A man is struggling with writer’s block. He tries to distract/motivate himself by going out to get coffee, but ends up spiralling into a nightmare hybrid of reality and the fiction he’s writing. A good ending will end the nightmare and end the story. No, this isn’t the plot to The Long Hard Goodbye by Carson Coe Price Films, co-written by one David Price, (which you can watch here. Really fucking shameless plug over), it’s the plot of The Random Adventure Of Brandon Generator by Edgar Wright of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz fame.
The project started back in November 2011. Wright was approached to write and direct “a ‘crowd sourced animated film’ to be illustrated and animated by Tommy Lee Edwards” (DC Comics and Lucasarts), and then brought Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) in to narrate and David Holmes (Ocean’s 11, Out Of Sight) to score the project. The episodes aimed to provide an interactive experience for users, showing off the capabilities of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 browser. As an added twist the project would be strongly influenced by Joe Public who could suggest plots, characters, dialogue, doodle images, leave voice messages and send pictures.
Tommy Lee Edwards and Edgar Wright
Anything like “contributed to by members of the public” being attached to creative work makes me go a big rubbery one. There’s a reason they’re referred to as “members of the public” and not “artists”; they have bad ideas. Bad, boring, hackneyed, cliched, ideas. You give the public free reign to draw something to go in a film and you’re going to get 10,000 pictures of dicks. Or maybe I’m just very immature. Either way, I didn’t hold out much hope for brilliant originality in Brandon Generator. However, the herd of cats that influenced the story had a good cat shepherd in Edgar Wright.
The Brandon Generator series feels like an extended short film; it sets up the theme of dealing with writer’s block, explores it entertainingly over 28 minutes then leaves. There is no suggestion that Brandon’s story goes beyond this, and there’s not much desire to see him tackle another problem. He had a goal, he overcame his shortcomings, his situation gets resolved. It’s focused, entertaining and satisfying.
The fourth and final part of the series was premiered on Wednesday night at the Farmiloe Building in Farringdon (part of which was also used as Commissioner Gordon’s office in The Dark Knight, fact fans), and being deservedly proud of how the project turned out, Microsoft didn’t stint on showing off the finished work. Although surprisingly, and refreshingly, they took something of a hands-off approach to the whole project; the Microsoft logo wasn’t plastered all over the venue and even online the series isn’t held under the MSN umbrella as you might expect, with just a small “A Production By Internet Explorer” in the corner of the title screen shyly telling you who’s behind the project. It seems the grey suits at Microsoft have learnt a thing or two about appealing to people on a creative level.
Nevertheless it’s an interesting way to get people interested in the not-particularly-interesting-world-to-most-people of web browsers and internet standards. Although the many interactive features of Brandon Generator blur the lines between film, series, comic, and game and from a film point of view it’s hard to really pick out the strengths and weaknesses of the film without crossing over into the territory of other mediums. Those in the tech industry may take a different view, but when you have a name like Edgar Wright attached to something then it’s going to be strongly judged on its strengths as a film, and I personally found Brandon Generator more engaging when watched as a straight film, without breaks, than in the episodic form.
Following the screening, Wright, Lee Edwards, Barratt and Holmes took part in a Q&A session marshalled by Mark Kermode. Again there was little reference to their rich technological patron, and not as much reference to the user contributions as you might expect. But what did become clear from the talk was how much they enjoyed collaborating on the project and how technology in general made it possible for them to produce Brandon Generator. With Wright in London, Edwards in Colorado and Holmes in LA, they needed to swap images, video, music quickly and efficiently, which is simple today but would have been labourious and time consuming just a few years ago.
L-R: David Holmes, Julian Barratt, Tommy Lee Edwards, Edgar Wright
So while Microsoft can be applauded for bringing these people together and giving them such an open brief to go away and create something, it seems IE9, HTML5 and Brandon Generator aren’t likely to change the face of film, but technology in general obviously is.
But, whatever, GOTHAM CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICES!!