It's a typical day for "Sarah and Jerry." Sarah sits on the couch of a comfy bungalow while you hear Jerry taking a shower in the other room. Sarah doesn't have anything to do, it seems like. She fidgets, flips through a book. Booo-ring, you think. What if you just gave her a little nudge, right there in the arm? Aha! Sarah reacts like you'd expect her to, horrified and terrified by the invisible hand that just violated her personal space. And then you realize this film is going to be a lot of fun.
As the director of the final Touching Stories film we're covering this week, Tool of North America's Sean Ehringer probably captured the capabilities of the iPad the best. "Sarah and Jerry" is littered with gestural Easter eggs, from a toilet you can flush to ruin Jerry's shower, to the ability to subject poor Sarah and Jerry to an earthquake by shaking the iPad. It just gets better and better as the film moves along. And unlike the other films in the series, "Sarah and Jerry" offers no hints, no prompts, no direction for the viewer at all. So the thrill of uncovering what happens when you, say, tap on the painting over Sarah's shoulder, is complete and utter joy.
Ehringer was adamant about his film delivering this sense of discovery. "You can't force people to be interactive and if you force them to do it at a certain place then you're not really being interactive, you're just being told what to do."
Working with Domani Studios, Ehringer started with the gestural actions the iPad enables—pinching, swiping, rolling, shaking—then tried to figure out places to insert them into the story. In each scene, there are multiple unknown options about what can be affected, but the characters can only be messed with three times before the story moves along to the next scene, encouraging endless experimentation in future viewings. Ehringer has created what might be the most customized experience for the viewer. "My thought was that no two people who check this thing out will have the same experience," he says.
The one challenge that live-action video still had to deal with was the idea of continuity, says Ehringer. "When you're with actors it's hard enough even in any linear scene to have somebody remember to put their hand in the same spot on the table," he says. "In my case that was really difficult because I needed them to be consistent. I needed them to come back after a certain space and be there so that you can then manipulate the space that they're in." This is where the animated technology video games will continue to have a huge advantage, says Ehringer.
In fact, Ehringer sees the iPad as the missing link between the visual thrill of 3-D, computer-generated entertainment like Avatar and experiencing a truly interactive film. "What that technology needs is the iPad so that you can create a storyline there but you get to control the actors and the mechanics of the computer," he says. "It seems to me that the logical step is for somebody who's a filmmaker like Cameron or Zemeckis who's interested in the capacity of the digital world to do this—to really think about making interactive movies that run on the iPad."
Additional reporting by Christine Clarke