'Source Code' director: Marrying film, interactivity

Duncan Jones' new movie, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, was the talk of SXSW. As a relatively new director, Jones has a very modern take on how storytelling and interactivity can blend.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
6 min read

AUSTIN, Texas--Duncan Jones has only made two films, but he's already developing a reputation as quite the science fiction auteur.

With 2009's "Moon," starring Sam Rockwell, and now "Source Code," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jones is becoming the kind of director that actors say they seek out because they want to share in his vision.

David Shankbone

In "Source Code," which seems to be one part "Groundhog Day" and one part "Speed" with a heavy degree of sci-fi and technology thrown in, Jones created a world in which Gyllenhaal "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. 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 8 minutes of his life. With a second, much larger target threatening to kill millions in downtown Chicago, Colter re-lives 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."

But fans of "Source Code" will not be relegated solely to enjoying the film. They will also be able to play a multimedia game based on the movie. And that's just the kind of thing that Jones wants to see in future films of his, and that Hollywood can benefit from in the future. He sees interactive storytelling as a crucial way to give viewers more ways to experience a story, and he's putting his money where his mouth is.

At South by Southwest (SXSW) here this week, "Source Code" was one of the hottest films shown. CNET got a chance to sit down with Jones to talk about what the future holds for the marriage of film and interactivity.

Q: Can you talk about this idea of adding interactivity to movies after the fact?
Duncan Jones: I think certain films really lend themselves to that kind of cross-pollination. You have a movie world, you have interesting characters, and then obviously you can have a story and experience, just by seeing the movie, but there's so much potential there if you've created an interesting enough world, you can go beyond that and create content like mini games or adventures or whatever that content is that goes beyond it. And I think if you've planned it out, you can do some really interesting things. And I know that Summit has been working on some ideas, and has shown me some things which are pretty cool, especially with all the social tools that we have, whether you access it through Facebook or Twitter. I'm a big Twitterer myself, so I certainly appreciate that kind of multifaceted nature of it.

As a filmmaker, does that come into play in any way when you're working on a movie?
Jones: I think it can. I certainly know that on my next film, which I'm working on now, we're very much integrating that sort of horizontal development of a film, and how you can use that film in other avenues, so I think you just have to be aware of it ahead of time. And then obviously, if you have smart people, they can work backwards, after the film is made, draw content out, and use it in other ways. But I think that certainly the best way to do it is to do it in tandem.

Is that fun for you? And is it additional work?
Jones: For me, it's fun. It's absolutely additional work, and not everyone is going to find it fun. There are going to be filmmakers who are very, very focused on one job, which is to do the best job of telling the story in the film. I get that, I do that as well, but because I am a gamer, I really enjoy the idea of, like, I've created this world, there are so many things we can do with it, and sort of branching out and finding ways to tell different stories in parallel.

I keep hearing about the idea of blending interactivity into storytelling, into movies, directly. And changing what the actual movie-going experience is. You've already got these adjunct things, but actually making it part of the experience. Do you see that happening?
Jones: Remember that old movie "Matinee," with John Goodman, the idea of having stuff like air blasts that would hit you while you're watching the movie. I don't know if interactivity in that way over the course of the actual film is necessarily the way to go. Although, with Blu-rays and things like that, on a second viewing, yes, I retract that. On a second viewing, I can see that working, and I can understand why you might want to do it. On a first viewing, I think the cinema experience of going to the movies, I think you've really just got to trust the filmmaker and the let the story be told to you. But I think Blu-ray is the place where that becomes more interesting.

So, 20 years from now, you think there's still going to be the traditional two-hour film?
Jones: I hope so. It's like you go back as far as Plato and the shadows on the wall of the cave. I think being told a story is something that human beings do. It's part of social interaction. It's whether you're telling your wife or girlfriend what happened at work, or whatever it is. I think there's always a need to tell stories.

You said you're a gamer. What do you play?
Jones: Well, these days I don't have as much time as I used to. But I'm a PC gamer rather than a console gamer, so there are limits compared to what there used to be. But I've been playing a lot of Call of Duty, and my girlfriend plays a little bit of The Sims, and I've been playing a lot of PopCap games, because they're fast. Actually, I notice I play more of those short-attention span games than I used to. I used to be really into my big role-playing games or first-person shooters. And now I'm finding I'm playing a lot more of these short-attention span games, you know, Bejeweled.

You said you're integrating a game into your next film?
Jones: Well, it lends itself to it. I did used to work in the games industry before, while I was at film school. But bigger, AAA title games take at least 18 months to develop, so the time frame for developing a film and a game, they just don't work well together. But I think with the whole dawn of apps, and being able to create these smaller worlds, in a six- or a nine-month development time, you can do something really quite rich, that will really keep an audience engaged, and not make them feel like they're being [advertised at]. You can actually make something that's worth interacting with. So the idea that I have is to create a series of apps which work in conjunction with the world of the film.

And they come out before the film? After the film?
Jones: Ideally, it will be sort of a staggered release, in the buildup to, in the release of, and subsequent to the film itself.

How much control over that do you have as director?
Jones: At this stage, I have all the control. Eventually, as more people get involved, I'll have much less control.

Do the producers have to give buy-in on them?
Jones: Well, I'm very fortunate. On the next film, I'm going to be working with a guy called Stuart Fenegan, who was my producer on "Moon," worked with me on "Source Code," and is going to come and do this next film. We work very closely together, we're kind of partners in our business, so we kind of have a hive mind. We'll be working on the same path.