Ashley: Welcome to Episode #277 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Allan Plenderleith. Allan has spent the last few years working in the interactive space, both of writing and directing a number of interactive films. We talk about the process of writing for interactive media as well as how he got his start in it, so stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes, or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Allan Plenderleith. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Allan to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Allan: Thank you Ashley. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Allan: Where I grew up, good question. I came from a place called East Kilbride near Glasgow in Scotland. I did a degree in marketing, I was always into writing, especially comedy writing and I’ve always loved horror too. And of course I ended up in advertising because that involves storytelling. And then really from there I got lucky and started to draw I would say some card ideas from cartoons and they got published. From there the characters in that story I developed sort of an animated series and ended up getting an agent, because I was offered a deal I had no idea if the deal was good or bad or what and it was bad [laughs]. I had a feeling it was bad as most deals are in the beginning. And yeah, from that I had a deal, so I took it to an agent and I had already made a deal so they kind of sorted something out. And that started my career as a script writer, which was quite a long time ago.
Ashley: Yeah, no, I got you. So I get a lot of questions about people getting agents and stuff, so let’s just touch on that for a second. So you’re going along, you’ve got this deal in place. What was your process to find that agent? Did you go to like 10 agents and try and pick one that you liked, did you have a friend who had an agent get a recommendation that way. Maybe just speak to how you actually got signed by that exact agent. Maybe there were some other agents that you met with but didn’t like or something. But just maybe give us a little fuller picture on how that all went down.
Allan: Sure. Well, I mean, for years I had been reading a book called The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which I think has a similar book in the US. But in the it’s the UK The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and it lists all of the agents. And I literally had a goal when I was maybe 12 years old then I would write and… I would go to the library, write down all the names I thought the publishers that might wanna publish stories that I’d written and sent a ton of stuff to them. And of course because I didn’t have an agent, publishers don’t like unsolicited scripts, and I had no reply or sometimes you would get a nice rejection letter. However, I’m always quite determined [laughs] and you really have to be determined as a writer because you certainly get more knock backs than you do successes.
And yeah, I just kept plowing away. It was really after university, which was, again, not to do with creative writing. It is half production engineering, half marketing. It was after that, that I sort of got back into being creative again. I had sort of this outpouring of creativity, I just started doodling and thinking of stories and ideas. And it was that that led to me getting an agent and it was the same process. I literally plowed through The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and looked for agents which were in the same category as I was looking at because a lot of agents specify the sort of genres that they specialize in. So if you’re very good at say, Horror, or you prefer writing children’s animation stories, then a lot of them do list those things as things that they’ve done in the past and deals that they’ve done in the past and they specialize in those.
So that’s kind of what I did. I think I applied to maybe two or three and the man who is called Peter Bryant, he was a lovely man. He used to be a producer on Dr. Hurt, actually a long time ago and… I think the… yeah, certainly the ‘70s, late ‘60s, ‘70s and he became an agent after that. So he was a fascinating, very characterful old agent who bought twigs suits and just kind of rumpled, he looked like some had sort of crumpled him up. He was a lovely, lovely man and a very good agent because he was very dogged and very determined, so a good guy to have on your side. And really, because I had that strange offer which came from Cosgrove Hall by Granada entertainment which doesn’t exist anymore because Loophole, a famous animation studio in the UK who did Danger Mouse and [inaudible 00:07:19] stuff.
Fantastic animation studio. They were my heroes. I immediately just sent my script and storyboard to them. And that was without an agent. And they sort of picked it up. I mean, I tried everywhere, I tried MTV, I tried Channel Four and I managed to get meetings with them actually, I remember that. But it was Cosgrove Hall that picked it up. And that’s when I got a deal and so literally it was quick. Find an agent. I’ve got a deal. So definitely helps if you’ve already got some kind of offer or some kind of deal from a production company to get an agent. But it’s one of those chicken and egg scenarios. Can you can you actually get them to respond to you if you don’t have an agent? Yeah, I mean, I got lucky. So it’s a tricky scenario.
