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Hollywood Meets Silicon Valley: Women in Film's Interactive Seminars, Part 1

By Christopher Carson

A dancer poses in a window with an arm and leg extended upward. 'Voyeur' is loosely based on Hitch­cock's 'Rear Window' (photo).

New technologies such as digital imaging, interactive movies and television, TV on demand, interactive kiosks, virtual reality, CD-ROM, and CD-I are opening up a new relationship between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The Hollywood-based Women in Film's New Technologies Council organized a three­ part series of interactive seminars to showcase some of the opportunities for creative professionals that are being created as a result of this entertainment and computer industry marriage.

The first seminar, "Creating an Interactive Project," held last May, began with a case study of an interactive film entitled Voyeur. Voyeur was developed by Philips POV Entertainment to be played on their CD-I machine, which plugs into a television set. It cost an estimated $750,000 to produce, $300,000 of which was spent during its 10-day shoot in which Hollywood talent acted before blue screens, blue furniture, and various props. This footage, shot in HDTV, was then incorporated into a computer program that integrates all of the visual and audio elements into an interactive story.

Voyeur is loosely based on Hitch­cock's Rear Window, except that here you, instead of Jimmy Stewart, get to peer covertly into the lives of various characters and observe how they interact with each other. By doing this, you discover that a crime has taken place. There is a point when you can decide to become a part of the story, a character interacting with other characters inside of the reality the game makers have created. If you decide to interact, you will have to figure out the crime, determine which characters are in on it, and compile physical evidence to prove their guilt to the police. Once you decide to interact, however, there is a very real chance of your character being killed by the bad guys. This, of course, ends the game.

Voyeur is a landmark achievement in the entertainment industry: It was one of the first interactive movie experiences to hit the market, as well as one of the first projects to combine Hollywood talent with Silicon Valley computer wizardry successfully. It is also a slow, predictable game with poor graphics, a weak plot, and bad dialogue.

The rest of the day was spent discussing the tools of the trade: which ones you need and how to use them, as well as budgets and legal issues. Authoring tools are computer software packages that allow you to create interactive multimedia projects yourself. Macromedia Director is one such authoring tool that many amateurs as well as professionals are using. Director allows you to import, edit, and layer together your elements—such as video, still images, illustrations, animation, and audio—to create quicktime movies that you can instantly play back. Director also allows you to join together these quicktime movies to create an audiovisual computer program with which one can interact.

Another fascinating multimedia tool is StoryVision, the first scriptwriting tool for interactive. When you write for interactive, you are creating a complex map of connections between scenes. Storyvision's software allows the writer to visualize and edit the structure of interactive stories that have multiple outcomes for each character. The writer can link bits of dialogue and storyline together in a nonlinear way by puffing balloons around portions of dialogue and then connecting the balloons together to form branching systems describing the different choices a character could make. Many professional writers are already using this software to pitch projects to the interactive industry .

A panel on budgets and legal issues turned out to be as product driven as the rest of the day, with many speakers showing off their company's interactive achievements. Little information was actually given regarding budgets. As far as legal issues, the panel suggested that all creative professionals currently part of a union or guild should check with their legal departments to see if they have an agreement for interactive media. Currently both SAG and WGA have interactive multimedia agreements, and more guilds are following suit. They also warned to be careful about music rights for interactive, because they are very tricky. Always make sure that you have a good entertainment lawyer and that he or she is versed in the new multimedia language and legalities, as many new laws are being written to protect ownership of various creative elements . A legal note: You might want to change the part of your contract that specifies what forms of media your agreement covers to read "all media now known and hereafter devised" as well as altering "worldwide" rights to include "the Universe as we know it." Yes, folks, someday your film might be screening on an interplanetary space shuttle fight or a federation starship in a galaxy near you.

As in motion pictures, interactive projects are developed by a team of cre­ative individuals: a writer, an art director, a graphics designer, a director, a producer, and a programmer. Most ideas for interactive projects are sold from a brief four- or five-page treatment, with sketch­es and visuals describing the idea and how its elements might fit together. Most of SEGA's games, for example, come from outside proposals such as these.

Some of the questions you need to consider if you are pitching an interactive project include: Will your budget (or lack thereof) drive your product design, or will the design drive the budget? What is the most important component of the product—the story? The characters? What does the product look like? Who is going to use it, and how many users will there be? How will they use it? Publishers are the gatekeepers in the interactive world, much the same way that studios are the gatekeepers of theatrical films, so you should also think about how a publisher is going to package and market your product. What platform (or hardware format) will it be distributed on? Will it be on multiple platforms? Can it be bundled with anything?

Jay Alan Samit of Jasmine Multimedia, currently the largest unacquired CD-ROM publisher, opened WIF's second seminar, "A Primer and Practical Guide to Interactive Multimedia," held in June. Samit noted some intriguing facts. Nearly one-third of all homes in the United States (about 45 million) have personal computers. About 65 percent of all computers sold in 1994 came with CD­ ROM drives. There is currently an installed base of approximately 10 million CD-ROM drives. That number is estimated to climb to around 15 million by the end of 1995. Consumers have spent more money on video games systems than on film admissions every year since 1992, and at least 30 percent of the CD-ROM titles sold for PCs were games. More people buy CD-ROMs than buy hardcover books. Interestingly enough, however, no CD-ROM publisher in 1993 had more than a 10 percent market share. Also, most retailers will carry only around 50 titles. New avenues of opportunity such as direct sales, rentals of CD-ROM titles, and online distribution-need to emerge. Samit also pointed out that creative artists are not competing against the big companies-they are competing against other creative artists. He suggested that creative artists who think they have a good idea find a way to get to the head of a CD-ROM publishing company with a well-constructed pitch.

So what makes a title hot? Consumers want a lot of experience, story, originality, and freshness for their money.  To be successful, a product must have high production values-visual look, sound, and music. If it is an educational title, it must have a simple and unique way to make the information accessible and memorable. It must engage and at­tract the participant and be addictive, something that one wants to come back to and experience again. If it is a game, it should take 40 hours or more to get through it. It should also balance frustration with reward.


Part 2 of this article will deal with the women/girl's market and doing business in an interactive world. Read more: "Hollywood Meets Silicon Valley: Women in Film's Interactive Seminars, Part 2"

Christopher C. Carson is an award-winning producer/director of documentary, interac­tive, and virtual reality projects with Rever­ie Productions.