Interactive Cinema: Tantale and Late Shift

Interactivity, often associated with video games and web-based experiences, is now carving out a place for itself in the world of film. A look back on two European productions that made their mark this year: Tantale and Late Shift.

At a time when virtual reality is increasingly isolating spectators from one another, an opposite trend is emerging. Although still marginal, it’s full of promise: audience interactivity, in public and as a shared experience. This trend is betting on the pleasure of the shared moment in a dark movie theatre and exploits the potential of multiple choices.

It’s not really a novel idea: the history of cinema is punctuated with such proposals. Almost 50 years ago, at the Universal Exposition in Montréal, Kinoautomat set the first milestones of the genre. The film’s main actor encouraged the public to vote using electrical boxes. Following one actor or another, opening the door or fleeing, and so forth.

Presentation of Kinoautomat at the Czech Pavilion during the 1967 Universal Exposition in Montréal

Note that for Czech producer Radúze Činčery, the film was intended as a satire of the democratic vote—which creates the illusion of offering a choice even though the decks are usually stacked in advance.

Since then, we have witnessed interactive DVDs such as I’m Your Man or—more recently—Last Callthat was projected in movie theatres and proposed to randomly draw an audience member for the purpose of holding a phone “dialogue.”

Today, Tantale and Late Shift, two European films produced in 2016, push the experience yet a little further. The secret is using audience members’ smartphones and encouraging them to vote regularly on the unfolding of the film’s intrigue. As was the case with Kinoautomat, the majority decides.

Sometimes, the room breaks out in laughter, some sighing is possible (from audience members who voted for a minority choice, for example) as are outbursts (of joy, surprise, etc.). The results are undeniable: it works. And interactivity gains in fluidity: it puts an end to the detestable “loading” that render web-based experiences too choppy.

With respect to cinema, it’s too early to predict how interactivity will open up actual narrative possibilities (Tantale and Late Shift remain classic works in both how they were produced and the choices they propose). But something extremely simple yet extremely effective has budded.

Here’s an overview of both works:

The intrigue
September 2017. Henri Laborde, President of the French Republic, arrives at the Carlton Hotel where several sports and political personalities are gathered to announce the city that will host the next Summer Olympic Games.
The film presents Matt, a student who must prove his innocence after having been forced to take part in a hold-up in a famous London auction house. The consequences of his actions sometimes launch him onto a violent path in Britain’s capital.
Comedy drama
Action film
Public’s role
Spectators are in the president’s mind. They are faced with choices—sometimes personal, sometimes political in nature. Choices are proposed at key moments and binaural (spatial) sound is used to heighten the suspense. Moments of anticipation, while the public votes, are particularly well developed. This remains cinematographic writing.
The public is in the mind of Matt, a rational guy who is torn between his poised instinct and the urgency of solutions that are sometimes radical.
Possible endings
Five different endings and 25 ways to get there.
Seven different conclusions, hundreds of decisions to be made during the course of the story.
30 minutes
Between 70 and 90 minutes, depending on the paths taken.
Web, cinema
Web, app, cinema
Gilles Porte
Tobias Weber
600,000 euros, i.e., about 850,000 Canadian dollars (France Télévision, CNC, Pictanovo and Générale de Production)
1.5 million Swiss francs (the equivalent of about 2 million Canadian dollars), two thirds of which came from private sources. Public contributors: SSR/SRG and Pro Helvetia in Switzerland as well as income tax credits in England.
Strong points
Tantale unfolds behind closed doors and with a small number of characters (only 6 comedians in all), which reduces production costs.
Implementation of an actual distribution platform to provide an optimal experience and compensate for the lack of equipment in movie theatres. In the form of a case complete with an Apple TV and dedicated modem, the device manages spectators’ votes and the broadcasting of the sequences. The resulting fluidity is beyond reproach. Each case contains equipment valued at about 500 euros (i.e., ten times less than the first prototype) and is delivered with the film.
Producer Jérémy Pouilloux: “With Tantale, we encountered a few technical difficulties at the distribution stage. Seeing as film distributors are more in a rationalization phase, they do not overcome the technology gap (server management, WiFi management, operator training). By contrast, the buzz among operators is manifest. They are demanding new experiences for their movie theatres, namely within the French-based Art et Essai network that is trying to set itself apart from multiplex networks. They are aware that their added value depends on group experiences and are in search of proposals that offer the possibility of interacting and debating.”
Several movie theatres spontaneously decided to present the film on their screens. In Zurich, Late Shift was projected on screens during a four-week period whereas a single week had been initially scheduled. The film will also be presented in Russia (in a total of 25 theatres), Italy, France and Germany.
Jérémy Pouilloux: “Access to audiences in general could change in terms of both the proposed experience (duration, access platform) and distribution. In terms of duration, we question the opportunity of a shorter online format; with respect to the platforms, we question the possibility of mobile distribution—a must in today’s world, but that raises major issues when it comes to forms of interactive cinema. As far as distribution is concerned, it is preferable to incorporate the marketing from the onset of the production stage. Mastering this end of the chain is crucial. In the video game market, marketing budgets sometimes represent up to half of total expenditures. In the case of Tantale, the marketing budget represented less than 1%.”
Producer Baptiste Planche: “With our small case, we have the impression of returning back to the era of the reel. It’s quite amusing and paradoxical! We took the initial step but never claimed to have the magic potion… For example, we’d like to increase the number of available choices and enable the public to follow not just one character but several characters at once… One part of the audience could even ‘play’ against the other…”
Business model
Movie entrances followed eventually by the assignment of broadcasting rights for a linear version.
CtrlMovie, the production company behind Late Shift, proposes the means to develop interactive films for movie theatres. The producer offers trial packages that include the editing software and some content excerpted from Late Shift to allow users to practise and attempt their first trials. CtrlMovie hopes to implement a licensing system.

David Dufresne
Author and director of interactive documentaries and artist-in-residence at the MIT Open Documentary lab, David Dufresne has signed ten or so investigative works including New Moon, café de nuit joyeux (Le Seuil, 2017) and Tarnac, magasin général (Calmann Lévy, 2012). He designed the PhoneStories collection and wrote and directed several interactive documentaries including Hors Jeu (2016, Arte/Upian), DADA-DATA (2016, Arte/SSR SSRG) and Fort McMoney (2013, Toxa/Arte/ONF). He also teaches new narrative forms and emerging media.
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