Ashley: Sure. And I would think big companies. I mean, you just mentioned like MTV, some of these big animation studios, I would think their initial response would be no unsolicited material. It sounds like you were at least getting even past that, which is an accomplishment.
Allan: Yeah, I did. I went to MTV and then I called, what’s his name again, like, Chris, and literally he said, “We can assess into a sort of, short form, Simpsons type thing.” The series was called the Odd Squad which is a series of the Captain Butterbeard. And he was really excited, I couldn’t believe my ears. Then he left about four weeks later. He literally just left and I was like, the first or the next person that comes in and sees a weird script about… it was actually about nasal hair and somebody a playing violin on their nasal hair. Yeah, I know it’s strange.
Allan: It was meant to be. And yeah, they sort of looked at it and went, “Oh! What’s this?” because whenever the new person comes in they never ever like whatever the old person approved. So that failed. But I was excited for about two weeks, which was a nice feeling.
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. So let’s dig into interactive storytelling. That seems to be kinda your focus now. Maybe to start out you can give us an overview of interactive storytelling. What exactly is it and just maybe explain kinda how you broke into it a little bit?
Allan: Yeah, well, it’s come from my love of computer games. And I’m gonna have literally my first computer game, no joke, as Pong which was probably not the first computer game, but I would say was the first home console computer game that I was aware of. And my dad had borrowed that strange little device that plugged into the television. So for years and years and years my television had just been television. This was when I was maybe six, seven, I don’t know… maybe five. And of course the television just sat there and you’d watch the television and I was perfectly happy with that. Then as one day he came home and plugged this thing in and he said, “Here, take that control,” and suddenly me and my dad were playing the game on TV.
And it was literally like, “Oh my God,” [laughs], and it was that happening. And of course, everybody knows the game and it’s incredibly simple, but still like truly classic and still really quite difficult. And that was my first game. So I’ve grown up from the very dawn of time, it feels like, for computer games and seen where they’ve come to date. And over the course of the years, computer games for a long time have been narratively becoming just as strong as movies. And those kind of… even small games, I mean, Lena games are a fantastic example, where you have these narrative choices which have massive impact on your character and the endings and so on. And really invest you as a player in the series, so you feel a part of that story.
And I’ve always been fascinated by that. I’m not a multiplayer video gamer, I just can’t stand when everyone else is better than me in the world to play in my position, I’m getting trashed by five year old boys and in Texas, and I’m like, “Okay, I’m not doing this anymore.” So, yeah, I’ve always loved narrative stories and just I love getting lost in a narrative story. The beauty of video games is that you have these paths, these choices and these actual moments, which mean something. And if you like that kind of thing, then it’s a fascinating world, and especially if you’re a writer.
It’s fascinating because when you write a script, I don’t know about you, but when I’m writing a script I sit down and I think, “Okay, I’ve got to the scene now, what’s gonna happen in this scene?” And you always think of maybe two, three, four or five different ways that scene could start from each end and the beauty of narrative script writing is that you can write all of those things, and if one of them is weak, you can dump her, drop her and keep the ones that are strong. And that’s really cool when you’re a script writer because you may have two fantastic endings and you like both of them equally. And in a nonlinear script you can write both of them and make them both interesting.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s talk about just sort of the technical aspect of writing these things. Is there a different type of a format? Like what does this script actually look like? I would imagine it’s almost like a ‘choose your own adventure story’ where it says turn to page 65 for this choice and turn to page 68 for that choice.
Allan: A little bit like that. There are some bits of software which I’ve used in the past. Sometimes they work sometimes they don’t. No one has really cracked the sort of final draft of interactive storytelling piece of software. I would love final draft to come out with some kind of way. Even HTML links within scripts which link to another part of the script. That would help because as you’re reading the script you click on a link. But those things like Twine… Twine is a free piece of software which is pretty simple and does the job. It can actually be quite advanced if you want it to be. Not really script as much but there’s a little bit of technical stuff in there. And what that lets you do is also play the story.
