I didn’t know what to think about Haunting Melissa prior to my introduction to the project earlier this week. I knew it was some sort of app, but that was about it. Was it animated? Was it just some interactive ghost trapped in your iPad that didn’t do much? Was it lame? I headed over to the Pacific Design Center to check out the new experience from Hooked Digital Media.
I was wrong on all counts. It turns out that Haunting Melissa is actually quite interesting, or at least it has the potential to be. I haven’t seen most of the live action narrative (though what I did see was well-shot, well acted and cinematic) that comprises the experience, but it feels like a real film. And the overall experience seems to be easy, intuitive and fun.
Creator and director Neal Edelstein (who also produced The Ring, 6 Souls, Mulholland Drive), guides me through the process. First I see a minute and a half trailer that sells the project’s storyline, then a 30-second teaser that hits some tonal beats. After that I’m handed a different iPad that contains the actual app (which is free to download here). The layout is handsome and, again, intuitive. On the right side of the screen are tabs that manage the overall content for the storyline – which is organized into different segments to be released at varying intervals. They could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 5 minutes long, and you never know when they’re coming.
The first installment is free with the app, and there’s a built-in sharing function. For instance, if you share to Facebook that you’ve watched the first installment – the 2nd installment comes free as well (it will show up on your device when it’s released). After that installments are $.99 each for standard def and $1.99 for the HD version, which is less than an episode of TV costs on iTunes (the story of Haunting Melissa is long, somewhere between a feature film and a TV season in length). When you look at the display it’s easy to tell which installments you’ve already watched, which installments you have yet to watch, and which installments have yet to be released. And, rather than cluttering up your device, the data for these is stored in in the cloud after you view them.
One of the cooler parts of this whole thing is that the installments change after you watch them. The software recognizes when you’ve seen an installment so the next time you watch it, the experience is different. While the storyline is linear with a beginning, middle and end – there’s a lot of material that fills in and expands the universe, similar to a sandbox video game. You can only play the main narrative, or you can go in for the side stories as well.
Edelstein is clear that this is all part of his plan, “what I didn’t want to do was take a movie and stuff it in an app. I wanted to tell a story in a completely different way and leverage the technology to do so. You get bits and pieces of it and you don’t know when they’re coming. You can get 20 minutes on Friday, 5 minutes on Monday and then 15 minutes on Wednesday. That was the impetus for this.” Edelstein is clearly passionate about the project, both in terms of its story and the emerging technology. And he’s staying on top of the ever changing social media landscape by making share options prevalent across all aspects of the app. But all the tech savvy legwork is still in service of a satisfying experience, “the most important thing for me is the storytelling. Because if the story doesn’t work, no one cares.”
You can try it here!
Haunting Melissa is written by best-selling author Andrew Klavan (“True Crime”, “Don’t Say A Word”) and features an up and coming cast of talented actors that includes Kassia Warshawski as Melissa Strogue, Travis Nelson as Brandon, Barb Mitchell as Katherine Strogue, Jasmine Berg as Holly, Greg Lawson as Jack Strogue, Larry Reese as Mike Cole, Christian Laurian Kerr as Carter, Lisa Moreau as Amanda Maynard and Lorette Clow as Dr. Carroway.