A Sherlock Holmes for the Digital Age

What would the best detective on the market do nowadays to solve more cases? Elementary, my dear readers: they would run a blog. If you’re searching for inspiration about personal branding, you then should have a look at Sherlock Holmes’ The Science of Deduction.

I am admittedly quite late in catching up with the latest incarnation of the detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but last week BBC Three began re-airing the series created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, recently renewed for a fourth season. So I decided that it was the right time to get into this version 2.0 of Holmes, set in present day London and portrayed by Benedict Cumberbacth. Needless to say, the original one was among my heroes when I was a child, The Hound of the Baskervilles being my favourite among the crime novels written by Conan Doyle.

Promotional photo portraying Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes.

The pilot for Sherlock, “A Study in Pink”, was directed by Paul McGuigan. Given that I still consider his Gangster No. 1 and Lucky Number Slevin a shot in the arm within the gangster movie genre, I appreciated the pace of the episode. Also, in terms of narrative rhythm, I liked how mobile devices were integrated within the story: GPS technologies, the Internet, smartphones and the role played by blogs fit with nowadays obsession for being always (logged) on. I just found it a little bit weird that Watson is advised by his psychologist to run a public blog about what happened to him during the war in Afghanistan. But, hey, I’m not that kind of doctor…

Speaking of websites, I might be late in suggesting online resources, but if you want to delve into the fictional world of the one and only consulting detective, BBC provides “the definitive list of official Sherlock character sites and accounts”, all of which were written by Joseph Lidster: beyond Sherlock’s, they include John Watson’s blog, Molly Hooper’s Diary and Connie Prince’s official site. Whereas the best website for the fans of the series is Sherlockology.

Sherlock-Season 1- Episode 1 - A Study in Pink

Maps of the streets of London run throughout the whole episode, giving quite a precise idea of Holmes’ peculiar way of thinking and unusual deduction abilities, but it is quite unlikely to get the feeling of the “real” London. If you want to do some “location tourism”, be aware that the series is mainly shot in Wales, with some exterior sets of the city not matching with the real places. So if you go to the famous 221b Baker Street, for example, you’ll discover that it’s pretty different from the way it is depicted in the show: Holmes’ actual flat on the screen is in fact at 187 North Gower Street.

UK residents can catch up with the next episodes of Sherlock every Saturday night at 21:00 on BBC Three; each episode is also available on iPlayer immediately after airing on TV.

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Do You Know Which Is The Most Northern Place? Filmmaker Anrick Bregman Has the Answer. And It’s Interactive (Part 3)

After discussing the project’s genesis and some aspects of the storytelling process, I asked director Anrick Bregman to share more insights about immersive tools, music and sound design featured in his web doc The Most Northern Place.

Prominent Monkey: Which are the main features that create the immersive experience you designed for the viewer?

Anrick Bregman: I think the whole experience is immersive in the sense that, through interacting, you’re more involved with the story than if it were a traditional film. You’re exploring a story and finding out about it step by step, rather than following a narrative with an introduction, a series of in-depth chapters, and then a conclusion.

Preloader of the interactive documentary "The Most Northern Place"

But in addition to this, there are two ways in which we tried to transport you over to Northern Greenland a little bit. The pre-loader doesn’t show you a percentage or a spinning graphic, or anything like that. What we’re doing while loading the main website is counting the number of miles between you and the actual place where the story takes place, Thule in Northern Greenland. We also point in the direction of Thule using a compass graphic.

The other immersive chapter is a web-based old-fashion radio that we built to mimic the way people used to communicate in remote communities. This allows you to speak to anyone else who is on the website at the same time as you are.

Screenshot of the interactive documentary "The Most Northern Place"

P. M.: Speaking about sounds, I find the background music mesmerizing. How did you get this feeling from the composer?

A. B.: I worked with a very talented composer, Alex Kozobolis, and I asked him to make a piece of music which would not sound too sad, or too happy, and which would have no specific rise and fall, like a traditional score might. It should loop and create a unique feeling while not having a lot of distinctive qualities to it.