So you can sort of press play and then you will be given choices you click on the choices like HTML links, and it will take you through. And that works pretty well. But in terms of… I mean, because I’m both in the production side, what you really need is a piece of software that exports that to a production document so you can see how many scenes you have, how many characters in each scene, how many days you’re gonna be filming and so on for course purposes, which final draft does brilliantly. You kinda have to just… what I normally do at the moment is I write something as a flowchart, very top level flow chart basic scene by scene, and you can see the main bits, and then every single chunk of those things in the flowchart, become a script. And so when it splits, it will either go here or here. And then it will become, you know there’ll be two scripts based on those two [crosstalk] in the flow chart.
Ashley: And you’re doing this in final draft?
Allan: Well, I do this sort of flow chart part in Draw.io which is, again, a free piece of software that works with Google. And that’s pretty good just to visualize your flow charts.
Ashley: Tell me the name of that, again?
Allan: It’s called Draw.io. Which is a free piece of software. There’s quite a lot of other flowchart writing software. But what that helps you do is sort of visualize literally the script. It helps you visualize the structure so you don’t get carried away. The first interactive game that I created was called The Hunting, which was a zombie horror and it literally was a huge flow chart. I remember drawing it on a giant piece of paper and it’s after dark, you’re in your home and something appears downstairs and there’s a terrible noise. You look outside the window, the world’s going to shit. And you go downstairs and you’re attacked by the zombie. Your girlfriend is also somewhere she’s calling you. She’s trying to find out where you where you are, she’s being attacked.
And from that point on, it all started from the house, which is quite simple. And then it splits three ways, it went to the woods, it went to the town and then it went somewhere else to some sort of army base. So literally I was creating three different movies. And I soon realized this is absolutely ridiculous. I had no budget, I had no money, I filmed the whole thing on an iPhone, I was using friends to be zombies, as many, many filmmakers do and it’s great fun. And by the way, everybody wants to be a zombie. Nobody ever said no. You say, “Do you wanna be a zombie?” “Yeah, obviously. When?” And what I had to do was reduce the width of the script and the vertical elements of the chart. So what was a very wide story became narrower.
So it became about at the woods. Well, I can do that, I don’t need too many special effects to do this story. I can have multiple branches I can have multiple deaths and attacks. And then again, it was all live action but it was interactive. And it did have several endings. And so yeah, it was a learning process. I think it’s very easy to say, “Yeah, let’s have 10 different endings,” and so on but even things like Tomb Raider, and more than Tomb Raider, have pretty much one sort of ending. There’s lots of deaths along the way but actually, the story is pretty linear. Because it’s so expensive. It’s really expensive to film a huge amount of endings and probably most people will end up on the same ending. A bit like Bandersnatch. There are lots of endings, I’ve only played that once but I’m aware of the other endings.
But even just to get four endings is pretty difficult and also very expensive. And also, you’re wondering, “Is it worth it?” Because you really want all of those four endings to be fantastic because that’s what you’re giving that user, not user… viewer, player. I really don’t know what to call people that are experiencing these things. The player or viewer, you want that person to have the best possible story. And that’s the reskin in interactive storytelling is that they will get the sort of, maybe the weaker ending. How can they gain full mass effect? I think it was the third one. And there was a huge outcry because one of the endings was so sort of upsetting and disappointing for all the players that literally there was a massive outcry on social media, and they had to change it.
They had to change it, they had to add in a better ending, because everyone was so irritated by that ending that most people didn’t get. So that was an interesting thing that backfired. But they corrected it in the end.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s dig into your other interactive film The Bunker. Talk about that for just a bit. I did watch the trailer on that and so it’s just… and so I get a bunch of questions kinda to drill in that. Maybe to start out you can just talk about what’s the logline? What is the premise of The Bunker?
