This story was too interesting to ignore. I read about it in Monday's CNET News.
An independent film, conceived by a group of neighbors in Dutchess County, New York, was quietly released on DVD yesterday. Despite the lack of fanfare, the film may be a harbinger of the future for movies and books.
"The Onyx Project, is meant to be an experiment in nonlinear storytelling for the Digital Age. It tells the tale of Col. Robert Henderson, a U.S. Army Special Forces officer played by David Strathairn, who undertakes a rogue mission (code name Onyx) in Afghanistan that goes terribly wrong."
"Nonlinear storytelling" means that the viewer decides how to experience this film by choosing the scenes to watch at critical junctures. The DVD has almost 400 scenes that add up to five hours of film. According to the website, "Any link a viewer selects connects in a content-specific way to another story-appropriate location in the world. In selecting his or her own sequence of such links, each viewer has a[n] . . . unique experience."
The film is the brainchild of screenwriter and director, Larry Atlas, and his business partner, Douglas K. Smith. The film can only be played using a Windows late model XP personal computer. The partners developed software, which they call NAV for Non-linear Arrayed Video. A look at the playing instructions helps you to understand exactly what the NAV software does:
Click on A, B, C, D, or E to choose different entry points
Click on "lit up" links to select next scene
Click on "Main Panel" to pause or restart
Click on "Back Panel" to return to previous scene
Click on "&" at any time for another set of choices
"One idea behind the venture is that no two viewers may see the movie unfold in the same way, yet its basic facts, characters and message will permeate the experience."
Atlas and Smith tried to market their concept without success. I can understand this. Most directors would be horrified at the idea that a film could be strung together like a Chinese menu (one from column A and two from column B). Atlas and Smith made the film for less than $200,000. The addition of David Strathairn, who was nominated for best actor in 2005 for Good Night, and Good Luck may bring the film additional notice.
Smith and Atlas hope "that future projects built around the software will include documentaries or educational videos with thousands of links that viewers can click to take them wherever their interest may lie."
While the novice filmmakers clearly do not mean for the basic storyline to change--just the order in which the story is told--any film buff who has purchased a DVD with alternate endings can imagine the next generation of such technology. By making choices in how to experience a film, viewers could conceivably create entirely different movies. Where one viewer might want to view a war movie with lots of action scenes, another viewer might want to focus on the emotional lives of the characters and their loved ones.
I suspect this will not be the end of such experimentation. In a world in which consumers are demanding more and more choice, NAV seems a logical next step.
The Onyx Project can be purchased at www.theonyxproject.com for $23.95.