Technology today moves so fast that new opportunities to create entertainment can be a wild and exhilarating ride. One such project releasing May 2, is the interactive iPad app based on the riveting adventure of Rufus Dawes who is falsely accused of murder in 19th century London. He is transported as a convict to the harsh penal settlement of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia. Despite his sentence, Rufus Dawes’s quest for freedom never dies.
Originally written as a weekly magazine serial which ran for two years, the material served as the basis for the novel, For the Term of his Natural Life, published in 1874 by Marcus Clarke to considerable acclaim. It was subsequently produced as a play, a musical, three silent movies – two of which were full length, and more recently a six-hour mini-series written and produced by Patricia Payne and her husband, Wilton Schiller and shot on location in Australia.
When asked how she was able to condense a six-hour mini-series into an iPad app, Payne said, “Having co-written and produced the mini-series, I knew the material intimately. Because of the storage space limitations of any digital tablet, it was essential to stick with the spine of the story, and choose the essential text and bridging video segments to keep a forward thrust to the story. Happily, the iPad allows us 2 gigabytes. The approach to present the user a seamless and continuous story experience was done by choosing specific text and film segments which complimented each other, kept the story moving always forward, rather than have video repeat story text. Collaborative choices were made to cut out of video at an exciting moment in the story so the viewer is anxious to return to the text to find out what happens next.”
In addition to introducing Clarke’s novel in a condensed 300-page version for the international iPad audience, this release marks the advent of a new fusion: eBooks and mobile apps. The reader’s experience of this classic tale is enriched by over 40 interactive footnotes, 19 video notes, bios, and over 100 photos, maps, bonus and historical documents. Progressing the story and weaving throughout the text are 18 video clips from the popular Australian mini-series, For the Term of His Natural Life, as well as clips from the original 1927 silent film based on the book.
“This was the first app any on my team had made, although we are all well-versed in film making,” said Payne. “Our developers, MoPix, had developed several story apps so they were our guiding light. The making of the project took place over a one-year period, but it could have taken less time if we didn’t have to juggle so many time-tables, or if we were working on a manufacturing line with infrastructure to support turning out multiple story apps.”
According to Ryan Stoner, who along with Drew McAuliffe, is the developer and co-founder of Mo-Pix, “We were focused on building a fluid story that should be enjoyed by experiencing the book and videos in a linear manner. Everything in the book is there to pull you into the story. The experience of this app is different from other e-book apps because all the content should be explored in linear experience as you enjoy the story. I think this is important as most e-books just have extra content, versus our app which makes everything a part of the story.”
Commenting on the different roles that each team member brought to the project, Payne remarked, “That’s a wriggly one because we often overlapped role descriptions as we worked in a collaborative style. This can’t be compartmentalized. Todd Norwood’s role was project director. He comes from a writing and directing background with feature films and online web shows. Jason Wissinger, our director of content, has notched up an impressive background of directing, DOP, designer and editor on countless corporate films, feature films, and is currently writing and directing a digital book. Pauline Kearney, our researcher, came from a background as lawyer, teacher, writer and researcher and her contribution was invaluable considering the amount of archival images and footage she uncovered.”
“It was fun to learn a new way to tell a story,” Wissinger noted. “A story using text, video clips and notes, text notes, still images from the mini-series, sound effects under text, archival images and footage from the 1927 silent movie; also the bonus material of the originally recorded 1927 song. My job was to collate this material, make it workable for the app.”
When asked what advice he might have for others interested in this type of project, Norwood said, “Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed in producing an app. You should have all elements in place before starting the development state, and keep up with the technology. There are new platforms created every day.”
Despite the challenges of endlessly morphing technology and coordinating all of the different assets, Norwood is confident that, “The App is both entertaining and a good historical read, with unique content and an interesting approach to tell a story.”
Further plans are to use the power of social media as well as other more traditional methods to market the app here and worldwide.