“With our interactive films, we have real cinematographic ambitions” - David Bigiaoui (Cinétévé Experience)
Cinétévé Experience celebrates its 10th anniversary! While waiting to be able to celebrate this "in real life", it was an opportunity to discuss with the producer David Bigiaoui, head of a real narrative research department - sometimes VR, sometimes interactive film, sometimes immersive documentary. No matter the form, what matters is the experience!
Cinétévé, ten years of interactive experiences
David Bigiaoui - 2020 was a year like any other that had to be reinvented, and with a lot of learning, a real interest on the development side. But it's a bit like what we are used to doing in our activities in the end, so the impact was less than for other activities - We had to manage the human aspect of course, for our small structure as well as for Cinétévé as a whole, which continued to produce for television networks almost normally despite the pandemic. The fact is also that Cinétévé Experience since 2018 has produced a lot and has come out of experiences (RÉPUBLIQUE, THE SCREAM VR, SEANCE 129, EMMA...). 2020 finally marked the end of a cycle... and also celebrated the anniversary of our 10 years of existence! I see this as a kind of first assessment of interactive creation, the recognition of ten years of work rewarded by the release of ØRÐESA, recently selected at the french videogames awards Pegasus for the best mobile video game. We're now very excited about the future projects that are taking shape and that we're starting to put in place!
D. B. - 10 years is the right time to put things right, our way of working, our way of producing also in a creative sector that we now know well - and really what interests us. In our small team, we have the motivation to try out the different formats or supports that exist, to never do the same thing over and over again. We have learned to structure our project typologies: we produce interactive film, in all the variations that this term can imply. But also Virtual and Augmented Reality and video games.
D. B. - We have developed a real know-how around shooting live in the context of an interactive project, without neglecting our ambitions in writing with real development time with our authors. Our work in continuity with Simon Bouisson and his co-writer Olivier Demangel who for example offered us WEI OR DIE (2015) in the first place, and RÉPUBLIQUE (2019). This last one allowed us to move towards a more video game-oriented format. And with ØRÐESA more recently we have pushed the video game sliders with a gameplay, a more assumed and experimental game design.
Reviewing Formats: Embracing the Diversity of Digital Creation
D. B. - Today we continue to explore this way of mixing formats, notably with Nicolas Peufaillit who is working on an anthological, fantastic and interactive series. It's a project where distribution issues and users' desires come together. It is essential to understand the notion of spectator involvement in interactive projects, the effort required of them, from the story told to the actual downloading of the project. Offering them an experience in chapters, over time, can answer that. Once they are engaged in the program, once the technical barriers are gone, they want more. So we're thinking about long-term formats. We are developing this project, like others, with a real international ambition (and a universal subject!) but a purely French anchoring: the authors, the team, the partners... On each project, we try to privilege our position as "French-style" creator-producer, as a cultural exception supported by the public authorities, but also in our relationship with broadcasters (France Televisions and Arte) and their broadcasting territories. We have to fight against the standardization of creation, and offer ever more original content. As Matthew Weiner, showrunner of MAD MEN, said, we can reach 1% market share... but in every country in the world! Our specificity is our strength, and can speak to a lot of people.
D. B. - We also have other desires, notably on the genres to explore. We shouldn't think that interactive film is just about fantasy, thriller or horror. Our next projects also defend other subjects brought by the arrival of new authors who bring new ideas. We have never closed ourselves off to other types of projects, even though we are regularly confronted with the reality of a market that is too often attracted by formatted and clearly identified content.
D. B. - The interactive, immersive creation facilitates the spectator's connection with the story, to confront him emotionally, to involve him intimately. The genre can be very effective in this idea, it's true, with recent examples that are very subtle, very well written, and that don't come down to a dark and dramatic tone. But we're going to try to challenge that for future experiments, as we did from WEI OR DIE where the subject matter existed beyond a form and a very identified genre. And that's where I think we have real cinematic ambitions in this area.
D. B. - We used to talk about innovation in our approach, but in reality the essential thing remains to produce films that resemble us and it is in the interactive industry that we meet the talents that surprise us and the stories that touch us. In the interactive I believe that it is the relationship with the intimate that makes the strongest projects. Each project is thought, written, produced and broadcast for each of the spectators. This is undoubtedly what defines Cinétévé Experience, rather than an overly rigid editorial line.
Distributing the interactive: towards new models?
D. B. - There's a lot of interest in the video game industry, of course. For its distribution part, its way of addressing the public: we should be inspired by it! But not only that. Video games have 70 years of history behind them. Authors, creators of interactive works must be inspired by this industry, as we already do with cinema. In manufacturing, production, there are also ideas to be taken. For interactive producers, there is a crossroads to be recreated, between cinema, theater and independent video games. The work must be put at the center of the creative process, and then we must ask ourselves how to create it. Each time, questioning the manufacturing process to make works that are always singular but which are addressed to the greatest number.
D. B. - REPUBLIQUE, for example, was released only in France, on Android smartphones and iOS. The original intention of this project, co-produced with France Télévisions, was really to target a French audience and to stay within that framework - while looking for an innovative way to address their audience. We discussed this at length, especially in view of the complex subject matter of the film. And the film works!
WEI OR DIE in its time had been a huge audience surprise, propelled by its theme and above all a strong topical issue at that time. Honestly we had not seen it coming. With REPUBLIQUE we really thought about and planned a release on the model of the independent video game. This year we are deploying the last part of this strategy with a world release of these two interactive films on consoles (Playstation, XBox, Switch) and Steam. We will now find out whether these works can reach gamers and surf the GMF revival. (real-life video games in vogue in the 90s)
D. B. - We really want to do tests, by offering paid experiments. The free model is great for reaching new - and young! - public even more for projects supported by the public service. But in the lessons learned from video games, the free model does not necessarily enhance the content offered. Switching to paid-for content can give value back to our projects - while opening up the debate on the commissions paid to the platforms, our own revenues in the long run... Everything is open to reflection. Today's platforms (Steam, Oculus, etc.) are opening up more and more, while remaining large international groups that do not necessarily have the same objectives as us. Today we favor sales by territory, with the desire to meet real audiences and specific budgets allocated to marketing. We also need real distributors to assert themselves on all these formats so that we, as producers, can focus on creation. In France, and elsewhere. For our part, we continue to explore new forms of storytelling and accompany the projects of the authors who inspire us. To conclude, a word from Jack Nicholson: U ain't seen nothing yet!