Allan: Yeah. The Bunker is an interactive movie where you are playing the part of John, a boy who was born with the bombs at fall in England in the UK. And literally, the place is a small underground bunker, it’s packed full of government staff. You’re born, your mother is the Chief Medical Officer. And then it cuts pretty much after the tapes come up to 50 years later, and your mother dies. And it’s a part, not spoiling really because it happened in the first one minute [laughs]. Yep. Your mother Margaret, she dies and it’s a very sad scene and literally you’re then the only person left in that bunker. And John is a very vulnerable man who’s played by Adam Brown, who’s Ori in the Hobbit movies.
And he did a fantastic job to spin a very fragile, vulnerable character who is completely alone, but is safe as long as he sticks to his routine. And that’s how your start begins to this routine and if you’ll only do that, everything should be fine. And he’s never left this little zone that he’s in at the top of the bunker in the several levels. There’s like five levels, he’s at the top. He’s never left them. He has no reason to leave other than he’s got the steroids, food is there, there’s a toilet, he uses minimum electricity. It’s all sort of running along nicely. And then one thing goes wrong. One thing happened and it forces him to venture out of this level that he’s never ventured out of for 20 years. And when he starts doing that he unlocks a series of repressed memories as a 10 year old child, where things started to go very badly while in the bunker, which he’s suppressed. Yeah, the story is about that. It’s about you unlocking the memories of John and trying to escape the bunker. Yeah.
Ashley: I got you. So when I was watching the trailer, there were these little like dots that would come on as if you were supposed to make a choice. And then when I started to watch because you sent me the whole thing, the whole 30 minutes, obviously on Vimeo they weren’t the choices. How does this actually work? Where can someone actually go to get the interactive version?
Allan: Yeah. So we put a linear version of the entire movie which is about two hours long, really two hours 10. So the interactive experiences is about two hours 10 and we cut a 30 minute linear movie from that which is sort of my Director’s Cut, which is the ending that I prefer. It’s the ending that I feel is the best ending for the character. But the actual game itself you can play on PlayStation four, Xbox One and the Steam Store, you can download from there. And it’s also available for iOS. It’s also on Nintendo Switch as well.
Ashley: So if we go to the App Store we can download it onto an iPad or something?
Allan: Yeah, there’s the PlayStation Store, there’s the Xbox store, there’s the Steam Store and there’s the App Store.
Ashley: Yeah [inaudible 00:24:43] the app a lot.
It’s kind of designed… it works really well on like a PlayStation because it’s on a big screen like a movie. Obviously you want your story to be told on the biggest screen possible. So it works really, really well on a PlayStation Xbox. But it’s great on Steam as well. My least preferred is the iOS version but it’s just because it’s a smaller screen and there’s quite a lot of detail in there which you might miss on a smaller platform.
Ashley: Yeah. So what does the business model of something like this look like? Was this something that you produced yourself, you went out, raised the money independently and produced it and then figured out how to make this interactive thing, got it on these various platforms? Was there a company or some companies that specialized in this stuff, they hired you? What did that sort of look like, just the logistics of getting this thing produced?
Allan: Yeah, well, stage one was we had an investor, Cloudtopia Entertainment. They came on board and funded the whole thing. So they were fantastic. Because this is obviously a video game and not a movie, rather than sort of finding a distributor, you find a publisher. And so we found three publishers, one of which helped us sort of build the game, which is Wales Interactive. And then we had Green Man Gaming. They helped us publish for PC. Wales Interactive published for consoles, PlayStation four and Xbox. And then we had All 4 Games, which is Channel Four, they published the mobile version. So basically they didn’t give us any money as such but they helped promote the game, distribute the game, get it on the platform, form everything.
It’s a bunch of stuff you have to do, icons, logos, posters, unlockable extras and so on. There are quite things you don’t have to think about when you’re doing a movie, but when you’re doing a video game you have to think about stuff like that. Again, that was useful because you need people who know how to market something. This is actually same as a movie, you can’t just make a movie and expect everybody in the world to suddenly see it. How are they gonna see it? And that’s almost as hard as making am movie.
Ashley: Or harder.
Allan: Yeah, or harder.
