Humans Invent spoke to the film’s director, Alexis Kirke, to find out how it all works. Kirke explains that sensors are used to gauge the emotional state of the audience. He says, “We’ve imported four sensors from the USA, we’ve got a heart rate monitor, an EEG monitor (brainwaves), a perspiration monitor and a muscle tension monitor.”
Four people in the audience are connected up to one of these sensors, the readings of which change the course of the film via a visual programming language programme called Max (this can tell the film what scenes to play according to the results of the bio sensors). In order for this to work, Kirke had to write and film multiple story lines.
I had to decide which were the most arousing scenes.
He says, “Twice in the script I do a measure of the audiences’ arousal, one at 3 minutes in and one at about 9 minutes and these coincide with key turning points in the story. If you have two turning points you end up with four endings because every branch generated has a turning point.”
The four people who participated were acting as a sample for the rest of the audience. Kirke says, “For the heart rate, the perspiration and the muscle tension, we get fairly simple numbers coming out and when it comes to the EEG, I’ve done previous work where I’ve analysed what is called the arousal state, there is a certain mathematical formula you have to use to do that, so I’ve implemented that in this case and I basically hold a moving average with the four numbers and I average them with the different weightings and that gives me a sense of the arousal of the audience.”
Depending on the arousal of the audience, either above or below the expected level, the film changes in order to get them to the required state. Kirke says, “I had to decide which were the most arousing scenes in a biological sense. If I felt the audience were below the threshold of arousal I wanted at the decision point I would bump them up to a more aroused scene and then at the next decision point I would do another measure etc.”
He continues, “It’s that simple and that complicated. I tell you what, bio-signal monitoring is not hard…but writing a film with four endings that isn’t just a stupid experiment is bloody hard.”
Boeing has also used this system to analyse the mood of pilots.
If this form of immersive cinema became mainstream it raises some interesting questions. For example, if the film one an award, which strand of the film would actually win?
Kirke says, “The only thing I can imagine is that the film will have to come to encapsulate all possible versions. But then there is the issue of what if a critic only sees one version? Who wants to go back and back? On the other hand, one of the reasons why the Titanic made so much money is that people kept going back to see it so maybe if our films are reacting more intelligently, who knows, maybe we’ll go back and see it multiple times.”
Kirke is aware that he has gone to extreme lengths to make his film react to the audience but believes it could, at the very least, act as an inspiration for future filmmaking. He says, “You could go halfway, you could just have the soundtrack changed or you could have the light change – there are various things you could build in to a projector that could effect the film as well.”
For those who believe this whole concept is far too eccentric to be taken seriously Kirke points out that similar technology is already being used in other fields.
He says, “Towards the end of last year, Verizon started using a camera on televisions to look at peoples’ moods in their front rooms and to select adverts based on that.”
Boeing has also used this system to analyse the mood of pilots while they are flying, to see, for example, if they are getting too stressed.” Some may argue that if we went down this route the film would become a slave to the audience, controlled by their collective emotions. However, as human beings, do we really have control over our own emotions – if you feel scared, you feel scared – so who is really in control?