No matter the medium – visual, written or spoken – great stories are known for their unforgettable endings. For every classic climax in one story, there’s occasionally a disappointing denouement in another. When those kinds of conclusions occur, many people wonder how they’d improve things if they suddenly became blessed with the author’s pen.
Thanks to the reach of the Internet, and the instant interactivity of social media, the intriguing sci-fi/action thriller COLLABORATIVE STORIES empowers viewers to choose for themselves what happens next – and what happens last. Produced by and co-starring Adam Henslee and Kyle Wigginton, COLLABORATIVE STORIES tracks the journey of Clone 616 (Henslee), who along with his fellow reproductions, fights to survive while being hunted by the murderous Man In Black (Wigginton).
With its eighth episode soon to debut, the series is soliciting story ideas from its viewers through its central web page and social media portals. Fans can submit their concepts to the show’s producers through COLLABORATIVE STORIES’ web site, Facebook and its YouTube hub. (Links to all of these pages are located at the end of this article.) “We accept most (story) formats,” says Henslee. “If a viewer feels they have a fantastic idea for how the whole next episode should go from start to finish, we encourage them to send it our way.”
Traditionally, stories have created for consumption rather than participation. In the ‘80s, the popular Choose Your Own Adventure books would help a generation of young readers to challenge that notion by offering them the option to pick the outcome that they wanted to experience in every chapter.
With 21st century-era technology now giving young and old the ability to determine anything from today’s lunch to tonight’s winner of THE VOICE, the ability to choose the direction of a story has been a feature of web series like DOWNTOWN BROWNS, THAT MOMENT WHEN and the upcoming Australian drama SCRAP.
Of these shows, COLLABORATIVE STORIES is the latest to put its ultimate power in the viewer’s hands. “We all watch movies or shows and think they should have ended differently. This is that opportunity,” explains Henslee, “to sit back and just be the idea person. It’s a great feeling to watch your ideas come to life and not have to move a muscle. Your idea can be anything. Possibilities are endless, because if it’s a fantastic idea, we’ll make it happen.”
Besides its interactivity, Wigginton believes that COLLABORATIVE STORIES’ biggest strength comes from its embrace of the untapped talents of its viewers. “Humans are a naturally creative species, but somewhere along the way we managed to brew up a society that stifles this creativity and tells you in an almost constant barrage of ads that you aren’t good enough,” he adds. “With COLLABORATIVE STORIES, we want to encourage creativity and show people (that) their ideas are good enough.”
COLLABORATIVE STORIES’ producers work meticulously to find out which ideas will eventually come to life. “We sort through the ideas together, and (we) will start discussing the ones that we like the best,” Henslee says. “Sometimes, we will combine ideas because there are such great ones. Then, we find ways to incorporate those ideas into a full episode, and the previous story as a whole. Sometimes, Kyle comes up with a whole episode, or me vice-versa. A lot of the time, it’s a mixture of both.”
Creativity, combined with an undeniable can-do attitude shared by Henslee and Wigginton, jump-started COLLABORATIVE STORIES’ production in quick fashion.
“In one day, I pitched the idea to Adam, we shot the first episode, and had it on Facebook for people to watch that night,” Wigginton recalls. “Granted, the quality is less than desirable because we were having to use my drone as a handheld cam, but look how far we’ve come. If we would have waited until we had a nice camera, we might still be talking about episode one.”
While the ideas seen in COLLABORATIVE STORIES may look good on paper, executing them on film isn’t as simple as “lights-camera-action”. Just ask Henslee, who acts in every episode while trying to work his way through the show’s initially non-existent visual effects. “I mean, it’s strange enough jumping through imaginary portals when we’re on set,” he says. “Just jump right here in this spot, like you’re coming through a portal’, Kyle would tell me. ‘Oh, you mean right here in this spot of nothingness?’ I’d ask.”
Eventually, the once-imaginary portals and other special effects finally become visible in post-production. However, the job of creating such sights from the ground up was, at first, no picnic for Wigginton. “The first time someone wanted to see clones in another dimension, I freaked a bit,” he remembers.
Luckily, Wigginton didn’t have to freak out after finding a cornucopia of informative VFX design lessons online. ”…When I figured out YouTube had tutorials for anything I began compiling a library,” he adds. “Many, many hours of tutorial watching has gotten me to the point where I’m confident we can pull just about anything off.”
Alongside the contributions of COLLABORATIVE STORIES’ viewers, the series’ production is boosted by its cast and crew – many of whom call Louisiana home. In a state where Hollywood studio-originated films and TV productions get most of the attention, it’s independently produced content that gives local talent a chance to shine. COLLABORATIVE STORIES is an example of that fact.
“Indie projects like ours help cultivate filmmakers as you get hands-on experience in every aspect of the process,” comments Wigginton. “We also have the time to allow for experimentation, if someone has a great idea.” Henslee agrees. “There are tons of local cast and crew that are so talented here (in Louisiana). So, it’s just about giving them the opportunity; growing where you are currently with those that you have around you.”
Though COLLABORATIVE STORIES packs a dynamite helping of sci-fi fueled suspense in its first chapter, a more humorous approach may be in the offing for its second. “COLLABORATIVE STORIES was never intended to be strictly sci-fi,” says Henslee. “The early viewers took us there right out of the gate, but it seems like season 2 may be taking on more of a comedic feel. It’s going to be interesting to see if our sci-fi audience can stay ahead of a different audience we may attract.”
No matter what future direction the series goes in, COLLABORATIVE STORIES has already shown how bringing viewers into the creative process can make a good story even better. All it takes is inspiration, imagination and participation, no matter who – or where – it comes from.
“All in all, I want to always be having fun with it,” Henslee responds. “I hope for the fan base to continue to grow and (to) get a ton of people throwing their ideas in. Of course, everyone wants some of that cheddar.”
NOTE: On the subject of closed-captioning/subtitling for COLLABORATIVE STORIES, Henslee comments: “It’s possible (that) in the near future, it will be (closed-captioned/subtitled). We have discussed putting it (captions and subtitles) on our Facebook videos, since it’s easy to throw some on there.”
ON THE WEB: http://www.collaborativestories.com