Ashley: Yeah. So I wanna get into the Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch because that’s something people can actually go and watch right now if they have Netflix. But I wanna talk about that at the end because there may be some spoilers and I don’t wanna say and have a bunch of spoilers now. But I just wanna go back for a second. Where do you ultimately think this is gonna go? Do you foresee something like Marvel Studios creating an interactive version of Iron Man 6? Is it eventually gonna get to that level? Will there always be just the passive viewing experience? What’s your take on the future of interactive storytelling?
Allan: That’s a very big question. Certainly… 2014 is when I did The Hunting, 2016 when The Bunker was and now we have Bandersnatch which was at the end of 2018. So it’s still really in its infancy. It really is. When we did The Hunting we were pushing the iPhone to do things that it really did not want to do, you know, it can upset those… No, I don’t want multiple streams of videos lined up and any one that you click on, “I’m gonna play that one” I did not want to do that. It really was a struggle to make that work. But that was… it doesn’t seem that long ago too, in 2014, but the iPhones back then were completely different than the iPhones we have now. It’s still really in its infancy all of that technological wise entertaining.
I did like Bandersnatch in its infancy. It was all streaming and it was very smooth and I felt that was a fantastic accomplishment and it shows what could happen. And I think definitely there would be outlets for Marvel movies and so on, big tent pole movies to do that kind of interactivity. It doesn’t work for me in the same sense as a very emotional drama, a sort of touching, personal drama. I don’t think it would work. Can you imagine Roma being an interactive? You choose whether to save the kids at the end or not [laughs]. It just doesn’t quite work in the same way. Whereas if you’re Batman and you’re choosing what to do, then that’s completely different. There have been fantastic games by Telltale Games which they’ve done that narrative video game thing very, very well.
Those are basically interactive movies. So they have been done but they’re all animated. Personally I never really thought we were making a video game as such. There always has to be a good reason for making an interactive rather than just saying, “Let’s do something interactive. Let’s make this. Let’s make an interactive thing. Like what do we do?” The reason why I wanted to make The Hunting [inaudible 00:30:35] was you know that moment in a movie, in a horror, where there’s a big scary house and, this is at the end of The Hunting which by the way you can’t get any more but the video’s online. But there’s a moment at the end where there’s a big scary house, a big farmhouse in the middle of nowhere surrounded by zombies.
Your girlfriend is in there and you know she needs help, then you go in. And in a movie it’s, no just run away, phone the police, just survive.” And I always thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you did a movie where you could actually do that?” And in The Hunting you can. You can run away. You can completely run away and not save your girlfriend and you probably will die. Actually that’s what happened [laughs]. But at least you get the satisfaction of not being the idiot that runs into the scary farmhouse. Yeah. Going back to the point, I think there always has to be a good reason for doing it. Not just, “Let’s make something interactive.” The story has to be inherently interactive. There has to be a reason for it. It doesn’t have to be choice based, necessarily. It’s more about the massiveness of it.
Then The Bunker is about feeling what it was like to be completely alone in this terrifying space. And if you’re watching the movie it’s a completely different experience to playing the game because in the game you’re making decisions which could kill you as the main character. And that’s another thing about playing something as interactive as that. When we tested the game at video game conferences the first scene is the mother dying, John’s on the bed, John is sort of crying. And the first thing people would say is, “Oh, my mother’s dying,” okay? In movie, you wouldn’t say that because you might associate with the main character. You might feel like you’re Iron Man or whatever and you might relate to him. But you never say, “Oh, my own mum.” or “I’ve just been hit by a giant robot,” or whatever.
Whereas video game logic is you are that character, whether you’re Lara Croft or someone else, you become that character. So you actually are invested more. So it’s more about that. It’s that investment of character and being a part of their life, being a part of their decisions in a way that would be good or bad and you may die. But you feel it’s your fault if you kill them. You’re like, “Argh!” when Lara Croft gets spiked constantly time and time again. You’re like, “Sorry.” You feel like you kind of let them down. So, yeah, it’s just a weird difference, but it’s a very important difference between movies and interactive entertainment.
