Murmur, a New York company that characterizes itself as a “social film studio,” has released a short film exclusively on Facebook. The film, Him, Her and Them, is made up of a series of fixed scenes and interactive ones. Since it manages to integrate a kind of Facebook commenting into the movie, Murmur is calling it the first “social film.”
Mike Knowlton, one of Murmur’s cofounders and the film’s producer, tells Fast Company that he and his business partner Hal Siegel got the idea for the film last summer. They had seen interactive and “transmedia” projects like The Arcade Fire’s “Wilderness Downtown” video, which integrated satellite imagery of each viewer’s home. They also were intrigued by the success of the social casual game, and wondered about embedding social mechanics into a film itself. “That led us to thinking about how we could develop and distribute this film on Facebook,” says Knowlton. “The API and tools were all there to help us realize this vision.”
The film, narration-heavy, dialogue-light, and with an avant-garde feel running throughout, consists of seven scenes. Some scenes are simply like traditional scenes in a movie; they can’t be influenced or personalized in anyway. But these are punctuated with interactive scenes–a scrollable set of photographs, set to atmospheric music, that continue the narrative thread of the film. Some of these photographs are labeled; others are not. Viewers are encouraged to comment on the photographs–offer captions, in a sense–and those comments are then shared with other viewers with in their social circle. “It’s done in such a way that if you don’t add to the story, the narrative still makes sense. But if you do add to it, it’s all the more personalized,” explains Knowlton. In the final scene (tiny spoiler alert!), the movie also draws from the viewer’s individual Facebook photos, as a sort of punchline. All told, the experience lasts a little under 10 minutes, typically (it could obviously stretch longer if you linger in the interactive moments).
The game isn’t interactive in the manner of a Touching Stories, a Heavy Rain, or a Turbulence. “This isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure,” stresses Knowlton. But “the viewers’ additions are a way to flavor the experience.” Some comments on the photographs are simply amusing; one user labeled an image of a water cooler as “what Twitter was 20 years ago.” Others have gotten more creative; a trio of viewers in London tried creating a love triangle of their own in the comments to mirror the love-and-confrontation narrative of the film.
Knowlton has been pleased with the response to the film thus far. Some fifteen hundred people viewed it in its first week; it’s now in its second week, and Murmur will receive data about how many more viewers it earned tomorrow.
This is Murmur’s first project; the hybrid studio/tech company was founded over the summer by Knowlton and Siegel, 15-year veterans of the digital world. Knowlton’s background is in tech; Siegel’s is in design. Siegel wrote and directed the film, which is his first.
How will it make money? For this particular outing, they’re not worrying about that. “We view it as a proto-social film,” says Knowlton; Him Her, and Them is non-commercial and self-funded. But they already have a treatment for a second project, and have been talking with talent agencies and ad agencies about developing it. Possible revenue models could be a free/premium model, where dedicated viewers would pay more to unock more content. Murmur has also talked to agencies about introducing branded content into their next social films. “Our next project is definitely an evolution. The folks we’re talking to are really excited about it,” says Knowlton. “It takes the idea of social mechanics, of loops, a step further.”
Has the team had any contact with Facebook? Murmur reached out, but had “no luck getting a substantive conversation,” says Knowlton. Maybe once Him, Her and Them becomes a Facebook blockbuster. Until then, “Zuck isn’t sending me chocolates yet,” he says.
Try the film out for yourself, here.