Have you met Philip?
After circumstances shed light on the past relationships of a young, broken-hearted black man, an immersive date between you (the viewer) and him becomes an introspective examination of relationships, love, societal norms and values. Philip 21, the debut interactive film by halucid_ Theatre Company, is a 15-20 minute semi-autobiographical point of view story that uses the mechanics of a date to explore complex issues. Written By Philip Ofe, directed by Adam Glen, and produced by Molly Young, Philip 21 was created as part of the talent development scheme New Creatives. Supported by Arts Council England and BBC Arts, it was delivered in the South East by Screen South and the BBC.
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The inspiration for Philip 21 emerged from a short story in which Philip Ofe explored his personal experiences of dating. Originally written to be performed live in theatres in early 2020, it was adapted to become an interactive on-screen performance as part of New Creatives. halucid_ was commissioned by BBC Arts and Screen South to create a project that explored themes and issues affecting modern Britain and elected to create a branching narrative experience in response to this challenge.
What makes Philip 21 so exciting is that it is as much about exploring and consuming a crafted narrative as it is about what the audience brings to the experience.
On one hand, we have the authored experience - the story being told by halucid_ and on the other, we have the audience experience - one that reflects the viewer and what they are bringing to the experience. These dual experiences are integral to flexible stories.
The narrative setting, the conversational structure and the first-person perspective work to create an internal rhythm and help to keep the authored experience moving. They ease the audience into the world and provide a foundation on which everything else is built. The setting of a date helps to guide how a viewer should behave, the conversational structure draws the audience in, and the first person creates a sense of intensity, intimacy and immediacy to any action.
The audience experience differs in that it is less about the structures provided, but what is brought to the experience. In helping to realise the work, the viewer becomes a performer in the story, integral to how it unfolds. They must decide whether or not to come to the experience as their authentic self and interact sincerely with what is presented, or assume a persona that is wildly different. The viewer may even choose not to engage with the authored experience at all and instead be more focused on trying to 'spoil' the experience - making the experience unravel. Ultimately, what is received is a reflection of the choices made and the decisions taken and it is this that makes dual experiences so compelling and replayable.
Philip 21 has been built using BBC R&D's flexible storytelling tool StoryFormer, which amongst its many features, allows content creators to string audio-visual sequences together in a way that allows the work to respond to audience interventions. By selecting from surfaced variables different sequences are cued up and played out, thus personalising the viewing experience. While traditional moving-image experiences are locked and unchangeable, an experience built in this way can be responsive not only to audience choices, but to their viewing context or situation. StoryFormer can also track where a viewer has been and what they have seen during a session. Philip 21 uses this to provide viewers with different outcomes that reflect how they have interacted with the experience.