Ashley: Sure. So let’s dig into Black Mirrors Bandersnatch a little bit. And I’ll kinda just give you my sort of impression, and I would highly recommend it to anybody. I mean, it was thoroughly entertaining, so if you have Netflix it’s available. The first thing that I ran into was… I’m not someone that has one of these super smart devices, so I just have like an old DVD player that has a Netflix app on it. So I booted it up on that, and it wouldn’t work. And it came up and said, “Sorry, you can’t watch this on this device.” So we had to get out an iPad and then basically watch it on our iPad. Yes, me and my wife sitting on a couch watching this thing. So that was a little bit of… there’s still some kinks. It’s like, it would have been much more fun to watch it on the TV.
Once we got into it though, sometimes it felt like you got into these loops, where they essentially just say you’d go through this loop and they’d say, “Well, no, that wasn’t the right choice.” And they basically send you back to choose something else. Like if you could just, you could go around in circles I guess if you wanted to all day but eventually you realize, “Okay, I gotta choose B instead of A,” and so that sets you down the story. And truthfully, by the end of it, I kind of felt like, like we got to the end of it, and we got one ending and you’re telling me now I guess there’s four endings or whatever. But we weren’t really that interested in going back and trying to redo the four, figure out those other four endings because it felt a little contrived by the end of it.
Like it didn’t feel like you really had a lot of choices. It felt like ultimately you were gonna end up at the same spot because of these loops that you would get in. I think we went down one loop and it circled us back and I was like, “Oh, that was just kind of a dream or something.” I was like… a little one thing, there was a choice at the beginning that we made and we went through it. Again, it was like a little five minute segment, but eventually it just sent us right back to the same spot. And that doesn’t feel that interactive when you make a choice and then they basically slap you and say, “No, wrong choice. Try again.”
Allan: Yeah. Obviously I’m super critical because I’ve been writing interactive stuff for about five years. And I am critical. However I do think it was a fantastic experiment and had fantastic moments in it.
Ashley: It was fantastic though. I like Black Mirrors. Like all the Black Mirrors. I just like Black Mirror, so I don’t wanna like pooh-pooh it. It was thoroughly entertaining and I highly recommend it, but it didn’t feel as interactive as it could have. Because I think when we were emailing you made the thing that was it was implement. Like, once we got out the iPad, they did do a good job of seamlessly, like you would press the screen and it worked seamlessly. So they had that stuff worked out, which I’m sure for Netflix was a major hurdle to get that to work through the Netflix app and stuff. So all that stuff was good.
Allan: Yeah, no, I do agree though that… I felt it was quite linear. There was dead ends, so if you can visualize a flowchart for Bandersnatch, there is a sort of central, like a tree. There’s a central trunk and there’s lots of little branches that go off, so then you end up back on the main trunk again. There’s kind of one main trunk. And then just at the very end it splits off and there’s about four, four or five different endings. And there’s a few endings before that, but they’re sort of dead ends. So yeah, there are dead ends there, there are choices, which aren’t real choices. You either, I think one was flush the drugs or throw the drugs away. I mean, that’s the same thing. There’s no, no difference whatsoever. I would have loved to have a really big sort of conclusion to the cereal choice at the beginning.
So if something had called back, maybe it does, I mean, I’ve not seen it. But something that called back the cereal choice at the very beginning, which was Frosties or Sugar Pops, I think. I don’t even know if you’ve gotten the end of it, I have no idea.
Ashley: And that just felt like to me, that just felt like, if I’m remembering correctly, that just felt like a choice for the sake of a choice just to get you used to pressing the screen and understanding that there’s kinda some interaction here. It didn’t feel like it really…
Allan: Yeah. As I said, it’s a sort of tutorial really, just to warm you up. What happened to me which is I think is probably quite rare is that I played on an old PlayStation 3, and it worked beautifully on that apart from my controller has this sort of battery saving thing on it. And so if you’ve not used your controller for two or three minutes, it turns itself off and you have to press the PlayStation button in the middle. And that happened a number of times where it would go on way too long, maybe five, seven minutes without any choice, you kinda forgot what you were doing. Suddenly this choice, my controller’s off, I had to press the middle button, it would flash flash flash, take ages, it’s not like PlayStation 4. PS 3 to sort of come back on again. And then I would have missed the choice and it would make people enjoy. So that happened a number of times. You can actually just sit there and not do anything. You can literally sit there and do… I’m not entirely sure what ending you’ll get when that happens but yeah, you can sit there and do absolutely nothing and you will still get an ending. I might maybe try that sometime.
