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Director Laetitia Masson heads online with interactive The End

Art house, hybrid work features Elodie Bouchez and Aki Kaurismaki collaborator André Wilms in the cast.

French director Laetitia Masson’s latest work The End features Elodie Bouchez, André Wilms and Aurore Clément in the cast and a budding cinematographer and editor in the credits, but it won’t be hitting cinema screens any time soon.  

Despite its art house film feel, The End is an interactive, hybrid work created for internet viewing only and went online in February.

It is Masson’s first foray on the web after making around a dozen traditional features including her early Un Certain Regard screener For Sale (A vendre), enigmatic thriller Guilty (Coupable) and film-within-a film Why (Not) Brazil.

Masson is among a growing number of film directors exploring the potential of the web. Other recent and upcoming cinema-related web projects include the Quebecois transmedia production Emilie, involving a series of interactive web shorts and a feature-length film which were shot simultaneously, and Claire Simon’s upcoming Gare du Nord which is being produced by Paris-based Les Films d’ici.

Conversely, transmedia players are also branching into cinema as evidenced by the upcoming feature Beat Girl, about a girl who wants to be a DJ, which grew out of a Pinterest storytelling experiment created by transmedia writer and producer Nuno Bernardo’s Dublin-based beActive.  

Shot in the lead-up to the French presidential elections in May 2012, Masson’s The End explores the theme of political engagement.

On one level, visitors to the website construct their own films by clicking on three words out of a series of possibilities – such as love, fear, happiness, politics and childhood – which throw-up a trio of short sequences.

Factual interviews on political engagement with real-life people – including an ex-convict, writer Elliot Perlman and a celebrity psychologist – intertwine with short fictional episodes featuring Bouchez as a jobless young woman who falls for a commitment-phobic businessman.

Wilms, best known internationally for his lead performance in Ari Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, plays Bouchez’s father opposite Clément as her eccentric mother.

Delving deeper, internet viewers are able to tag and comment on a wall of other key words placed behind the initial film page.

“The viewer can make endless films… there is some four-and-a-half hours of film online divided into hundreds of short sequences,” says Boris Razon, head of the New Writing and Transmedia Department at French state broadcaster France Télévisions (FTV), which co-produced the work alongside Géraldine Michelon’s Paris-based production house Memo Prod and web content studio Incandescence.

“The project grew of our desire to explore the subject of political engagement in the lead-up to the presidential elections last year,” explains FTV’s Razon, “Laetitia and her producer were very excited by the theme but had no conception of the universe of the web and what could be done with it.”

Produced with a budget of €400,000, The End was also backed by France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC) and the Pompidou Centre’s Institute for Research and Innovation which designed part of the interface. FTV put up €200,000 of the budget.

“We kicked off development at the end of 2011,” continues Razon. “Laetitia wanted to combine fact with fiction and explore political engagement through an association of ideas.  Once we’d figured out the concept for the content we took it to the developers to conceive the navigation format. They fairly quickly came-up with the idea of a semantic navigation using words.”

Launched on Feb 13, the website for The End drew 10,054 hits in its first two weeks online, with 6,780 visitors, or 67%, entering the site to explore the work in more depth, according to FTV figures. The average visit lasted six minutes and 20 seconds.  

But internet hits are not the primary goal of FTV’s 18-month-old transmedia department.

Launched in September 2011, its key aim is to explore and develop new forms of content and writing, acting as a bridge between FTV’s traditional channels and the web.  To date, it has put 25 productions online and has another 40 web-related projects in the pipeline.

Aside from The End, other recent productions include the satirical animation series Les indégrivables, a web-documentary on the issue of rape, Viol, les voix du silence and hybrid comedy-thriller Les Operateurs – all of which can be found on the lab’s Studio 4.0 website

Masson, meanwhile, has returned to the cinema world to make G.H.B., a drama revolving around three women who have just experienced a relationship breakdown starring Marina Hands, Bouchez, Clemence Poésy and Julien Sands. The €1.5m picture, set in New York, Paris and Shanghai and co-produced by music producer Mirwais, is currently in post-production. 

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