the ability to choose.”

Zaylea wouldn’t be surprised if group viewings catch on.

“It’s media to be watched on a computer, so it can be a solo experience. But we also watched a bunch of works as a group in class and I have to say that there’s something about the group experience that you don’t get in the individual experience,” she said.

– By Jeff Cronin
SMC Communications