Ashley: Yeah. Anyways, again, I don’t wanna pooh-pooh it because I think Black Mirrors is as excellent from top to bottom and I thought this was excellent. I just felt like for a first outing I give Netflix all the credit just for getting this kind of working out the technical things and it was pretty seamless. But it felt like it could be a little bit more interactive. Couple last questions and then we will wrap it up. I just like to ask, what is your advice for a screenwriter who is looking to break into interactive storytelling? Like in features or even TV writing there’s sort of a tried and true method you write spec scripts, maybe you try and produce something on your own, a short on your own. That kinda stuff. What do you think is the best path? Someone’s listening to this podcast, they’ve got a background in writing and creative writing. How can they break into video game writing, interactive storytelling?
Allan: Well, I mean, the way I broke into it was literally making it myself. It’s no different to a first time filmmaker starting out. And that was my first live action thing at film. I didn’t work on animated projects up until then. I literally went out, flipped the camera, bunch of friends, had a script and I made it up while they went along and pretended I knew what I was doing. In many ways that’s the best way to do it because when you’ve made something you learn so much, A, number one. B it’s very easy to publish things nowadays. There’s Unity, it’s completely free. You can publish to many, many platforms using Unity and it can handle interactive stuff like this very very easily.
Again, it’s completely free. And then there might be some money to involve in publishing to places like Steam, for instance is a bit of a fee, I believe for every item that you publish. The App Store is free to publish apart from the $50 club membership you have to pay. So yeah, I’m saying it’s free, it’s not free [laughs]. There are there are charges. However, it’s no different to publishing a movie on iTunes for the first time or all these kind of platforms. With minimal cost you can absolutely do that. But another way to do it is just to kinda practice with things like Twine, which is a completely free platform. You can write your own interactive story just… you can write an interactive script on there and then send it to people and then they can play your interactive story and find out what happens.
You can even go on things like all the Equidox and Amazon Alexa. You can actually play interactive stories now and there are platforms online that you write those interactive stories and then Alexa will read the story out to people and give them a choice every now and again, whenever you like. Enter the big black scary house or run away. And you can play it almost like an audio book but spoken by artificial intelligence. If it’s something that you’re into, there’s loads of ways to get into it without costing you too much money and just have a bit of fun actually. But if you’re serious about it then definitely coming out with a good story that needs to interacting and why is it interactive? What’s the point of it being interactive?
Are we missing an awesome story if it wasn’t interactive? And that’s the kind of thing. The story which I’m at now called Gamer Girl is very much like that. There are consequences of every decision you make. And none of them are good or bad. It’s all about a sort of streamer, she’s a slowly popular streamer, she’s getting bigger and bigger. But there is somebody out there who feels like he owns her and he tries to use very very clever manipulative techniques to get closer and closer. So it’s a sort of dark thriller and you play the part of the moderator. It’s a sort of like a twitch. Twitch platform. And that kinda well… it lends itself to being interactive because there are so many factors in the story which are… there’s no right and wrong, like I said, it’s always a fine balance between making her very popular and keeping her safe.
Because there’s this horrible trend in social media of the more dangerous, the more dodgy, the more shocking things are, the more views you get. And we’ve seen time and time again, I’m sure you know the YouTubers I’m talking about that have done things which are questionable and it’s come back to bite them.
Ashley: Yeah, highly questionable.
Allan: Yeah, highly questionable. And people watch. So we’re all complacent in that culture. That’s why Gamer Girl is interactive. It works only as an interactive thing. It wouldn’t be as strong as a linear feature film.