Music for interactive films is very hard to compose, because you can’t plan ahead where any part of your score will play, within the timeline of the visuals. If the viewer pauses the film for a while (to make a cup of coffee, for example) the music continues. So there’s no sense of sync. Despite this challenging brief, I think Alex achieved something remarkable. It was just him, playing at a piano with a small recording device. But I loved it the moment I heard it.

Screenshot of the interactive documentary "The Most Northern Place"

P. M.: What about sound design?

A. B.: I worked with Richard Nathan to create a soundscape that would complement the score. I gave Richard a lot of sound files that I had extracted from Nicole Paglia’s footage. Different sounds live recorded in Greenland, in and around Qaanaaq. But because we’re talking about memories of events which took place a long time ago, Richard started to use effects like reverb to process those snippets of audio. It created a really nice balance, I feel like the sound design is the perfect canvas for the music to sit on – they work together perfectly, if you consider that they were created by different people at two very different times.

Technically, we had the music playing independently from the visuals. While the sound effects are broken up into two layers, one of which running with the music, other layers of the sound effects are embedded within the video files.

P. M.: Your web doc is now online, but I know that there is a chapter two in progress…

A. B.: The Most Northern Place was always intended to be a first chapter, while our next project will complete the story. The first one tells the story of the town of Thule, and how it was moved to make way for a U.S. Airbase. Our next chapter will ask the simple question of why that happened. Watch this space!

Do You Know Which Is The Most Northern Place? Filmmaker Anrick Bregman Has the Answer. And It’s Interactive (Part 2)

After discussing the genesis of The Most Northern Place with director Anrick Bregman, I wanted to know more about the engagement aspects of his interactive documentary and discover how he and his team approached this compelling story.

Screenshot of the interactive documentary "The Most Northern Place"

Prominent Monkey: In this post you said that a traditional documentary would not achieve the same sense of exploration. Can you explain in more detail what you mean?

Anrick Bregman: I am an interactive filmmaker, so at the core I think about interactivity as something that is part of everything I do. It’s a sort of second nature. But I don’t think that The Most Northern Place offers something a traditional film couldn’t. I don’t think it’s better, I don’t think it’s the future of cinema. It’s just a new way to tell a story.

At the core of interactivity there is something very different for the viewer, though. While cinema is passive, in interactive formats the viewer must act, engage with the narrative material in order for it to progress. That “click” or “tap” is an action – as functional as it may seem on the surface.

In my opinion what that action creates is the sense that viewers are active in discovering the story, we’re just setting the scene for them. It changes the way you take in information, as a viewer. It’s not better, just more focused on the viewer’s pace and their interests, or attention span. And it’s not just different for viewers: to me, as a filmmaker, it is also very different to make a film that will be simply watched, as opposed to a film that will be interacted with.

It’s exciting to construct an experience knowing that viewers are a key player, and trying to preempt that. It’s a weird collaboration if you think about it: the filmmaker and the viewer are reacting to each other, it’s just that it is out of sync, we are working at different times to create a singular experience.

Screenshot of the interactive documentary "The Most Northern Place"

P. M.: In your web doc we experience several voices, which form a sort of stream of consciousness. Tell me something more about the writing process.

A.B.: The writing process involved a few steps, because early on we didn’t quite know what the exact outcome for The Most Northern Place would have been. It would have been a website, and interactive, but how? I had all kinds of ideas for the interface (much more complex than what we ended up with), but more importantly we initially wrote the script from the perspective of a narrator, a voice talking over all the film’s chapters.

We actually recorded several passes of a narrator’s voice for an early version of the project, but very quickly it felt contrived. Having an English voice didn’t sound authentic, a bit like when BBC news dub over interviews in foreign languages with people who have a faint accent. It sounds fake. So the words written for a voice turned into printed text on the page, which involved another few steps in the writing process.

Screenshot of the interactive documentary "The Most Northern Place"

P. M.: Are the “voices” we read the ones of the protagonists of Qaanaaq or is there also someone not featured in Nicole Paglia’s project?

A. B.: They are the same people featured in Qaanaaq. The two projects were both based on the same trip Nicole made out to Northern Greenland, and the interviews she recorded while she was there.

End of Part 2. Stay tuned: Part 3 will be online tomorrow.