If you think Netflix is disrupting how TV and film content is made and distributed, then imagine what a movie that's released only as an app on your phone will do.
Hooked Digital Media is a new digital movie studio that creates and delivers original films just for smartphones and tablets. Today it launches its very first movie, a horror mystery called Haunting Melissa, about a teenage girl who unexpectedly disappears.
You can download the Haunting Melissa app for free, and can even connect with other viewers online to share theories and freaked out together.
The film sounds scary, and the watching experience is exciting for a couple of cool reasons. Remember those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books from the '80s and '90s, where you could decide what the protagonist would do next by jumping around the story? Even though you can't manipulate the plot in Haunting Melissa, it does have what creator and director Neal Edelstein calls "dynamic story elements:" the movie changes as you progress through chapters, and every time you see it. This could very well be the future.
I sat down with Edelstein, who has produced movies like The Ring and Mulholland Drive, to discuss the platform and app, and the challenges of creating technology that specifically adds content to the story experience in unpredictable ways.
1. Fusion: You've worked in Hollywood for a while, how did this idea come about?
Neal Edelstein: Inspiration came from the first time I ever got the iPad. I've always been looking at the new media space and wanted to tell stories in a different way. Mobile and tablet devices are super powerful, very clean, accessible to all and you have a "store front"-- direct delivery. This is the ultimate power trip for a film producer/director! I can distribute my own content.
2. F: How did you approach telling stories in a new way?
NE: We created this pending technology called "dynamic story elements." What that means is that if you go back and watch, things change. If you saw something the first time, you may go back, watch it and it might not be there. Or we might have added something. I have all this control through the software and the server. I had to prepare for this and write the script this way, but this goes back to trying to completely change how stories are told.
3. F: You produced movies like "Mulholland Drive" & "The Ring". What are the differences between making a big screen movie and a movie for mobile devices?
NE: The structure of the script -- how it's broken up and the rhythm -- is much different. It's a longer form, plus you have to do your own marketing. In the movie industry you know the production process well. You know what to expect. This, well, its all new.
4. F: How much does the Haunting Melisa app cost?
NE: App is free and first chapter is free. After Chapter 1, if you post it to Facebook saying you watched it, Chapter 2 is free when it's available. And then you can get a season pass for $6.99 or if you want to watch it on HD it's $14.99. So it's longer than a movie, cheaper than a movie and premium original content.
5. F: How many movies/apps are you planning on developing?
NE: We are in talks with other directors and writers to do similar things. The company will continue to push stories on the cutting edge of technology. For example, we're working on a comedy with a big name attached to it.
6. F: How long are these movies?
NE:They are divided into chapters. What I wanted to do is push the story to you when you least know when it's coming. You can't unlock chapters by paying for them or by clues. It's really a schedule that we control. One day you can have access to a 20-minute chapter and then a couple of days later you can have one that's five minutes long. It's unpredictable, unraveling. Once you've gone through the journey (watching all chapters) is the only time you can watch the entire movie.
7. F: Is this the future of entertainment?
NE: These apps, software and devices are so powerful and with today's technology if you think of things, you can achieve them. It's like a dream machine. If you think of an idea and you can make the software work, this kind of is the future. It's a universal experience and that's really cool.