Ashley: I got you. Okay. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing? I will just round that up for the show notes and link to it all.
Allan: Sure. Well, I’m on Twitter @allanplendy, which is double l, A-L-L-A-N-P-L-E-N-D-Y and my website’s www.kidstvwriter.com. We’ve got The Bunker which is on PlayStation and Xbox and Steam and iOS. There’s tons of videos online on YouTube as well, like The Bunker, you can just watch it. And we have the linear movie version, which is a sort of short film, documented short film version as well. Yeah, there’s better stuff out there.
Ashley: Yep. Perfect. Well, Alan, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. This has been a fascinating interview. I know just like my mind is swirling with ideas about how this could potentially be used and stuff. I’m sure there’s a lot of people listening to this will feel the same way.
Allan: Fantastic. Well, I’m a big fan of your podcast.
Ashley: Oh, thank you.
Allan: It’s been lovely being on. Thank you very much.
Ashley: Thank you Allan. We’ll talk to you later.
Allan: Alright, cheers man. Bye.
Ashley: To you too, bye.
I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select Screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays that they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. I launched this service at the beginning of this year and we’ve already started to see some success stories. You can check out SYS podcast Episode #222 with Steve Deering. He was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database.
You can learn more about all of this by going to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. When you join SYS Select, you get access to the screenplay database that I just mentioned along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. Those services include the monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also are have partnered with one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner.
Recently, we’ve been getting five to ten high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut. There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They’re looking for shorts, they’re looking for features, TV and web series, pilots all types of different projects. If you sign up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also you can get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. Also in the forum are all the recorded screenwriting classes that I’ve done over the years. So you’ll have access to all of those as well.
The classes cover every part of the writing process from concept to outlining to the first act, second act, the third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you would like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast gonna be interviewing Jim Mercurio, who is a writer and author of the new book The Craft of Scene Writing. He’s got a unique approach on writing the actual scenes in a screenplay. So we dive into that and discuss some specific tactics to strengthen your scenes. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. To wrap things up, I just wanna touch on something from today’s interview with Allan. A new medium like this is a great way to give yourself a leg up on a competition if you can dig in and become an expert. As interactive grows, the people who are experts in it will have lots of opportunities. Now, I’m not suggesting you try and tackle this if it’s not something that interests you at all.
But if it does interest you, you might really consider trying to do what Allan did, and write a low budget short and produce it on whatever budget you can muster. Even if it’s just halfway decent, it could establish you as an expert in the space which again as the space grows, could lead to some interesting opportunities. It’s just a matter of getting ahead of the curve. And these new opportunities like this, they don’t come along every day. I mean, there’s certain things that just come up as the technology changes and whatnot. I had a lady from the Austin Film Festival on maybe a year, a year and a half ago and she was talking about writing for fictional podcasts. I think that’s another opportunity. But at these new opportunities, they only come along every so often.
So if it’s something that you see that interests you, doubling down on and becoming an expert, it really can kinda give you just a leg up. And then it’s not always just about the writing, you’re not necessarily always competing just specifically on how good the writing is, you’re also competing on how much you know about the space. And again, just getting ahead of that curve can help you get some of those new opportunities as they come up and as they start to exist. I mean, there’s things that just simply don’t exist now. Opportunities, projects, writing assignments that just simply don’t exist. But if you’re an expert in this space, as those opportunities do start to come up they’ll be looking for people with some experience.
And again, even if you just have a short film that really takes advantage of this interactive technology and you’re a real expert and you know how to write in it, you know how to maximize the impact of it, you know those sorts of things, you know these people, these producers, as they’re looking for writers to bring on to these projects, they’re gonna be looking for people that have experience in this medium., and they’re just won’t be a ton of people out there. So I think it’s real smart what Allan has done, he’s really established himself as an expert and I still think this medium is new enough that if you were to dig in and again, and get out there, really figure out how this all works, I think you too could become an expert in it.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.