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Daniels’ Possibilia Explores the Possibilities of Interactivity

Billed as an “interactive love story set in the multiverse,” Possibilia, a short film from the dynamic writing/directing duo known as Daniels, tells the story of a couple (Alex Karpovsky and Zoe Jarman) on the verge of a break-up with 16 potential outcomes that are left to the viewer.

The project, which screened at both Sundance, Tribeca, and other festivals back in 2014, now gets an online release over at Eko (previously Interlude), the interactive video creation platform.

Like Daniels’ recent feature Swiss Army Man, Possibilia relies on humor to subvert the genre and push the conventions of the medium. Filmmaker recently chatted with Daniels (comprised of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan) about what inspired Possibilia and how they crafted the interactive narrative.

Filmmaker: You have worked in a variety of video formats, everything from music videos to shorts and features and now this interactive non-linear medium. Do you approach each format differently or do you believe the same basic rules of storytelling apply regardless of the format?

Daniel Scheinert: I think the format is a huge inspiration for us. We are so comforted by having some sort of box to play in – like “this is a music video, there’s a band, it’s going to go on the internet.” That helps us decide what to do and what story to tell and how to approach the project. If anything, when we ignore the medium, I start feeling a little untethered and a little disengenous. A lot of our work is kind of meta in that we’re acknowledging what’s weird about whatever medium we’re in and trying to acknowledge the clichés of the medium – which ones should we lean into and which ones can we make fun of?

Daniel Kwan: I guess in that way, we do approach every story in a similar way. We’re always trying to find a way to crack what it is that people are doing in that medium normally and twist it and change it and look at it in a different way just to see what happens when we approach it differently – or specifically, the opposite of how other people approach it. That has been a really exciting thing for both of us because we both enjoy subversion in any way possible. On the one hand, we try to look at every medium and then see what stories come out of that specific medium. But within every medium, we try to find a way to play with expectations.

Filmmaker: With this particular project, did you start out with a script and think, “What’s the best medium for this script?” or did you think of working in a non-linear medium and then think, “What’s the best script for this format?”

Scheinert: It was the second one. We have made a couple of projects with Interlude, which is now Eko, and we did one for them that was supposed to be a product demonstration, but it ended up being similar to Possibilia in that it was just a crazy narrative movie that was just exploded by interactivity. We had a good time and they really liked us, so they said, “What else do you want to make? Please make more stuff. We love working with you.” So we started with interactivity as the jumping off point, we started spit-balling: what are stories that deserve to be told in this way? We started to come up with a handful of different angles on it that were specifically not “Choose Your Own Adventure” narratives. They were all weird ways to thematically experiment with interactivity as opposed to narratively.

Kwan: I feel like in general, interactive, non-linear viewing experiences can be kind of frustrating because you have nothing to hold on to. The creator doesn’t have the same kind of curation power that they normally do in a traditional film. That’s what we were drawn to. We tend to be drawn to things that frustrate us, because that gives us something to butt up against and then push and then see if we can twist it in a way that makes it something that we actually appreciate. If you look at Swiss Army Man, the whole film is just an exercise of pushing towards things that we don’t want to touch or things that frustrate us.

Most “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories are really frustrating and unsatisfying. We wanted to see what would happen if we tried to use that and create something that was supposed to be frustrating and unsatisfying like a cyclical relationship where two people probably shouldn’t be together but at the same time need each other. That’s kind of where the core idea came from – combining the medium and the way that makes us feel and trying to find a parallel in our actual lives.

Scheinert: When buttons come on the screen, I’m like, “I don’t know what to click.” That’s actually a similar feeling to, “I don’t know what to do. Should we break up?” So this whole movie was an, “I don’t know what to click” extrapolation. It’s almost as if you want people to have that experience of feeling ill at ease and unsure of what to do.

Filmmaker: Possibilia and Swiss Army Man are both about symbiotic relationships. Does that happen to be a theme that fascinates you?

Scheinert: One of the funny things that has been happening to us with Swiss Army Man is we worked on it for three years or so pretty intensely – and almost everything we’ve done in the past three years has been kind of an offshoot of the ongoing writing process of Swiss Army Man.

Kwan: Possibilia was shot and finished in the middle of writing Swiss Army Man. In a lot of ways all the things we’ve been working on just branch out from where our mind was while working on the feature. It makes sense that that happened. A lot of people have been creating parallels between those kinds of relationships and our own collaborative relationship which probably is not a coincidence, though I don’t think it was intentional. It makes a lot of sense. Whenever we’re at a loss of ideas, we’re always able to pull from our own experience, which I think what every person who is trying to tell a story should be doing.

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