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We were provided a week ago with a glimpse of all the spectacle and novelty of Black Mirror’s standalone film, Bandersnatch. Aside from all its hype from being a Black Mirror (which, in turn, is famous for its depiction of the dark and satiric turns the digital age can take) installment, this film also presents an avant-garde form of storytelling. It involves a choose-your-own-adventure theme where you dictate where the story turns, basically having free reins on the manipulation of the protagonist, Stefan Butler (played by Fionn Whitehead). Aside from the frills and ruffles Bandersnatch has, this article deviates into its production and mechanics – how it has made Netflix birth a film where the viewers are agents of the narrative.
How does Bandersnatch work?
Written by Charlie Brooker, Bandersnatch is an interactive film where you are given two choices every turning point of the story. The film allots 10 seconds for answering, else the plot will pick up on the default choice that has been programmed. It starts with the most harmless options of what cereal Stefan should eat or what album he should listen to. This is a way of playing along with the concept of its interactivity until the plot thickens and you have to choose between burying your dead father, or dismembering him.
Bandersnatch also celebrates this freedom where there isn’t really a correct ending for Stefan among the 5 possible ones. It takes about 90 minutes for the default path to run, and about two hours and a half to actually interact with its choices.
Metastructural and metafictional workings of Bandersnatch
The film also plays along with the concept of metafiction where he, himself eventually becomes aware that there is a Netflix user controlling him, even to the point of breaking the grounds of his own storyworld and permeating to the reality of the viewer. Freedom, and control with chances are also some of the hints Colin Ritman (played by Will Poulter), a character in the film, has played along. These hints were one of the highlights of the film’s metastructure. Whether these hints refer to a metaphysical control in their own world, or to that of the viewers’, the boundaries separating Bandersnatch’s world and ours have become blurred. Just as there is a level of meaning within the create-your-own-adventure game Stefan designs, controlled by the conditions of Stefan’s world within the film, and another layer for the viewers’ that control the entire narrative, the film leaves a lasting question whether there is also a larger, and more omniscient level that controls our reality.
The film’s unique mode of storytelling highly complements with its main idea of an individual’s agency to everything he does. As Stefan in the film speculates about this with regard to his game and his life, the viewers also become involved in the plot as puppeteer.
How was Bandersnatch created?
Aside from the philosophical musings of the film, there are also complex grounds with regard to the film’s production.
Since the film explores a create-your-own-adventure theme, it will also involve a complex, non-linear plot sequence. Its creators, Charlie Rooker and Annabel Jones were said to begin by plotting the sequences using Post-it notes. Because it has been ever extending as they explore different possibilities, they moved to a whiteboard. Eventually, they used a programming tool called Twine to weave the ever-growing sequence of the film together. This program is used to design video games with the same multiple story branches.
The production is not as simple as a matter of if-then binaries. As the plot goes on, its system must also “remember” all the choices you have made, and all the sequences it has gone through. Playing the film will have multiple buffers because of the density of these processes. To solve this, Netflix has created a new device that helps with the memory technology of the film. Because of the “state trafficking” feature, the viewers enjoy a seamless flow of play. Netflix Director of Product Innovation Carla Engelbrecht Fisher explained: “Because of the state tracking, we are now getting into such a level of permutations that there could be 16 or more videos that are potentially relevant for your situation. We’ve built elegant decision-making into the tools where we only load the videos that are relevant, rather than trying to load everything at once.”
Netflix, along with Brooker, also developed an internal tool called Branch Managed. This allows smooth input and delivery of the creator’s evolving script to Netflix.
Every chunk making up the non-linear narrative of the film is just as necessary. Even if it is non-linear, a single illogical sequence will affect the complex, yet tightly-knit plot.
Our take on programming
Our programmer shed light on the general process of programming since our industry involves optimising your digital presence. It usually starts with brainstorming or planning the app or process. Once the plan has been approved, it will undergo the designing phase where requirements are laid out. If the process designed did not meet the client’s standards, it is returned to the designing phase to make the system better. Once approved, they now proceed to its development and testing. When there has to be changed, they provide fixes on the development until it reaches perfection. Another involves proceeding with the finished and tested process before the client checks it. Compared to the initial method of allowing the client to check the draft before proceeding to development and testing, the latter process may be said to be less productive, and riskier.
Advanced processes and technology allowed this complex film to be created. With how intricate it was designed, did it gain the viewer’s approval?
Bandersnatch deserves rounds of applause with how the people talked and raved about its spectacle and novelty. The marketing strategy used for Bandersnatch should also be commended where they did not explicitly publish its interactive features, and allowed the public to explode.
The film, with Netflix as its platform, also has a satisfactory process that the viewers are able to watch it smoothly. With little standard to compare with, but to interactive narratives that assume a gaming platform, Bandersnatch could have improved on the story they tell, itself. As for its development and creatives, it successfully executed its comprehensive mode of storytelling with little buffers and glitches. Though, there were complaints that it failed to work on Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Smart TVs. Old versions of Netflix could not play the interactive feature of Bandersnatch as well.
If you are looking for a new experience with philosophical, dwellings, Bandersnatch is the right one for you. It highly dwells on the interaction between the world of the narrative, and the world of the Netflix viewer, with Netflix and its new processes serving as the bridge. But if you are looking for a film with an exciting plot to tell and with traditional requirements, you may have to forgive Bandersnatch.
Since the same format has already been used by other media with gaming as their orientation, is Bandersnatch an entirely new structure? Or will Bandersnatch usher a new trend of interactive films?