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Tell the Actors What to Do in Your Next Movie

A scene from the episode of Netflix's Dark Mirror called "Bandersnatch."
A scene from the episode of Netflix's Dark Mirror called "Bandersnatch."
Tell the Actors What to Do in Your Next Movie
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The Netflix experiment began with movie-watchers choosing a character’s morning cereal.

Soon, Netflix may be letting viewers choose everything from the best on-screen romance to the safest path to escape a killer.

The world’s largest online streaming service wants to try out more interactive entertainment, following great feedback from its recent groundbreaking episode of “Black Mirror.” The episode was called “Bandersnatch.” It let users make decisions at many important – and not-so-important – moments.

The company is looking for ways to include choices in different kinds of movies, from comedy to horror to romance, said Todd Yellin. He is Netflix’s vice president of product.

“Why can’t you have a romantic title where you get to choose who she goes out with?” Yellin said. “Or horror titles. Should you walk through that door, or should you dive out that window and get the heck out of there? You can make the choice.”

In “Bandersnatch,” the first decision viewers could make was what the main character ate for breakfast.

The idea was to give viewers a simple choice at first, so they could become familiar with the technology. A viewer uses a remote or pushes on the screen to make their choice. If the viewer does not choose, the movie just keeps playing.

The breakfast scene became an Internet sensation when “Bandersnatch” came out last December.

“Like many of you, I got addicted to ‘Bandersnatch’ and trying to figure out what’s the significance of the cereal, and not just the cereal, all the different options,” Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings said.

After the cereal decision, viewers selected choices such as the kind of music a character would play or whether the character would jump off a building.

Hastings said “Bandersnatch” gave Netflix programmers valuable information. They were able to better understand how long people want to participate with interactive programming, and how many choices they might want to make.

When viewers can change what happens in a story, they feel deeply close to the character, Yellin said. That is why Yellin wants to try this way of moviemaking in other stories. “Horror is life and death situations constantly,” he said. And in romances, “the emotional stakes are high.”

Yellin said the effort is still in the early part of development. Hastings said he does not predict that interactive entertainment will replace traditional storytelling.

“I don’t know if I would do it every day,” Hastings said, “but as part of my viewing, it’s pretty exciting.”

Netflix already has produced a few interactive shows for children. Yellin said young people have seemed to quickly like the idea.

“Kids don’t have established rules,” he said. “They assume that’s the way the world should be and they’ll try it.”

I’m Jill Robbins.

Lisa Richwine reported on this story for the Reuters news agency. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Do you enjoy interactive movies or television shows? Which ones have you seen? We want hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.


Words in This Story

character - n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

cereal - n. a breakfast food made from grain

viewer - n. a person who watches television

interactive – n. designed to respond to the actions, commands, etc., of a user

streamingadj. playing continuously as data is sent to a computer over the Internet

addicted adj. unable to stop using a harmful substance (such as a drug)​

go out withidiomatic expression. to have a romantic relationship, esp. one that includes going places together

title -n. a book or movie with a particular title that is produced by a publisher

stakes n. something (such as money or love) that you could win or lose in a game, contest, etc

established adj. accepted and used by many people

replace - v. to be used instead of (something)

assume - v. to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true