Makin’ Movies

Movies LogoBy far, one of the coolest gifts I received this Christmas was a copy of The Movies (from Activision). For those who haven’t heard of this game, basically it allows you to write, film, and edit movies. With characters and building tools reminiscent of those in The Sims, your job is to build a movie studio; hire actors, directors, writers, and crew; write scripts; and turn them into masterpieces. The “game” is that you want to rise to the top of the charts. Getting there involves managing a lot of minutia–you’ve got to coddle the actors to keep them happy, keep films on budget, build a pretty lot, etc. But the real fun is in the creation of the movies. If you don’t feel like dealing with the game of running the studio, you can run The Movies in Sandbox mode. This “unlocks” the game to a certain extent, freeing you to simply focus on the writing, filming, and editing and not on the management of the actors and directors.

The “writing” of scripts really involves piecing together pre-set scenes to build some kind of coherent narrative. You can assign actors to roles in these scenes, give them different costumes, and add props. As your studio becomes more successful, certain technical advantages are “unlocked” as well–new camera angles, better film stock, more sets. Once your movie has been filmed, you can take it into post-production and do simple editing. You can cut scenes, rearranage them, and add subtitles, voiceovers, and sound effects.

To a certain degree, the finite number of scenes and sets can feel limiting. Often it’s hard to find the perfect scene to achieve the narrative moment you’re trying to build. But, in another way, the limits are freeing. The challenge becomes not to build something unique and creative from scratch, but to remix and reuse pre-existing pieces (of microcontent) to build something unique and creative. There are a lot of interesting connections between this approach and what we’re seeing in the rip-mix-feed approach to learning content.

I also think this game could be a powerful educational tool for any class that is focusing on narrative and storytelling.

Once you’ve created your movies, you can upload them to The Movies Online site where other users can rate and comment on them. Your limited to 25 MB on TMO, which is sort of frustrating–a few highly-rated films have already been taken down because their creators wanted the space back. In my opinion, highly-rated users should be assigned more space. This would allow them to share more of their great work without filling the TMO servers with too much junk. It also gives users another reason to try and produce quality movies.

It is fascinating to see what folks are doing with this new medium. There are infomerical spoofs, music videos, and films of social satire. Perhaps the most compelling film I’ve seen at TMO so far is The French Democracy, about the riots in France. This piece actually got a lot of media attention, and no matter how you feel about the political message, it is a powerful example of what people can do when given a tool to tell their story.