Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Choose your own misadventure: the story of Interfilm
August 31, 2009 6:45 PM   Subscribe

" There were lots of small children in the audience. I thought about asking one little girl if she had voted for the paddle, the rod or the cattle prod." In 1995, a company called Interfilm revolutionized the movie industry. Oh, no, wait, it didn't. Audiences at Mr. Payback, "the first interactive movie," pressed buttons on a joystick attached to their seat to vote on the actions of the characters on-screen -- for instance, what kind of physical abuse a captured thug should undergo. Despite the pedigree of director Bob Gale (writer/producer of Back to the Future) and co-star Christopher Lloyd, critics were not impressed. The company folded a week after releasing its third interfilm, "I'm Your Man," scored by Joe Jackson, which did, a few years Interfilm was the brainchild of "conceptualist" and guy-with-gigantic-glasses Bob Bejan (Dateline NBC interview), who now works at a next-generation, data-driven marketing agency that delivers strategic, multi-channeled communication solutions designed to cultivate and sustain relationships between brands and their audiences. Watch: Clips from "Mr. Payback." The making of "I'm Your Man." (warning: A. Whitney Brown.) Read: the New York Times on the 1998 DVD release of "I'm Your Man." Booklet copy from the "I'm Your Man" DVD.
posted by escabeche (43 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The company folded a week after releasing its third interfilm, "I'm Your Man," scored by Joe Jackson, which did, a few years Interfilm was the brainchild of "conceptualist" and guy-with-gigantic-glasses Bob Bejan

Do I get to choose which parts of the sentence to read?

There's been a copy of I'm Your Man at a used-DVD store I occasionally visit for what seems like a year or two now. I keep wondering if I should pick it up as a collectible.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:52 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


The company folded a week after releasing its third interfilm, "I'm Your Man," scored by Joe Jackson, which did, a few years Interfilm was the brainchild of "conceptualist" and guy-with-gigantic-glasses Bob Bejan...

I... can't understand this sentence? What did "I'm Your Man", scored by Joe Jackson do?

Aside from that, this is an awesome post about a media experiment I had never even heard of. Thanks.
posted by Dysk at 6:53 PM on August 31, 2009


Ahhhh, awesome! I'll never forget, we were at the movie theater on Broadway and 12th, I think, in NYC, and we were invited in to test this. I've long since forgotten what the movie was all about but I recall the theater was very sparsely populated, and everyone was just running around and hitting buttons on all the controllers in the place. We left deeply unimpressed. I'd almost given up hope of figuring out what that was all about. Great post!
posted by ghastlyfop at 6:54 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry I screwed up that sentence. I don't even remember what I was going to say "I'm Your Man" did. Just to set all your minds at ease, it didn't do anything.
posted by escabeche at 6:56 PM on August 31, 2009 [8 favorites]


isn't this like an RPG by committee, played in a cinema instead of at home or at an arcade? not that that's not cool, but "interfilm".....computer game, kinda similar right?
posted by doobiedoo at 6:58 PM on August 31, 2009


Oh God. Don't miss the video in the "no it didn't" link, with the only known clips from "Mr. Payback". There's a sequence with three direct-from-Central-Casting (white) "street toughs" directing PG-rated insults at Our Hero, and I guess the idea was that it would play one random insult from one of the guys (or maybe one from each guy) out of a series of them. Except here, we see the whole series, which looks like this: (cut to guy #1) "Blow me!" (cut to guy #2) "Go SUCK!" (cut to guy #3) "Eat my shorts!" (yes, really) (cut to guy #1 again) "Sit and spin!"... etc., repeat 3 or 4 times. It's the lamest thing you'll see this week, guaranteed. Judging by this, the reason this technology never caught on is because it was used in the most idiotic way possible.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:59 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I remember seeing about this on TV when it was initially out and openly mocking it with my friends.

I had no idea they made more than one...Ride For Your Life looks hilariously awful
posted by GavinR at 7:00 PM on August 31, 2009


Did I miss a meme? Why do we need a warning about A. Whitney Brown? Or will it be clear if I survive the link?
posted by DU at 7:06 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was kind of like choose your own adventure meets film. I remember it mostly sucked, but the one time we did it a buddy of mine was the only other person in the theater. With a packed house I imagine it would have been a bit contentious. Given that most major studio releases are focus grouped to death, I can't see how this improves on things other than the illusion of interactivity.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:06 PM on August 31, 2009


A theater near here had the setup for this, but I don't remember there every being an interactive movie there. We used to press the buttons nonstop during other movies, though.

