Behind the scenes of “Inside Disaster”
If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that I am a huge fan of the “choose-your-own-adventure” packages. Thus, when Katie McKenna contacted me about her site “Inside the Haiti Earthquake” I knew I wanted to feature it in a behind the scenes post so that you all can learn more about how they put it together. You may have already come across the site since it’s a few years old. However, if you are like me and somehow missed it, then now’s the time to learn more about it! Below is Katie’s account of the site and the larger package within which it lives called “Inside Disaster.”
Inside the Haiti Earthquake is one of three components of the multi-platform documentary project, Inside Disaster.
Inside Disaster (release: January 2011) is a three-part documentary series that follows the Red Cross humanitarian response to the January 2010 Haiti earthquake from the inside.
InsideDisaster.com is an interactive website that combines content and themes from the documentary series with original photo, video and research created by the 16-person web team. InsideDisaster.com is the definitive online resource about the Haiti earthquake and humanitarian work.
Inside the Haiti Earthquake is a first-person simulation that combines footage and stories from the Inside Disaster documentary with original video, photos, and music recorded by Nicolas Jolliet in Haiti. The result is a genre-bending interactive experience that lets users step inside life on the ground in the chaotic aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
1. How long did it take to produce this site, both in-the-field and post-production? How many people were involved?
Michael Gibson (writer / co-director), Nicolas Jolliet (Co-Ââ€Director, Cinematographer, Sound Recordist, Editor, Composer, Music Supervisor) and I (producer) began developing the idea of an interactive experience set within a humanitarian emergency in the Fall of 2009, before we knew the crew would end up shooting in Haiti.
The web and documentary crew were in Haiti for four weeks after the earthquake, and returned several times afterwards for additional material. It was about a year from concept (October 2009) to launch (October 2010), with about eight months of full-on production.
Over twenty different people contributed to the project, including the PTV Productions team, Michael, Nico and I, the documentary crew, the designers, programmers and testers, and our colleagues in Haiti (fixers, drivers, musicians).
2. How many steps can users choose from in each of the three paths?
Each character follows a simple branching narrative, choose-your-own-adventure style, with dozens of choices along the way that eventually lead to about five possible endings per character.
“I wanted to create an interweaving storyline that connected the three main characters, and also revealed the conflict between them” says the simulationâ€™s Writer and Co-Director, Michael Gibson.
“Rather than offering the user solutions and opinions, we let people experience the doubt, chaos, and shock that most of us felt in Haiti,” says Co-Director Nicolas Jolliet, who spent six weeks in the country as part of the Inside Disaster project.
3. How did you come up with this type of storytelling and storyboard the interaction?
Nicolas Jolliet and the documentary crew returned from Haiti in February 2010 with over 200 hours of film and 1500+ photographs between them.
To create the first draft of the the script, Gibson and Jolliet spent hours looking through footage for storylines, while Gibson interviewed Nadine Pequeneza, the director of the Inside Disaster documentary series, about what she witnessed in the country while filming survivors, and the Red Cross.
Gibson probed for stories about how survivors, media, and relief workers interacted after the disaster, focusing on the challenges, conflicts, and moments of human empathy that arose that arose between them.
“From the beginning, all three of us were committed to the idea of the simulation unfolding through the eyes of the three main players in any disaster relief operation — the survivors, the aid workers, and the media,” says Katie McKenna.
“I was attracted to the challenge of the material itself,” says Michael Gibson. “How do we create a first-person role play simulation of a monumental event, using raw documentary footage, from three different points of view?”
For the project leads, the final product has been difficult to define, lying somewhere between the new media worlds of “serious games,” “newsgames,” and interactive documentary.
“We donâ€™t call it a game,” says Michael Gibson. “With few exceptions, everything you see onscreen is documentary material from the first days after the earthquake in Haiti. These are real people living real experiences; it’s certainly not a game for them, and we want the user to feel that way too.”
4. What kind of traffic has this site received? Time spent on site?
About 60,000 unique visitors since launch, steady traffic even since Haiti fell out of headlines. Our Flash server provider doesn’t track time on site, unfortunately.
5. If you could go back and do anything differently, what would it be and why?
I’d want to make the experience more interactive — show the branching narrative along the bottom as the user progress, to make it easier for them to explore ‘the path not taken’, and also leave opportunities for comments and feedback throughout the site.
6. Who sponsored the site?
The site was produced by PTV Productions, with funding from TVOntario, the Canada Media Fund (CMF-FMC) and Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund, and the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
7. What was your role in the project and how can readers learn more about you?
I was the site’s Interactive Producer. I’m now independent and can be found at katiemckenna.ca or on twitter @ktmckenna.