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CTRLMovie disrupting the film industry. Are audiences getting into the act?

The region’s first interactive movie experience, CTRL, lets the audience collectively decide how the plot unfolds. How well are audiences responding to this and are there issues to resolve?

CTRL was used in Late Shift (UAE PG 13), the world’s first interactive feature-length film CTRLMovie technology bucks the idea that the cinema isn’t designed for repeat business While watching the film, movie-goers have to keep one eye on their phone and vote

VOX Cinemas, the dedicated cinema arm of Majid Al Futtaim, a leading shopping mall, communities, retail, and leisure pioneer across the Middle East and Africa, introduced CTRL, the region’s first interactive movie experience which lets the audience collectively decide how the plot unfolds.

CTRL allows audiences to typically make 40-50 choices during the movie while cutting-edge and seamless technology aggregates the votes and chooses the most popular option.

CTRL was used in 2018 during Late Shift (UAE PG 13), the world’s first interactive feature-length film, which enables cinemagoers to decide the fate of the lead character and the course of the movie using a simple voting system on an app.

The latest innovation from VOX Cinemas, in partnership with entertainment and tech company, Kino Industries, launched across the UAE and Saudi on August 5th.

Late Shift: An interactive film

During the screening of the high stakes action thriller, the movie featured countless storylines consisting of 180 decision points and seven alternative endings. Late Shift was directed and co-written by Tobias Weber, an award-winning filmmaker and a Co-Founder of Kino Industries, and Michael Robert Johnson, author of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. The critically acclaimed movie was awarded the 2018 BAFTA Cymru Award.

Toni El Massih, Chief Content Officer, VOX Cinemas said, “Using pioneering technology, CTRL seamlessly combines the realism and production values of film with the interactivity of a videogame to create a new dimension of engagement. I have no doubt that this unique and exhilarating participatory experience will prove hugely popular with cinemagoers in the UAE and Saudi.”

Late Shift is about the theft of a priceless piece of Ming Dynasty porcelain.

The film is inspired by the bestselling Choose Your Own Adventure fantasy book series, which allows readers to page-turn to different destinies.

Lebanese producer Chady Eli Mattar said: With CTRL, “Obviously the choice goes to the majority, and then it changes the storyline. You never watch the same film twice. You have almost in the billions of possibilities.”

With 180 “decision points”, more than four hours of filmed material, and seven alternate endings, the pathways through Late Shift do indeed seem almost unlimited.

The film is also available on gaming platforms, allowing audiences at home to entirely influence the decision-making process, same as in the gaming universe, with PlayStation titles such as the film noir Heavy Rain (2010) and Beyond: Two Souls (2013), both having already experimented with the format.

Similarly, Netflix produced interactive episodes of Black Mirror (2018’s Bandersnatch) and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2020’s Kimmy vs the Reverend), allowing users to influence the outcome via their remote control.

Already, says Mattar, the team behind the film has witnessed groups of friends return for a second viewing, this time with bigger numbers to “overtake the house” and influence the outcome of the story.

As a business model, CTRLMovie technology bucks the idea that the cinema isn’t designed for repeat business, unless for sequels.

Mattar points out that Late Shift has an average viewership of 3.7 times. “That’s higher than Avatar repeat business.”

As far as the future is concerned, Mattar believes Late Shift is just the start. Already in talks with Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin, as well as major Hollywood studios including Paramount and Disney, Kino Industries is developing interactive movies in myriad genres.

With everything from romantic comedies and Christmas-themed movies, to documentaries and animated series aimed at children, plot twists are endless.

CTRL weak points

While watching the film, movie-goers have to keep one eye on their phone and vote.

They could as well raise their hands to complain that the CTRLMovie app was out of pace with what was on screen, which would necessitate rewatching the film from the beginning.

With choices determined by a majority, the film may reach an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion, and if that’s the case, then there’s no rewinding and seeing other possible endings unless you sit through the whole film again.

Kino expands concept

Kino Industries has entered into a creative and co-financing partnership with Rocketman financier Starlings Entertainment.

To this point, Kino Industries has been best known for creating CtrlMovie. 

Kino Industries’ CEO Mattar and President Scott C. Silver joined Starlings Entertainment CEO/Executive Producer Karine Martin to announce the partnership between their companies.

“Our entire focus over the past three years has been on rapidly building our television business into a global success, which has now afforded us the opportunity to re-enter the film world with like-minded partners poised for rapid growth,” Starlings’ Martin said. “Chady, Scott, and Tobias bring to us their incredible vision, creativity, and superior, game-changing, wisdom-of-the-crowd technology that will allow innovative film and TV content to flourish. It is a perfect fit.”

Thus far, CtrlMovie has caught the attention of studios including 20th Century Studios, which has already licensed their tech to develop a Choose Your Own Adventure feature, as well as Paramount Pictures, which is in talks with Kino to produce and create features with CtrlMovie.

At the moment, Kino Industries is also working with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners on an interactive haunted house movie, to be directed by Alexandre Aja, from a script by Jeff Howard, Nick Simon, and Aja.