New ways of story telling through the digital realm

Television and movie producers—and advertisers—are always looking for new and interesting ways to incorporate modern technology into their storytelling techniques. Here are a few interesting examples. 

ABC show Modern Family has showcased Apple products before, and it’s not unusual to see them on TV shows and movies, but it’s taken it to the nth degree by filming an episode that plays out entirely on Apple products and in the realm of social media.

The episode, appropriately called ‘Connection Lost’, will air on February 25 and revolves around character Claire Dunphy’s efforts to locate her daughter Hayley after they argue. 

The episode was captured almost entirely using iPhone 6s, iPads and a Macbook pro. And surprisingly, co-creator and executive producer Steven Levitan says that the episode involved no product-placement compensation from Apple and was inspired by an online experience involving one of his daughters.

“I realised on that screen, you could tell so much about my life,” Levitan says. He uses the technology to explore different comedic avenues, with the family having different browsers and Facebook pages open, revealing funny things about the characters. 

Modern Family isn’t the only show to take this approach. Political thriller House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, also merges digital platforms, with real time txt messages between characters appearing on the screen. Often the messages are secretive, and the viewer gets a special insight into the characters’ motives and intentions. UK series Sherlock is another show that does this, which really brings this new adaption of the series into the modern age. And Mad Men, which is soon to show its last episode, has just launched a campaign asking fans to recreate the show’s first episiode by using existing scenes or shooting their own. 

Another example is American comedy-drama film Chef directed by (and starring) John Favreau, whose character Carl quits his job and opens up a food truck. In one scene, he loses his cool after a critic writes him a bad review, so he lashes out at the critic on Twitter, leading to a public confrontation which goes viral. When he Tweets a text bubble floats on the screen so the viewer can see what he’s writing, when he sends it Twitter’s bird logo flies off the screen accompanied by the birdlike whistling sound of an actual Tweet. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Twitter paid nothing to appear in the film, but did request that some tweaks be made to the animated logo.

And, to give an example of a very early take on this text-appearing-on-screen technique, there’s David Fincher’s 1999 film Fight Club. In one scene Ed Norton’s character describes the items he’s bought from an IKEA catalogue, and text displaying the description and cost of the items (as they would be laid out in the catalogue) appear on the screen next to his purchases. 

Outside of TV and movies, there are plenty of interesting examples, including Canadian indie-rock band Arcade Fire teaming up with Google and using state-of-the-art web development techniques for the release of their single “We used to wait”. Instead of releasing a traditional music video, the band hired director Chris Milk to create a unique viewer experience in the form of a webpage called ‘The Wilderness Downtown’.

Viewers enter the address they lived in during their childhood, which brings up images from Google Maps at key points in the song. Viewers can also send messages to their younger selves, which are incorporated into the presentation.

Milk says, “Google wanted a creative way to showcase what was possible on the web with HTML5 and the band wanted an innovative visual that could work like a traditional music video.”

And, while it’s certainly not unusual for advertisers to show their products in ads, Google nailed it by using its products to tell a story in its Parisian Love Super Bowl spot from a few years back. 

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