You Direct The Movie
As strange as this may sound, a small independent film made for computer viewing aspires to blend serious cinematic storytelling with the popular shuffle feature in iPods and other music players.
The film, “The Onyx Project,” is meant to be an experiment in nonlinear storytelling for the digital age. It tells the tale of Col. Robert Henderson, a United States Army Special Forces officer played by David Strathairn, who undertakes a rogue mission (code name Onyx) in Afghanistan that goes terribly wrong.
Mr. Strathairn, who received an Oscar nomination last year for his role as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” unfolds his sorrowful tale by talking into a camera in a motel room. Using a new software program called NAV, viewers are constantly being presented with fresh links to click (some are highlighted to encourage heading in a particular direction, or a shuffle link can be selected) that serve as a departure point from one scene to the next.
One idea behind the venture is that no two viewers may see the movie unfold in the same way, yet its basic facts, characters and message will permeate the experience.
The DVD features nearly 400 scenes of up to a few minutes in length, adding up to five hours of film in total. A late-model Windows computer is needed for viewing (plus, presumably, some sort of rigging for simultaneously handling a mouse and snacks).
Available today as a DVD priced at $23.95 at www.theonyxproject.com, the disc and movie are meant to use fairly straightforward software concepts to take storytelling beyond such interactive stalwarts as video-gaming and bonus features on DVD’s.
Instead, the screenwriter and director, Larry Atlas, and his business partner, Douglas K. Smith, a management consultant and writer, conceived of the movie and software as a way to take advantage of the storytelling capabilities of the interactive world.
Mr. Atlas and Mr. Smith, along with Mr. Strathairn, are all neighbors in Dutchess County, N.Y., where “The Onyx Project” was filmed with local law enforcement officers playing Colonel Henderson’s troops.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Atlas said in interviews that they financed the project and software development independently — it cost under $200,000 — after putting out some unsuccessful feelers to Hollywood and other potential corporate backers. Their hope is that future projects built around the software will include documentaries or educational videos with thousands of links that viewers can click to take them wherever their interests may lie.
Mr. Atlas noted that “The Onyx Project’ was very much a movie-making endeavor. For example, the story was written to keep the audience engaged, using a few director’s tricks. The mystery at the center of the story is not revealed until the end.
Perhaps Mr. Strathairn sums up “The Onyx Project’s” aspirations when, playing the colonel, he remarks of the army in one scene: “We seek to innovate but it is tradition that binds us together.”