Published on: 30 July 2015 in Longform

10 things an interactive film director needs to be able to do (that a linear director doesn't)

Reading time: 7 minutes and 31 seconds

Award-winning interactive director, Martin Percy discusses the differences between interactive and linear directing...

I can see what they’re thinking. And I don’t blame them.

We get to that part of the conversation where they ask “so, what do you do?” and I say “oh, I direct interactive films”. And then I can see it flash across their eyes: “Oh God – some guy who thinks I want to choose the ending of a movie. What an idiot.”

It’s quite natural that people should think this. Not necessarily because I’m an idiot. But because so little has been done with film and interactivity. So all people can think of when you say “interactive films” is things like the Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 1980s.

But this lack of activity may represent a huge opportunity for you as a director.

Because you - yes, YOU - might think of a fundamentally new way to use film and video which no-one has done before. Not Welles or Campion or Tarantino. I don’t mean make a movie where you choose the ending – that’s been done; and of course it failed. I mean to make something where the fundamental structure, the way it works is new – useful - important. Something which sets a path for others to follows in decades to come.

How? Simple. Find some new way to combine film and interactivity – which no-one has done before. That doesn’t just mean making conscious choices during a film. It might also mean interaction before or around the film – personalising it or adding new layers to it.

It’s not that hard to do. Because the technical medium of film and video has changed. Pretty much every film you’ll see for the rest of your life will be played on some kind of digital playback device. It might be a mobile phone; it might be a digital cinema. And any digital playback device is capable of some kind of interactivity. Often it is unused or concealed. But it’s there underneath. This means that there’s a whole new set of digital tools available for you to work with. Tools that let viewers interact before your film, around your film and inside your film.

And of course it’s not just the medium that’s changed: the world has too. Many directors might like an audience which just sits there like in a 20th century cinema. Silent, motionless and adoring. But as you know, the people formerly known as the audience are getting restless.

But of course the film and TV industries aren’t geared up for this. They want the new technologies to just be a method of transmission for the old medium: simple linear film and TV.

Which is why we’re currently in a rather bizarre situation. Most of the data on the internet is now film and video - and it all plays back on interactive devices. But the vast majority of those films and videos make no more use of interactivity than Casablanca.

It’s a huge creative failure by the film and TV industry – and also by the web industry; and it leaves a vacuum between them. But it’s a situation which is starting to change – because vacuums never last long.

But that doesn’t mean that will be easy. Combining interactivity and film is hard. There are huge problems with combining interaction and story. You have to pull together the hostile worlds of film and interactive.

And what about the money? You'll be amazed to hear that's tricky too. Partly because of the assumptions of clients – from ad agencies to broadcasters. They usually don’t think there’s any difference between the skillset of an interactive film director and a linear one.

So if someone wants to make an interactive film, they’ll generally just get a director who’s done a linear film in the same category as their project. Ad agencies might call for a shampoo director for a shampoo ad, or a beauty director for a beauty ad. But they will only rarely call for an interactive director for an interactive ad.

This is understandable. But it's led to failure on many occasions - when good linear directors find themselves confronted with too many unfamiliar tasks.

Like what? Well, that leads us on to the list I promised in the title…

10 Things an interactive film director must be able to do (which a linear director doesn't)

An interactive film director must be able to everything a regular linear film director does. But they must also be able to do this lot…

In pre-production

1. Have a vision of the final fully interactive film, not just the video clips (or the linear cut for their showreel). Because the director’s deliverable is the final interactive piece, nothing less.

2. Storyboard any interactive choices to get relationship of video and interface right – so that interaction is natural and intuitive 

On the shoot

3. Unconfuse cast and crew during the shoot (who often get bewildered). On interactive shoots I’ve done, the continuity person was often as confused as anybody. So the interactive director must know how all the clips will join together in the final story, and be able to explain this.

4. Direct the camera so that interaction and emotional engagement both come naturally. For example, you might shoot from 1st person POV to naturally pull people into interaction. And also shoot 3rd person POV to give emotional engagement with the hero.

5. Direct the camera so that there is proper material for video loops and other required interactive elements. You need to know how to get good video loops of an actor, a crowd, a tree and a forest – each of which requires different timings and techniques.

Video post-production

6. Unconfuse editors who often get overwhelmed by the number of clips required. Make sure you explain the amount of work to be done in advance – otherwise editors may try to drop out once they realise how much they have to do.

7. Mockup all interactions in the edit. Make sure the editor doesn’t underestimate the time viewers need to make a decision

Interactive post-production

8. Understand what coders are doing and describe what is needed precisely

9. Do a coding script (based on the shoot script) precisely describing all interactions, with filenames for all videos

10. Help test the site – because often coders and testers don’t know your intended result. 

To sum up

The interactive film director must be able to handle every stage of the project. And so bring together the often hostile worlds of film and interactive - to make an interactive film that works.

Does that sound too hard? Maybe you’re not the trailblazing type? Fine. But if you’re a film or video maker, then the potential of your medium has changed. Like it or not.

Or do you want to be bold? Great. Then let the doubters laugh. Meanwhile you can go off and use interactivity to do useful, interesting things with film that no-one has ever done before. Please send us a link if you do! ; )


And finally – what about some inspiration? is a good place to see good interactive work, with a new Site of the Day every day. And here are two great recent interactive films, plus one by me:

Five Minutes, directed by Maximilian Niemann

A blood-soaked zombie apocalypse...

Live site:

Take This Lollipop, directed by Jason Zada

Discover who the internet maniac is stalking…

Live site:

Lifesaver, directed by Martin Percy

Save a life or suffer the consequences…

Live app download/site:

Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn more