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Behind Chairlift’s Excellent Interactive Video Adventure

Brooklyn-based creative company m ss ng p eces makes a video for Chairlift that is unforgettable… mainly because there’s no single way to watch it.

Behind Chairlift’s Excellent Interactive Video Adventure

Brooklyn indie darlings Chairlift just released a new video for their song, “Met Before.” Considering that it’s pretty much impossible to watch only once, the déjà vu-inspired title is rather appropriate.

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“Met Before” is a choose-your-own-path, interactive video with a cinematic structure that branches seamlessly at pre-determined intervals. At certain key points in the narrative, two arrows appear onscreen, prompting the viewer to choose how the action will unfold. Although other choose-your-own-adventure-style music videos have appeared online recently, none have pulled off a narrative this complex and multi-faceted.

“You can keep going–the levels keep peeling,” says Ari Kuschnir, executive producer and founder of the creative company behind the video, m ss ng p eces. “A four-minute thing you keep repeating and playing with then becomes a 25-minute thing.”

The video starts off in a college lecture hall, with the two members of Chairlift soaking in a physics lesson about alternate realities. “Instead of PhD students, maybe in another world you’re rock stars,” the professor suggests, all but winking right at the viewer. As soon as class lets out, the female half of Chairlift immediately has to make a choice, one that will impact the course of her day and, by extension, the viewer’s: Does she follow the guy who caught her eye in class, or the girl? This decision opens up a can of sub-decision worms that can either send our hero back to the lab to do science stuff, outside to make out with someone, or any number of permutations in between.

Kuschnir was first inspired to make an immersive video like “Met Before” when he heard about the technology created by Interlude, an Israel-based company specializing in online video experiences. Interlude’s founder, Yoni Bloch, is a musician and video maker whose innovative videos have made him the Israeli OK Go. Bloch spent years developing the tech for choose-your-path videos that would allow users to make the choice without breaking the music. When Kuschnir finally saw the technology used in one of Bloch’s early videos, he wanted to see if he could push it further.

M ss ng p eces mostly makes branded content, but after some of its music videos gained some traction last year, Kuschnir decided to keep the company going in that direction. A music video seemed to be a more viable candidate for the interactive technology he was looking to explore.

“Music videos used to be–and to some extent, still are–the place where directors tend to experiment, and later apply it to their commercials,” he says. “We’ve done something experimental and open, and the next step is seeing how we can apply this to the work we do with brands. How can we take it to the next step?”

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All the data isn’t in yet, but just from looking at comments on Twitter, it’s obvious that the video is inspiring multiple viewings. The kind of retention rate possible from such an immersive experience is potentially attractive to advertisers, something not lost on m ss ng p eces.

Developing such a video is no easy feat, though. Jordan Fish, the director, spent weeks planning out the video with the band before anything was filmed. “Caroline [Polachek, Chairlift’s singer] and I worked together closely on this,” Fish says. “She brought many ideas and an awesome aesthetic sense to the table. She is a true artist.”

The planning process was even more time-consuming than the shoot or the edit, especially in comparison to a traditional video. What Fish and the band ended up with looks more like a tree branch or a flow chart than a shooting script. Kuschnir claims he’s going to frame it and hang it up in the office at m ss ng p eces.

“It’s the same medium as before,” Fish says, “Only now it sometimes asks for input, kind of like a dream or a bedtime story, where you’re not entirely in control and that’s part of the experience. There’s lots more to think about and explore here.”

With so many choices, not every version of the video is rational or plot-driven. Some versions will be meandering, sending the viewer on a scenic trip. Other times, there will very much be a traditional three-act structure in place. There’s no definitive version of the video, though–you can’t watch it the “wrong” way.

There is, however, a static version that will be launched within the next few days on TV. Kuschnir cautions that something gets lost in the translation with that version, though. “It’s more a trailer for the video, rather than the video itself,” he says. “You get to see a lot of the world, but not nearly all of it.”

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.

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