Drawn In: Collaborative Storytelling and Brandon Generator

Brandon Generator...A Story about Writing and Where Ideas Come From

When interacting with a digital project, the question of “so what?” usually rattles around in my head.  I will read, click, tap, scroll, and gesture hoping the project will provide a clear answer as to why it “matters.”  Recently I have been sending “so what” to conduct its cruel analysis in the field of Web publishing.  Why does Web publishing matter?  For me, it allows for the possibility to create new types of texts that we previously could not imagine.  It allows for collaboration.  It also allows for innovative techniques in Web development.  For these reasons, I think publishing on the Web, or any sort of digital publication for that matter, can be exciting.  Unfortunately, I am often left unexcited–even by my own projects.  But today is different.  Today is the day I discovered The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator.

A Controlled Crowd

Brandon's Apartment

Brandon's Apartment: No Interactions

The Random Adventures of Brandon Generator is an interactive graphic novel/film about a writer struggling with writer’s block written and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim) and illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards.  As its byline points out, it also includes “you.”  It is separated into four episodes and after one episode is released, it includes ways for the audience to submit ideas.  Then, the Brandon Generator team goes to work incorporating the things the audience contributed into the next episode.  The developers included features for you to see the submitted ideas of other members of the audience visitors and highlight the ones that got used in the next episode.

Brandon's Desk

Brandon's Desk: With Interactions, but not in the video


The ways in which you interact with the first episode of Brandon Generator are not the most complex.  After the first episode, you are able to interact with Brandon’s room and leave your ideas for the next episode.  The interactive part of the first episode has a 1990s PC game feel to it–there is a representation of a room that you can click on to make an action happen.  However, the interactive part looks like part of the film and keeps you engaged.  More importantly, you are left wondering how your contribution might be used.  This model allows the creators to remain in complete control of the story while allowing for unforeseen twists in the narrative they are creating.  It also keeps the audience in suspense and waiting for the next iteration of the story–something lacking in collaborative writing in the form of, say, a wiki.

New Web Technologies

In addition to a compelling story that interacts with readers, Brandon Generator also takes advantage of recent developments in Web technologies.  In theory, the second episode allows for users to interact with the video itself.  (Using Chrome on OSX, I couldn’t get any of these interactions to work, but since this is a project designed to showcase Internet Explorer 9, maybe if I had the patience to try it in that browser it would work.)  According to the “Behind the Scenes” page of the project, the developers at LBi have done some very cool things.  A few years ago, this project would have been done with Flash, but Brandon Generator uses HTML 5, CSS 3 and JavaScript to handle its Web needs.  I found the project’s use of video on the Web most interesting.  According to the developers, HTML 5 does not allow you to alter a video directly, but you can copy all the pixels displaying in the video, put them in a layer over the original video, and then alter those.  The result?  You give the illusion to your audience that they can alter a video through their browser.  While I have never done this, it sounds cool and I look forward to working on projects that let me look into this further.

So What?

Brandon Generator shows what can happen when traditional boundaries of texts are not followed and the creators open up lines of communication with the audience.  One of the best things about the project is that the story and art are great.  I watched the first episode and then went back and did the interactive stuff.  It stands on its own even if you don’t care about the Web or collaboration.  What if this model was applied to the scholarly monograph? Easy–it would be awesome.  You could put up a document you were working on, solicit comments, and work them into your narrative.  Of course, the scholarly monograph is a different form than Brandon Generator, but a.) who says it has to be, and b.) the Internet is a big place and there seems to be an audience for everything.  Brandon Generator demonstrates a possible direction for media on the Web and how audiences and creators can interact.  Additionally, it shows what can happen when Web developers and artists collaborate to make something more than what either could have done on their own.  In this instance, sending the “so what” question into the universe returned a lot of answers and I am excited.  Well done, little question, well done.

About Evan Cordulack

Evan Cordulack is a Web Applications Specialist for Academic Technology. He helps faculty members with Web-based projects related to their research and teaching. He earned his PhD in American Studies at William & Mary in 2013. Find him at http://cordulack.net/