As bad as these look, though, they don't even begin to approach the 3DO "game" Plumbers Don't Wear Ties (warning: Angry Video Game Nerd; even if you hate him, you might want to watch this one. The "game" is appalling.)
posted by uncleozzy at 7:09 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why do we need a warning about A. Whitney Brown?

Because he's not yet The Whitney Brown?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:10 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Interfilm remake of Sophie's Choice was really awful.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:23 PM on August 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


As bad as these look, though, they don't even begin to approach the 3DO "game" Plumbers Don't Wear Ties (warning: Angry Video Game Nerd; even if you hate him, you might want to watch this one. The "game" is appalling.)

Wow, I'll second that: I do in fact hate him, but that was hilarious. Mostly because the "game" is so horrible and hilarious on its own that he doesn't have to do much other than describe it, and therefore he's not yelling inane made-up profanity nearly at all. I almost want to buy a 3D0 (how much could it be these days, like $15?) just to experience Plumbers Don't Wear Ties now. It looks even worse than those really awful Sega CD FMV "games" likes "Marky Mark: Make My Video".
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:26 PM on August 31, 2009


Bob Bejan! Ohmigod David Cross & Trevor Horn have a demon love child!

(Also: The "...wait, it didn't" link totally reminded me that there are a bunch of Cop Rock videos on the YouTube. Livin' uuuuunduhh the gunnnhhh.)
posted by mintcake! at 7:45 PM on August 31, 2009


I tried to watch that AVGN bit on Plumbers Don't Wear Ties but it was as crappy and unfunny as the game itself. 20 minutes to tell me how shitty that game was? REALLY? I'm a huge video game fan since the days Space Invaders and the 2600. I don't understand why people think that AVGN is funny. It is just crap.
posted by GavinR at 7:46 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


In 1978 the TVO network broadcasted The Russels. After each episode viewers could phone in to vote which way the plot would go. I remember because my mom played one of the leads. And because it dealt with family conflict (and there was plenty of conflict going on in our home at the time) the wait between episodes was agonizing.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 7:47 PM on August 31, 2009


"If you want Calculon to double-check his paperwork, press 2."
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:50 PM on August 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


I totally thought I understood that. I figured one film emphatically didn't do something (revolutionize the film industry), so a later statement "it did" with unknown referent seemed to be referring to revolutionizing the film industry also.
posted by idiopath at 8:05 PM on August 31, 2009


Cool! One of my closest friends was a programmer for Interfilm with an awesome job title, and I still have a couple of their t-shirts lying around. Sadly, that's the most lasting result of their work as far as I cal tell. Too bad too, it was some really interesting stuff, at least in theory. I spent a fair bit of time hanging around their offices, and my two primary impressions of the company boiled down to 1) "Bob Bejan is pretty nuts," and 2) "These guys smoke an awful lot of hash."
posted by Aversion Therapy at 8:08 PM on August 31, 2009


Selection of the movie outcomes by the viewing mob sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. You'd get much the same outcome as you do for the web's most-wanted painting. It's just bad news all around.

I hope that isn't also an analogy for democratic governments.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:11 PM on August 31, 2009


This post reminds me about how I had a big ol' crush on Kevin Seal back in the early 90's.
posted by Lucinda at 8:30 PM on August 31, 2009


FFF probably meant to link to this.
posted by intermod at 8:35 PM on August 31, 2009


Just to set all your minds at ease, it didn't do anything.

A) And that was the beauty of it.

B) Ze goggles!

C) ...at the box office, you mean.

D) That's what she said.

E) YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:42 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


A children's TV show in New Zealand had segments like this when I was growing up. After watching 5 minutes of the pre-filmed story (usually some sort of adventure spoof) it would end in some sort of cliffhanger, a couple of options would be presented and the audience would be invited to phone in with their choices. The results were shown in the next episode.
I remember later on they played the complete story back-to-back except they showed the choices that the audience rejected instead. Disappointingly the story turned out pretty much the same.
posted by AndrewStephens at 9:32 PM on August 31, 2009


An earlier attempt at interactive cinema was Kino_Automat (1967), which I saw as a kid at the Expo '74 World's Fair in Spokane. (scroll down to "Other Interactive Films...")

Inspired, I got a grant in 1983 and created a live cable TV interactive play ("A Man of The People") in Portland, where viewers used then-new interactive remote controls to guide local stage actors who improvised based on a plot-tree we had rehearsed in advance. I still think this is a much better way to go than filming multiple endings.

