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PowerPoint Transmedia: Choose Your Own Documentary

The Storyscapes section of the Tribeca Film Festival this year was a bit like an oversized playground. Housed in multiple stories of a lofty Tribeca building, the transmedia installations were interspersed with Bombay toting waiters and bars. The majority of the exhibitions I took part in involved Oculus Rift: if you angled your head just so, the “camera” would pan accordingly to reveal another person, object, space, et cetera, much like a video game. One selection that I was sad to miss was Choose Your Own Documentary, which was slotted four times during Storyscapes, since it was not just a transmedia documentary but also a live, interactive show.

1566 variations of Chose Your Own Documentary exist, and showrunner Nathan Penlington navigates its many possibilities on behalf of the audience consensus. In a recent interview, Penlington explains that the interactive element is determined through PowerPoint: “We looked at mobile phone apps, smartphone apps. Obviously, not everyone has that tech, and wifi is not that reliable in a lot of venues. You don’t really want people with their phones on in a theater either. So we’ve gone for these devices that are used for conferences for people to give feedback during presentations, they run off on a radio frequency, and just plug into PowerPoint, so technically we run a PowerPoint that formulates a graph of results every time the audience votes.”

That the key building block to Choose Your Own Documentary‘s trajectory is run off a highly accessible program that most of us use in our daily lives is important to note. Not every facet of the form is achieved through esoteric technology, and, in fact, Penlington expresses reservations about calling his work transmedia. Says Penlington, “The Transmedia thing is very interesting. And quite a lot of those kinds of projects seem to be focused on the individual experience, so the experience of one person at a time interrupting with the project. Whereas we’re, I would be focused into a communal kind of interactivity. So it’s kind of the majority that rules rather than the individual.”

Like Sam Green, it seems Penlington has discovered that the live format, and the constant evolution it presents, is a viable arena.

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