Tobias Weber, a Swiss filmmaker, has directed the first cinematic interactive movie, “Late Shift”. The film, which premiered this year at Cannes and was also shown at Locarno, is a heist thriller in which the audience decides what turns the story is going to take, thanks to a smartphone app, a Wi-Fi network, and a computer stuffed with hours of footage and a long series of algorithms. The film’s length varies between 70 and 90 minutes (depending on what choices the viewers make), but the sum of the length of all the scenes is almost 4.5 hours. With 7 different endings, 180 decision points, and more than 50’000 possible combinations just in the first 10 minutes, the story is different every time, and – just like in real life – even the smallest choice, which is stored in variables, has consequences on what is going to happen in the future.
A few months ago I met Weber in Locarno, and had the chance to ask him a few questions on “Late Shift” and interactive movies.
Q: Could this format be applied to another kind of movie?
A: I think this format lends itself to almost any kind of genre. A lot of people suggested horror, and I think it would lend itself very well, as in horror movies you want to survive the film, so for example you could decide to either kill someone or leave them alive. On the other hand, I think it would lend itself very well to traditional drama, a romantic comedy could be really interesting to see: are you going to lie about the affair you had or not, and what consequences will this have?
Q: Do you think that eventually a new form of media could come up as a combination of each medium?
A: I think that’s what’s happening here: we’re very close to films, but we obviously take elements from video games, so I think we’re in the space between video games and films. So already I think something new is happening here. Whether or not this is a sustainable medium in itself, in its own right, that the future will have to tell. I hope that this will happen, however I don’t think that normal films will die out or normal video games will die out, but I think that this new format in the middle definitely has a future.
Q: Is it more likely that video games will affect movies or vice versa?
A: It’s really hard to say, all the boundaries are blurring, now we are coming in, we are sometimes being computer generated, sometimes being filmed, the boundaries are not clear anymore as they were 10-20 years ago, when you either had VHS or cinema, which is already not very separated now, you can have a very cinematic experience both at home and at the cinema. Everything becomes a lot closer, so I believe we shouldn’t think so much in terms of format but more about content.
Q: Do you have any ideas for your future projects?
A: As a next step for controlled movies we were thinking of opening it up and have half of the audience decide for one character and the other half decide for another character and see what happens there, and see the reactions going on in the room. That would lend itself for example to a romantic comedy where the girls decide for her and the boys decide for him, or the other way around, or anything like that: I think this could be hilarious. I think this could be a logical next step.
“Late Shift” is also available as an app for iOS devices. For more information, check out the film’s website: http://lateshift-movie.com, and the article I wrote for Filmbulletin (No. 6/2016, translated into German).