INTERVIEW by SHANNON SCHNITTKER | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of JASON ZADA
The camera slowly zooms in on a dark hallway as the warbled sounds of a broken record and the tapping of keys fill the background. The camera reveals a man hunched over a computer, hacking into your personal information on a site you thought was a safehouse: Facebook. You want to exit this app, but it’s too late — the man is already on his way… If this doesn’t ring a bell, then you clearly aren’t familiar with Take This Lollipop, the internet viral video which links to your Facebook account and cleverly showcases the future of interactive online media… and how terrifying it can be when we publicize our personal information in online forums. What Jason Zada has done with Take This Lollipop highlights how one’s information can be hacked and twisted into a horrifying reality, made all the more personal because this app showcases you personally as the victim. Wanna try it? Don’t worry about spam, Facebook only needs access to your account to engage you in this brilliant interactive experience. After all, who doesn’t want to star in their own thriller?
So, you were at a conference with Creativity Magazine about www.takethislollipop.com, and the viral response to your work was incredibly exciting with 113,325,008 likes on Facebook and counting. After experiencing Take This Lollipop, my first question was: Why did he make this? Is it a promotion for a short film? A spec ad? A teaser for a feature? Possibly a public service announcement warning Facebookers of personal security dangers? And how long did it take to develop and produce this interactive experience?
It was all about the idea. We executed the project on a very low budget and are thankful for all the favors which supported the film. You see, I come from the ad agency side of things. I started my own agency about eight years ago, Evolution Bureau, and something that I had missed while working in the corporate world was, when you come up with a great idea, just execute it! So with this project, from the initial idea to the final execution it was about a month. And when it went viral… it was great.
Wow! That’s wonderful. The subject matter was disturbing to many of us; it seemed like an idea that you probably couldn’t stop thinking about until it was done, no?
Yes, it was definitely a weird obsession for a short period of time. I work with a lot of big teams, but what was great about this was that I got to work closely with Jason Nickel, the developer, and every day we tried a new creative approach with our small team. I mean, sometimes we went into shooting not knowing what we were gonna do because how we were going to do it was still in development. It was kinda cool going into it with the knowledge of, “there will be stuff on his monitor, but we don’t know what yet because of Facebook’s rules.” This was one of those labor of love projects, where I shared the script with some people and they were like, “Yes, I definitely want to be a part of this.” We shot it at an old hospital in Los Angeles that had been closed down for thirty years.
Do you dare?
I am a fan of the horror genre and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, so I was wondering if October 31st was your deadline. Was it important to you to finish before Halloween?
Yeah, well, I really just wanted to scare the crap out of people. I believe it’s really important that people either love or hate what you do. As long as they have a really strong emotional response, that’s a good thing. I love the viral response that this piece had: I was kind of patrolling YouTube, looking at all these people’s reaction videos.
Yes, what an interesting perspective to take as a director. With modern technology, you have the ability to watch your viewers watch the film, if they are so inclined to record themselves and post it. How cool!
What’s weird is that when I first sent it around to a couple friends to see if it was creepy, I knew early on that it was something pretty powerful. And when I saw all these kids who taped themselves watching it and how freaked out they were, it definitely had this weird The Ring effect or Blair Witch vibe.
When I watched it, I felt my most visceral reaction hit when your lead actor, Bill Oberst, breaks the fourth wall and addresses the viewer directly. It gave me chills.
Bill Oberst is perfectly eerie as a Facebook stalker… who’s coming for you, next.
That shot was so important to me because I think that when he is looking at your Facebook and then he looks at you… it’s that “Oh shit, what have I done” moment. What’s interesting is that a lot of what has surfaced because of this film is about the future of entertainment and how engaging it is going to be. It’s lead me down a really interesting path.
Exactly. Where is entertainment going? In the narrative or interactive sense? This project seems like a mixture of the two…
Entertainment is moving towards being a personalized, on-demand experience, no matter if you’re watching television, computer, cell phone, you know? And the fact that places like Facebook have all of this information about you… if you think about it from a non-creepy perspective and consider how that information could enhance the entertainment we already watch, it’s amazing! I think that people aren’t going to want to constantly see themselves in everything they do. But there is this interesting idea about having stuff from your life sort of integrated into some of the entertainment you watch, if you want to.
That sounds fun! What piqued your interest in gaming and interactive entertainment?
I got into programming at a young age with a choose-your-own-adventure game called Basic. It was a simple story, like you walk into a large cavern and there’s a huge rock in front of you, so you have the ability to pick up a sword or you can go and move the rock. From a really early age I was thinking out these simple text adventures, and it taught me how to tell a story.
It amazes me what we can trace back to our childhood. Children will always be able to out-dream the world. As a filmmaker, I believe it is important to tap into the fearless optimism and fueled adventure of one’s youth and use it as a resource. All you have is your story, right?
Yes, at the end of the day I am just a storyteller, and I like to tell stories in different types of mediums. I love interactive media because in so many of my directing pieces I am able to give the viewer choices, and depending on what they choose, they create their own path and live out their own story.
The sound design was incredible; can you tell us about that process?
These guys were so great to work with! The sound team, Future Perfect, and the Little Ears division were exciting creative partners. Thanks to them, we never had to compromise in the sound department.
How can Daily BR!NK contribute to your success?
As a Creative, I am always looking for people with interesting ideas. I will never close myself off to innovation. I think what the world needs more of is dreamers.