Jake Gyllenhaal on film, games, and storytelling's future (Q&A)

At SXSW, CNET speaks with the film star about the mobile game built around his new flick, and about how games and movies can work together as good storytelling.

AUSTIN, Texas--Jake Gyllenhaal is clearly a gadget junkie. A confessed Mac fan who has an iPad but regretfully doesn't yet have his hands on the iPad 2, the movie star is here in the Texas capital this week to promote his new film, "Source Code."

In the film, Gyllenhaal plays decorated soldier Captain Colter Stevens, who "wakes up in the body of an unknown man [and] discovers he's part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train," according to promotional materials for the film. "In an assignment unlike any he's ever known, he learns he's part of a government experiment called the 'Source Code,' a program that enables him to cross over into another man's identity in the last eight minutes of his life. With a second, much larger attack threatening to kill millions in downtown Chicago, Colter relives the incident over and over again, gathering clues each time, until he can solve the mystery of who is behind the bombs and prevent the next attack."

Actor Jake Gyllenhaal at the SXSW conference, where he's promoting his new film, Source Code. Caroline McCarthy/CNET

It's an interesting concept, but in an interview with CNET, Gyllenaal talked about interactivity and movies, especially because as part of the promotion for the film, the actor helped out with the creation of "The Source Code Mission," a game built around the movie's story line. It's a "cross-platform, trans-media" game that "transports audiences into the movie narrative using social-media game play."

To participate in the game, players will have to scan Microsoft Tag mobile action codes embedded in a series of traditional marketing pieces, including banners and t-shirts, and when scanned, users will get a chance to "help Captain Colter Stevens investigate a mystery by gathering clues."

Q: Why did you want to get involved in doing this interactive game version of "Source Code?"
Jake Gyllenhaal: That obviously was not my choice, but when I heard about it, and [saw] the game--I think it follows a lot of really fun aspects of most of the popular applications that we like to play. What is fascinating to me is that this movie has no real specific context. There are tangents off of it, all over the place...[and there's an] opportunity to tell stories beyond just the end of the movie, when you see it, and before it too. So it offers an opportunity for the moviegoing audience to actually really participate in the same type of scenario that my character faces, and also interact. Because we did some cool voice-overs for it, and there are cool prizes and cool things involved in it. And the movie has a great opportunity to alter your sense of reality, and the game is just another one of those forms of being able to mess with people a little bit.

Would you like to see those types of applications and games be connected to movies going forward?
Gyllenhaal: What I think is cool is that storytelling doesn't just have to be linear [and the] movies we see are just one form of it. I think it's actual storytelling. You can tell one story, make a movie, and it's not just marketing a movie, it's about telling another story off of that movie, and having different stories. You're used to that with comic books, but to have something online where you're actually participating with your own computer, which is what happens in the movie, you know, it's a computer program that allows someone to enter someone else's body for the last eight minutes of their life, so you kind of get to do the same thing, and it just allows for millions of stories to be made off of one base story.

This seems like the application was a good fit for this movie?
Gyllenhaal: More so than for any movie I've ever been involved in. Maybe the only movie that I've been involved in that I think something like this could work really well with and where a site really added to your experience was "Donnie Darko," where you participated after you saw the movie, you got clues from the movie in the site, and the game provides those same types of clues, and what they've done which I think is cool is open an opportunity after the movie opens when people are asking the types of questions that the movie poses to have somebody like Duncan and the producers of the movie, and the other people that made the movie, start to explore other avenues of story lines and things that come off of it, like where Coulter goes, where you could make him go. That's fascinating to me. To me, that's exactly why I wanted to make the movie, the fact that nothing works in a linear way, and there are tangents off of everything, tangents to reality and tangents to storytelling.

Do you see this as integral to storytelling going forward?
Gyllenhaal: I think it really depends on the movie. And to me, what frustrated me is when people use something as a marketing tool, not as a storytelling tool. And this is being used primarily as a storytelling tool. That was always what I thought was cool, was because of that, because people who come up with games based off of other ideas are storytellers, so it just depends on how cool the story is that they want to tell. And you know when you have somebody who's as talented as Duncan involved in that as well. And this is the beginning of something. You know, the movie "Source Code" is coming out, and then they have the game, and the game can change after the movie comes out. Right now, it exists as, there's a sweepstakes, and the ability to be on the poster, which I think is really cool. But it can become whatever the fans want it to be. And so I think you can smell the difference between those things. When someone says, Oh, we're going to make a game off of a movie that's about choose a random topic, but this is a movie that's about that, so to me, it just felt like a totally natural connection, and I'm always, like, how much farther can we go, how much crazier can we make it?

How much further can you go? I mean, there's movies made from games, and games made from movies. Are movies going to get interactive?
Gyllenhaal: I've thought about it a lot, because there's so much of it I don't understand, to be totally honest. But what I do understand is different avenues for people to tell stories, that it's always been this way. You know, you read a book, maybe you're inspired by that story, and it inspires you to tell another story, and I think if you can tell a strong enough story in a movie, then millions of stories can come off of that. Like, off this movie so far, we have people making posters based on their interpretation of the movie, which I think is exactly what this movie is and should always be, you know, that it should inspire questions, it should inspire creativity, and that when people try and say, OK, I'm going to make a game out of the movie just because I love games, and that's a good story, I'm copying it, that doesn't make as much sense as, I'm inspired by the movie, and I'm going to go to my forte, which might be visual arts, it might be music, or whatever, and it might be gaming, and I'm going to make my own idea out of it. That's cool to me. And I hope it encourages people to be inspired, as opposed to copying.

Right now, down the street, they're launching the new iPad at the pop-up Apple Store . Do you have an iPad?
Gyllenhaal: I have an iPad. I don't have the new iPad, but I can't wait to have it

Any favorite apps?
Gyllenhaal: Right now, this week, my favorite apps have been Weather.com and Flight Tracker, but it changes on a weekly basis. So, the CNN app. And I love the Skype app.

 

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