Merien Kunst and Lennart Driessen.
For the Dutch Film Festival (NFF) Woedend! and Wefilm created a 1,5 hour long thriller, titled ‘Under Control,’ with some of Holland’s best actors. But not a normal film, it was shot live and directed through Twitter by the crowd, making it the world’s first live thriller. Though we immediately liked the idea, in our post ‘Twitter directed’ we were somewhat skeptical about the output and said it would execution-wise probably be a nightmare. The film was shot on August 6 and we were curious to learn how things went. We interviewed responsible creatives Merien Kunst (copy) and Lennart Driessen (art) of Woedend! to find out. The journey was quite a thriller in itself, they learned, but one they wouldn’t want to have missed.

Last year you also worked for the NFF. Can you first tell us a little about last year’s campaign? [Random people in the street end up in a scene from a movie – also with well known actors. 18 different people were filmed, with 6 cameras. From all the footage, Woedend! made three commercials – starring 3 of the random passers-by]
Similar to the film we shot two weeks ago, we also aimed at PR to let our story take off. And it did. The shoot itself – surrounded by press – did more than the commercial itself. And similar to this year’s concept, it was quite difficult to execute. For example, most production agencies refused to take the risk (there wasn’t much budget), because nobody knew beforehand if it would work. After all, the random passers-by were non-directed. Fortunately, Wefilm had the balls and took on the job.

So what was the briefing this time?
Last time the pay-off was “Before you know it, you’re part of it.” The insight being that the festival’s image was too glamorous, not for ‘normal’ people. So we created a campaign that included random passers-by, just to show that the NFF serves a wider audience. So in this year’s briefing they asked for a similar concept. We knew that the proposition had mileage, so we didn’t see any problems with that. The only thing we wanted to do differently this year was to keep it smaller; make it better manageable. That part didn’t really work out. [Kunst and Driessen smile broadly, AAB]. Though the strategy that supports this year’s concept is similar, we did eventually change the pay-off into ‘Your films, your festival.’

The only thing we wanted to do differently this year was to keep it smaller; make it better manageable – that part didn’t really work out

How did the idea come up?
The first question was; how can we engage the audience again with a fresh angle? We added one element; interactivity. The idea to make a film that would be influenced by social media was quickly born. From the start we collaborated with Wefilm – who were again eager to participate – and shaped this new idea together. Involving them in such an early stage really helped the concept; a production agency obviously has a different way of thinking compared to a conceptor. They made sure, for example, that production-wise the shoot was possible? We pushed that limit to the maximum. How do you marry the worlds of social media, communication and film? We mixed it all up. Eventually we came up with the idea to shoot 90 minutes and to let the audience direct the entire film through Twitter.

A still from the film; @LoesjeKoesje gives the instruction to direct ‘Nice eyes!’

Weren’t you – like ourselves – a little skeptical about crowd-sourcing a plot?
Well, in a few weeks, we had to create a framework for the plot, so the film wasn’t crowdsourced from scratch. But to answer your question; yes, we had several moments of doubt before we started – and several during the shoot, for that matter. The first one when NFF simply told us ‘Cool. Let’s do it,’ after our first concept presentation. Also there we so many insecurities when we went into the executional phase; like, will we find the actors (with no budget), will we be able to find all the equipment (with hardly any budget), etc. Then there were so many technical aspects to deal with…

How did you get the actors?
We just asked them, with much help from NFF. Fortunately, they were all enthusiastic and not afraid it would fail. They really enjoyed it. Tygo Gernandt said in an interview with NOS television that he found it an extremely exciting experience and that he felt he had never been so close to his audience, which really felt like a big compliment.

Tygo Gernandt said in an interview he felt he had never been so close to his audience

How did you deal with all the media channels, like online, twitter, etc.?
Well, first there was the string puppet commercial with Tygo, which was quite a production in itself – he hung in those ropes for over 4 hours! Then we had to deal with the NFF website take-over. One of the most important parts was the custom-created Twitter platform (powered by Moby) integrated in the website. Dozens of people worked hard to get all these technicalities to play nice together.

And the shoot; that must have been a tough one logistics-wise?
We had 10 Red Epics [very high quality, digital cameras, AAB] and 2 behind-the-scene cameras for a making-of. These cameras alone were worth around a million euros – fortunately Wefilm is well connected with some of the big equipment suppliers and they did an amazing job getting people on board. Then there was the cast and crew on set – most of them volunteers, all of them experienced professionals; 160 people.

The Red Epics, a million worth of equipment

How did the shoot go?
Director Martijn de Jong, the director, and Roel Welling of Wefilm sat in the directors room with 8 walkie-talkies, connected to a tiny ear attached to the 8 actors. From the very start, the tweets simply poured in. We [Kunst and Driessen, AAB] made a first selection based on the plot and then we’d forward this selection to Martijn and Roel, who picked the best ones. Then it was shown on screen as part of the film – e.g. ‘kiss Sarah’. Then, finally, a specific actor was told what to do or say. It was magic to see the tweet on screen and then the actors actually doing it. People were twittering ‘wtf, this is amazing!’ That’s why, when you see the movie now, it’s not as exciting; you miss the electricity of the live event.

The director sat in the directors room with 8 walkie-talkies, connected to a tiny ear attached to the 8 actors

The control room.

What would you have done differently, if doing it again?
Well, we’d never do it this way again; it’s nerve wrecking [they both smile meaningfully, AAB] but most of all, the magic was also in doing it first – and doing it once. One thing that we could have done a little better maybe, is feeding into PR. It was such a special production that everyone we approached was interested. We could have maybe approached even more channels in advance.

Do you think there’s a serious future for crowdsourced films?
One of the actors, Derek de Lint, said in an interview with Parool that he enjoyed doing it, but that a good film always starts with a solid script. We also read a more optimistic German article saying that a new form of film has entered the arena; modular, controlled like a computer game; every scene is a level.

A new form of film has entered the arena; modular, controlled like a computer game; every scene is a level

Did it pay off?
On average we received one tweet per second – over 100 tweets were eventually used in the 90-minute film. #NFF2012 was trending topic in the Netherlands for 4 hours – at some moment overruling the Olympics. And then there were countless off and online channels covering it.

Anything else worth sharing?
There will be a final commercial, made from the footage of the live film. It will be broadcasted end of August.