Viewer Participation in The Strand

A work like The Strand gives rise to questions separate of the webisodic film’s content, because its manner of production and distribution are just as—if not more—integral to the project’s success. What appears on the surface as somewhat scripted reality of life in Venice, California is just the subject for the larger experiment of streaming film content on the Internet and its reception. The trailer available at is very straightforward: interviews, montages of real-life situations, everyday people, “a new kind of series.” Potential viewers could comfortably absorb the film as a documentary, or at least in the same way one would view reality television…if it weren’t for “from the co-creator of The Blair Witch Project” raising a red flag.

It is easy to see why a film like The Blair Witch Project was successful in theaters, as well as revolutionary to the horror film industry. Its filmmaking and distribution techniques were later recreated for 2009’s Paranormal Activity, with a marketing campaign of audience reaction clips and an initial ‘demand it in your city’ restrictive control before its eventual nationwide release. Of course, there are many disappointed people who saw one or both of these films and maintain that they are not the least bit scary. These are the people who were unwilling to buy into the films’ format: presenting an environment that relies heavily on a viewer’s autosuggestion, or, being an active participant by wanting to be scared.

So, how does this translate to non-horror? As stated in The Strand’s press release:  “Utilizing many of the method-film techniques that were incorporated into Blair Witch, The Strand maintains a sense of authenticity that cannot be found in large-scale productions. Real people and actors populate a fictional world in which spontaneous as well as scripted dialogue bring a sense of unpredictability and realism to the characters and situations.” These techniques include the on-the-go style of filming, presenting footage through a character’s point of view, using handheld cameras. The press release also demonstrates the real people/actors blend: “On one end, Lorenzo Pye, a homeless drummer who has been a longtime fixture on the boardwalk, was cast as a homeless drummer whose “spirit is stolen”. On the other end, film veteran Katherine Helmond was cast as a 1950’s movie starlet who is facing imminent foreclosure on her home.” By manipulating this realistic premise, The Strand is suggested as a documentary because of its emphasis on appearing in-the-moment. This notion is further supported by its release as a series on a website, which is now considered “archived” by today’s standards since it is not streaming live. This method of distribution, and calling the project “uncensored” rather than assigning it an official rating also suggest the work’s temporality and authenticity. In this case, The Strand is asking the viewer to buy into all of this at once to cause an interactive experience, or for a viewer to engage by allowing and appreciating the audience manipulation simultaneously.


~ by ameliabwagner on April 17, 2010.

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