|(2002) Michael Lew / Story Networks / Media Lab Europe|
Office Voodoo is an interactive film installation for two people.
It tells the story of Frank and Nancy, two bored Irish officemates, condemned to spend their lives in an office. This infinite film is an algorithmic sitcom inspired from Sartre's play "Huis clos", crossbred with an office life simulator.
Two physical voodoo dolls, that represent the protagonists, can be manipulated in order to change the emotions of the characters in the film. It is a social laboratory where the viewers can experiment on the influence of emotions as initial conditions in any social interaction. As viewers get skilled manipulating the dolls, they can control the emotions of Frank and Nancy, and see what happens when : Frank is cranky and Nancy is hyperactive ? Frank is horny and Nancy is depressed ?
The interactive film is made exclusively of real lens-based footage shot with real actors, but it runs on a real-time editing engine that fluidly assembles the film shot by shot as one watches it, while respecting the conventions of continuity editing.
The installation is built as a little immersive wooden house for two people - a cross between a confessional, an arcade game booth and a kinetoscope parlour.
Shown at :
interactive award jury
Digital Film Festival
International Festival New Cinema New Media
With advances in compression standards and faster, larger hard disks, the film form is finally freeing itself from the inherent linearity of the celluloid or tape substrate, as it becomes chunks of data that can be retrieved instantaneously. This explosion of the film medium is redefining our approach to narrative filmmaking and over the viewer's control of the time flow and the plot. In the attempt to carry on the tradition of mimetic storytelling with real actors, this piece brings together the craft of cinema with automated editing techniques, trying to replicate in new media semiotics what 1920s soviet filmmakers like Kuleshov did to film with montage. Here, the knowledge of the editor is represented in the machine, and the rules are scripted according to user interaction. As a filmmaker and a programmer, the author is telling a story not only with audiovisual media but also with computer code.
surrealist author Raymond Queneau pointed out, today rhyming does not
have to happen so much at the level of the text, but it can happen at
the level of the narrative, where situations rhyme. This is such a piece,
in the tradition of ars combinatoria, where you can see the same situation
happen in different emotional setups.
When viewers are confronted to interactive film experiences, a first common thought, if the interactivity is placed at the level of the plot, is to make the actors do all the things they have always dreamt of seeing them doing. Office Voodoo plays very literally on this fantasy, by allowing viewers to drive the protagonists into extreme states of sex, euphoria, anger or depression. The ethical difference with traditional viewer-story relationship is that here, the viewer has a responsibility in what happens. Besides, by letting each viewer control a specific character with a specific doll, interesting phenomena emerge in the process of identification between viewer and protagonist. It is not unfrequent to see viewers of Office Voodoo becoming embarrassed of the behaviour of the character they're controlling, as if betraying their own unconscious desire ; some visitors even found some situations unbearable to watch, whereas they would probably have not with a traditional film.
Designing an interface for interactive film is a particularly difficult task, because of their tendency to break the flow of the narrative and to be too extraneous to the world that's on the other side of the screen. The intent here was to design an interface that would bridge between the real world and the fictional world. Imaginary characters have a life of their own ; they have an ongoing existence in the world of ideas, call it virtual or spiritual. Religious objects have the property to be naturally viewed in our culture as interfaces between the spiritual and the tangible, that is why voodoo dolls where chosen as interfaces to control the characters. The other interface is the phone – viewers have the business cards of Frank & Nancy and can call their office number. These interfaces were very successful in the sense that they reinforce the suspension of disbelief – they create an illusion of life that adds credibility to the autonomy of fictional characters. This endeavour connects with the attempt to recreate artificial life or to make believable automata or synthetic creatures. In that same line of thought, a possible setup for Office Voodoo is to put the real actors in a separate room, with live cameras that would feed into the editing engine, in such a way that recorded and live action would be indistinguishable : this would be the video equivalent of a Turing test.
written, built, directed & programmed by Michael Lew.
architecture : Antoinette Schaer & Christian Scheidegger
Thanks to the film department of the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Design Art Technology.
For more information about Office Voodoo, please contact <lew at media dot mit dot edu>.