Movies are a director’s medium. Directors have the last say in the script, look and feel of a movie, and the movie succeeds or fails on their singular vision.
This model of storytelling, however, does not allow for audience interaction or influence. You cannot call a director half-way through a movie and say, ‘you know, I think you need to add a character here or tweak this story there.’ How fun would it be to immerse yourself into a movie, deeper than the visual trick of 3D, and interact with the story? How satisfying would it be to influence the story’s outcome as a viewer?
A step toward this level of interactive cinema is being initiated by Alaska’s Gabe Smetzer.
Smetzer is a storyteller, artist and animator. His latest project, ““Story of Flewn” (floon), is, in very broad strokes, the animated story of a cetaceous Noah. Instead of a flood, the world is a desert. Flewn walks the desert on stilts searching for a new saltwater home and answers to why his first home disappeared. He is accompanied by a frog and rabbit who also use novel transportation methods, and a number of aquatic refugees in water-filled jars on his back.
Smetzer is using Flewn to explore new ways of telling a story. He wants to avoid the hierarchical model of director, then everybody else. In the “Story of Flewn,” there will be an interaction between the story and the viewer. The viewer will use gaming mechanics to help the story unfold. Except it’s not a game; the viewer does not pursue points. Rather the viewer engages with Flewn to keep Flewn, and thus the story, going. Smetzer likens it to turning the pages of a book.
By keeping Flewn fed and helping Flewn overcome obstacles, the viewer becomes invested in Flewn and his story’s outcome. There are limits, of course, to this interaction. There are still climatic points in the story and, well, the ending. You cannot send Flewn into outerspace, for example. (I asked).
Eventually the film will be available for personal electronic devices, but as of yet, the “Story of Flewn” is not complete. Smetzer is raising funds through the revolutionary arts funding site called Kickstarter. You can view Smetzer’s pitch at www.kickstarter.com/projects/flewn/the-story-of-flewn. The page includes a short video that provides samples of the story’s animation and music. As of this writing, Smetzer has received more than twice the amount he was asking. This is not surprising. The video tease is very cinematic with beautiful animation and an arresting soundtrack (also created by Smetzer). It looks amazing.
Smetzer’s origins are humble. Fairbanks. Between Fairbanks and now, Smetzer found a talent for drawing, painting and music, traveled the world and figured out computer animation.
In 2008, Smetzer won the San Francisco “Cut and Paste” computer animation contest (www.cutandpaste.com/). Within 20 minutes, he developed an animation to match the contest theme that was then judged. Considering San Francisco and surroundings are ground zero for computer technology, to have a young man from Fairbanks win a computer animation contest is unexpected. To have that same young man, raised in a log cabin, go on in 2009 to win the international “Cut and Paste” competition in New York City is awesome.
Any similarities between Flewn’s world travels and Smetzer’s own picaresque life can be no coincidence.
Smetzer will paint a Flewn image at the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council’s Sunday market from noon to 4 p.m. on June 17 at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. This event is public and you might get a chance to talk with Smetzer. He’ll be painting the image directly onto a six-foot resin whale’s tail sculpture, as part of a continuing program of fund-raising to finance Juneau artist Skip Wallen’s 30 foot tall bronze sculpture of a breaching humpback. (See related story on C1.)
Smetzer will also make a technical presentation at the Gold Town Nickelodeon on Monday, June 18 at 7 p.m. (Editor's note: As of Monday afternoon, this presentation has been cancelled. For more information on this project, visit www.gabrielsmetzer.com) Here you might help Smetzer flatten the hierarchical style of storytelling by providing story and character suggestions. These ideas “must work within the narrative” but provide another opportunity for an interactive storytelling experience.
The Nickelodeon presentation is geared toward visual and performance artists, musicians, movie makers, comic book enthusiasts, 3D animation specialists, storytellers, educators and other friends and supporters of the JUMP festival and the arts in Juneau. Tickets are needed for admission, but are free at the Alaska Robotics Gallery.
The opportunity to interact with a master in high technology storytelling is rare for Juneauites. We are fortunate someone this talented (and busy) is making time for two Juneau events. Let’s make time for Smetzer.
• Clint J. Farr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.