It was OK but not great because the technology didn't work nearly as quickly as promised. They had told us 90 seconds to tally votes, so we were going to run PSAs and have a quick huddle on where we were going with it. Instead it took 4-5 minutes for each vote which pretty much killed the dramatic tension.
posted by msalt at 9:41 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Choose your own Selectavision.tv.
posted by idiopath at 9:55 PM on August 31, 2009


Wow, watching that "making of" video is helarious. These people are so unbelievably hubristic. They're making complete crap and they're so excited about it. The hilarious part was when the main character actor said he stopped trying to pay attention to which branch of the plot he was even in. "I'm an actor... why should I care? Do cattle worry about where they're going?"

And then they mention how awesome it is that he was an MTV VJ so he could talk to the camera during the '3rd wall' breaking scenes. Plus the crazy 80s hair on the female lead.
posted by delmoi at 10:10 PM on August 31, 2009


I like how the sound director was like "There's nothing in the music that's not cliched. There isn't one note in the sound track that's meant to be taken seriously. There's something liberating about that"
posted by delmoi at 10:14 PM on August 31, 2009


Haha, Ben Garant was one of the writers.
posted by anazgnos at 11:19 PM on August 31, 2009


I think we can go back two decades further to Qube if we want to explore interactive cable.
posted by caddis at 3:17 AM on September 1, 2009


Man, the timing on this post is so strange - was just thinking about this movie the other day. Something had triggered a memory of the Siskel & Ebert "year's worst movies" episode from that year, and I'm pretty sure this was Roger's pick.
posted by jbickers at 4:22 AM on September 1, 2009


This is as good a place as any to mention Duelin' Firemen! (previously)

Duelin' Firemen was slated to be a full-motion video game on 3D0. It was produced by a Chicago based company called Runandgun. The premise of the game was that a space shuttle and Air Force One simultaneously crash into the Hancock tower in Chicago and cause fires all over the city, and two competing groups of Firemen (one of which is led by Rudy Ray Moore) run from location to location having Dance-offs (?). Along the way they meet a number of countercultural luminaries including Tony Hawk, Timothy Leary, Mark Mothersbaugh, Ivan Stang, David Yow, Steve Albini, King Buzzo, and the final boss fight was to be agains The Boredoms. All that survives of it is the short film comprised of pieces of the game on Youtube. Allegedly, there was a promotional 7" that came out with the Boredoms on one side and music from the game on the other, but Warner Bros., who had a contract with The Boredoms at the time, forced them to recall the record.

I essentially consider this game a big cosmic taunt; if I were to put together my dream video game, this is pretty much what it would look like. And lucky for me, I get to see it somewhat realized. But I will never get to play it.

A few years ago, I tried to track down the creators to write a story about it, but it appeared, from the few interviews I did end up doing, that they were all pretty scarred by seeing five years of hard work go down the drain, and most of them were less than interested in reliving this massive failure in their young adult lives. There were a couple of amusing anecdotes, such as finding a crack pipe in a pair of pants Timothy Leary used for a scene after he was done with them, but for the most part when interviewing the creators, there was this palpable sense of exhaustion.

The actors, on the other hand, really had no insight into the game itself, they just remembered showing up, doing their scenes, and leaving. When I contacted Rudy Ray Moore's rep, he told me that Rudy probably wouldn't even remember doing the shoot.

Essentially, Duelin Firemen! was a bunch of naive filmmakers trying to make a video game. Once they got done shooting footage, they had already spent the bulk of their money, and they figure it would be simple for a programmer to stitch it all together. they soon found out that their ambitions were quite outsized, and they were running up against the limits of the platform they were designing for. According to the Runandgun folks, there was never even a playable demo. They had talked about trying to recut it as a film for many years after that, but after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the plot of the game just seemed in poor taste, and the project was abandoned.

The director, Grady Sain, had since gone on to do animation for shows like Tom Goes to the Mayor. Additionally, David Yow told me that he learned about computers and graphic design from hanging around in the Runandgun studios, and that has basically been his day job ever since.

God, I want to play that game so bad.
posted by orville sash at 5:24 AM on September 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


We had a post about Duelin' Firemen not so long ago. It still blows my mind. It actually appears to be--regardless of how the gameplay would have actually worked out--of higher quality than most (all?) of the other FMV games of the day (unless you count Under a Killing Moon, which I wouldn't).
posted by uncleozzy at 5:45 AM on September 1, 2009


The Siskel & Ebert review was pretty amusing.

Interestingly enough, though... the audience they surveyed really liked it.
posted by markkraft at 6:13 AM on September 1, 2009


I saw that interview at its initial broadcast, during my Dateline phase as a kid. (I had a lot of phases.) A few weeks later I went to see a movie in Austin and the theatre had the controls installed. Given their investment wisdom, maybe that's why that theatre isn't around anymore.
posted by spamguy at 6:25 AM on September 1, 2009


You realise, of course, that film director William Castle was doing this kind of thing in US movie theatres 50 years ago? To promote his 1961 movie Dr Sardonicus, Castle distributed "Punishment Poll" cards to every audience, allowing them to vote whether the film's villain should be shown mercy or not. Each day-glo card had a thumbs-up on one side and a thumbs-down on the other, letting every audience member play Roman Emperor for the day and decide whether Sardonicus lived or died.

Castle shot two alternate endings for the film accordingly, telling theatres to screen whichever version their own audience voted to see. John Waters, a huge Castle fan, explains in his book Crackpot that every single audience given the chance to vote in this way condemned Sardonicus to death, leaving the merciful ending forever unseen.

Castle was king of the movie gimmicks at a time when electrocuting your audience, sending a plastic skeleton flying through the theatre on a special wire or consigning nervous punters to a "Cowards' Corner" at the back of the auditorium was thought fair game. Check out his Wikipedia page for more details or - better yet - find a copy of Waters' book.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:13 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had forgotten about Clue the movie, which had three different endings. FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE!

You realise, of course, that film director William Castle was doing this kind of thing in US movie theatres 50 years ago?

Castle was mentioned in at least one of the articles linked. Also, Castle never actually filmed an alternate ending to Dr. Sardonicus--that was just as fake as all Castle's other hype.

There is a great homage to Castle in the sadly flawed movie Matinee: John Goodman plays a fabulous grindhouse entrepreneur who's all about the gimmicks, dressing his lovely girlfriend/assistant up in a nurse's outfit, etc., etc. The parts of that movie that have Goodman in them are hilarious, but some numbskull decided to spend half of the film on a completely boring teenage romance plot.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:35 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Castle never actually filmed an alternate ending to Dr. Sardonicus--that was just as fake as all Castle's other hype.

You may be right, but that's certainly not what John Waters believes. In Crackpot he says: "Castle needlessly supplied every print with two endings just in case". What's your source for saying the alternate ending never existed? I'd love to get to the bottom of this.
posted by Paul Slade at 10:05 AM on September 1, 2009


I'm sure Castle sent along a film can labeled "Alternate Ending", just as he sent along people in nurse and doctor costumes.

When TCM first acquired Mr. Sardonicus for broadcast, they moved heaven and earth to find the alternate ending. They could not. Encore couldn't find it when they put out the VHS. Apparently (third-hand info via TCM) it doesn't show up on any of the call sheets for the movie, and nobody who was in the movie who was still alive at the time Encore released it remembered filming more than one ending.

Castle was a great fabulist. Waters is also a great fabulist who doesn't mind playing along with other great fabulists. There's no evidence for an alternate ending of Mr. Sardonicus ever existing, and both Occam's Razor and Castle's track record suggest that that means none was ever filmed.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. As you say, I guess Waters was indulging in a little "print the legend" artistic indulgence. Or perhaps he just couldn't bring himself to believe such a nice little coda to the film's story was untrue.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:32 PM on September 1, 2009


Why do we need a warning about A. Whitney Brown?

Because he's not yet
The Whitney Brown?

Sure he is. That other one still goes by her maiden name.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:03 PM on September 1, 2009


I saw Mr. Payback at a theater outside Seattle. From a purely technical standpoint I was impressed - I thought it was a decent enough version of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" - but Jesus, was it badly made. I agree with Ebert's assessment; in the right hands (like John Kricfalusi, or Trey Parker and Matt Stone) scatology can be hilarious, but here it was just a crutch for lazy writing.

There were about ten people there, including me and my girlfriend. I think the theater was getting a bit desperate, since the theater let us stay for way longer than our three allotted showings. Pretty soon we were all Rocky-Horroring the movie, ragging mercilessly on Billy Warlock (except my GF, who had a weird attraction to him), and consulting to choose the worst choice at every turn. Somehow we manage to "unlock" what the movie assured us was the amazingly rare, secret, hardcore ending, in which the villain gets his hands glued to his penis and has to have it amputated. That was when we left.
posted by mgrichmond at 2:35 PM on September 1, 2009


What's your source for saying the alternate ending never existed? I'd love to get to the bottom of this.

Watch the actual "Poll" scene itself; it pretty much spells out the fact that the existence of the "merciful" ending is a joke. They could hardly have cut to a different poll result while the poll was in progress.
posted by anazgnos at 3:11 PM on September 1, 2009


« Older Hip-hop has another warrant of bourgeois respectab...  |  Investigating Bellini's Feast ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments