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An experimental interactive ghost story designed exclusively for the web by the creator of HBO's Carnivále

In an industrial space located in Pasadena, CA, a small team of artists and craftsmen build effects rigs, test digital multi-camera systems, compose graphics and write computer code; each doing his or her part to midwife the birth of a novel form of narrative drama specifically designed for the internet called BlackBxx.

“I’ve had this concept in my head for two years,” says television writer-producer, Daniel Knauf, creator of the Emmy-winning HBO cult-hit, Carnivále, “I pitched it all over town, and all I got were confused looks." 

Creating a narrative format tailored to exploit an interactive medium presented a number of challenges to the storyteller. "The internet's main defining point is that it's a non-linear experience," says Knauf, "the user instinctively decides what he or she wants to see on the fly."

Realizing that he would have to devise a format that would accommodate this key characteristic, Knauf found inspiration from an unlikely source: The aeronautics industry. Specifically, the airline flight recorder, or “black box.”

“It seemed like an apt model,” explains Knauf. “Like a traditional narrative, the event itself—the flight—is a story set in an aircraft with a beginning, a middle and an end, all of which is captured on various media by the black box. In the event of a crash, the data can be accessed in any order necessary by investigators to determine why the plane went down. Likewise, I would create a narrative in real time from every possible point-of-view, put it up on the internet, and let each user experience it on his or her own terms.”

As a nod to the device that inspired his concept, Knauf decided to call his new format BlackBxx. 

For his team's first project, BlackBxx: HAUNTED, a supernatural thriller in which a paranormal investigation goes tragically wrong, the entire story is confined to the eight rooms of a suburban house, each covered by several video cameras.  The format is similar to reality shows such as Big Brother, but with one key difference. Explains HAUNTED producer, Douglas Hunter, “On Big Brother, the contestants are gerbils in a maze. The whole construct is designed to manipulate them into behaviors that the producers hope will be interesting or fun to watch. In a BlackBxx story, a writer scripts a drama and it's performed by professional actors in real time. It’s like a 48 hour movie, with scenes set in separate locations, playing simultaneously in all the theaters of an 18 screen multiplex.”

Meanwhile, HAUNTED’s director, Cliff Osmond, and the BlackBxx crew will be at a separate location, remotely monitoring the cameras capturing the action. “No cuts, no retakes,” says Osmond, “The cast will live the story.”

Once production is completed, the entire 800-plus hours of video content will be uploaded to a website and supplemented by background material presented in a variety of media, including character dossiers, video interviews, audio files, coroner’s reports, newspaper articles and other archival material related to the story. Visitors will access the story at blackbxx.com by selecting any moment they wish to see on a time-slider, then clicking on one of 18 camera icons positioned within a floor-plan of the house. "They can simultaneously open as many players as their systems will handle," says Jascha Rynek, who is designing the site. "They can watch action simultaneously in separate rooms, or even at separate chronological points in the story.”

“Each audience-member,” adds Knauf, “becomes the author of his or her own personal BlackBxx experience.” 

Kickstarter patrons who contribute $5 or more will be among the first to gain access to BlackBxx: HAUNTED. "We hope to roll it out on January 1, 2012. The video archive will be password-protected for the first week, then we open it up to the world."

Knauf and his team hope BlackBxx: HAUNTED will only be the first baby-step in what will eventually be an entirely new form of narrative storytelling.

Check in this space frequently for updates to our production blog "Into the BlackBxx," exclusive HAUNTED clips and other surprises. You can also follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @BlackBxx.

FAQ

  • Sorry, Debra. I'm not sure what the problem is. A few Apple-people are having trouble with the Flash format. I'm going to render the video into another format and update it later tonight. Maybe that will help. Thanks for the heads up.

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  • Nobody can make a 5-minute clip of an empty bathroom, or a guy watching monitors, or two people fast asleep, compelling. However, the viewer alone actively determines what he or she will watch. One viewer may see an image of an empty room and immediately click to another camera, while another may watch on the off-chance that something weird might happen. Is it worth it to watch two hours of static footage in order to see five seconds of something interesting? The answer, again, depends on the viewer.

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  • Sorry, but while the balance of the story resides in my head, I've never committed it to paper. I will tell you, however, that the end of the story has already been shown. Remember the atom bomb kiss?

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  • Though I'd have preferred to have funding in place before we started, I felt it wouldn't be fair to approach potential backers without a reasonable certainty that I would be able to deliver what I had promised.

    The expenses for BlackBxx will be incurred in two stages: Pre-production/shooting; and post-production/internet related distribution.

    Though the cost of first of these is significant, it pales in comparison to the latter.

    Conversely, pre-production and the actual shoot was MUCH more time-intensive and iffy than post and internet will be. Each technical obstacle we faced had the potential to kill the project. Since I couldn't be confident that BlackBxx was even feasible, I decided to delay the Kickstarter campaign until we'd surmounted those issues.

    This forced me to finance the first stage out of my personal savings. We initiated the Kickstarter campaign once we'd set a hard date for production. If successful, the money raised on KS would reimburse me the costs I'd already incurred for Stage 1, and finance the future costs of Stage 2.

    If we fail, I'm out the cash and we'll be forced to pull the plug on Stage 2, as it represents 60% of our projected budget.

    So, even though we've completed shooting, backers are critical to seeing BlackBxx into being.

    And though your imput would have been welcome during the pre-production and shooting phase, in these tough times, I simply couldn't in good conscience ask you to pledge your money and love to something that was, for all intents-and-purposes, a pie in the sky.

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  • Pledge $1 or more
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    #1 - Our undying gratitude and affection, plus bragging rights. That's right, JoJo. You're making history by helping us give birth to the very first BlackBxx narrative ever! Why, you'll be as at LEAST as famous as Clyde Honeycutt, the guy who loaned Wilbur and Orville Wright a dollar to gas-up the Kitty Hawk. And, like Clyde, you'll always be able to thump your chest and say, "Those chowderheads couldn't have done it without me." Unlike Clyde, however, you probably won't suffer a tragically premature death when your prize cow, Tootsie, steps on your head.

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    18 backers

    #2 - Exclusive password access to the online Premiere and Encore Presentation of BlackBxx: HAUNTED. Holy cats! You'll be doing Clyde one better! Sure, he might have popped for gas, but Orville and Wilbur never let him FLY the Kitty Hawk—not even once!

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    31 backers

    #3 - The above plus a one-month Premium Membership to blackbxx.com. Not only do you get unlimited, ad-free access to the full HAUNTED streaming video archive, but enhanced content like your very own personal page where you can post all your favorite BlackBxx clips. Yeah, that's right, BITE ME, CLYDE!

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    29 backers

    #4 - Same as Reward #3, only instead of a ONE month Premium Membership, we're going to cover you for SIX months. You might want to consider this one if you have anything resembling a life. How else are you going to find the time to watch HAUNTED's 800-plus hours of video? Just saying...

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    38 backers

    #5 - Okay, this is getting nuts. You know that blackbxx.com Premium Membership we were talking about? Well, now it's a LIFETIME Membership! Which is a pretty long time if you steer clear of cows named Tootsie...

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    #6 - A Lifetime blackbxx.com Premium Membership PLUS your name on our site's "Thank You" page, PLUS a shout-out on Twitter, PLUS a personal thankyou telephone call (Continental U.S. and Canada only) from BlackBxx creator, Daniel Knauf.

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    #7 - Everything listed above PLUS the very same cool limited-edition BlackBxx: HAUNTED hoodie that everyone on the cast and crew gets as a production gift.

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    2 backers Limited (48 left of 50)

    #8 - Everything listed above PLUS a BlackBxx: HAUNTED poster signed by the cast and crew. There's only 100, and this is the first BlackBxx project ever, so they're bound to be worth a fortune in a century or two!

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    #9 - Sheesh! You must be ROLLING in dough! Okay, Richie Gotrocks, everything listed above PLUS a 30-minute Skype call with creator, Daniel Knauf. You can ask him all those burning questions you have about CARNIVÁLE like, "Was Jonesy really dead?" or "Was Sofie gonna be the new bad guy?" or "How do I bleed the brakes of a 1968 GTO?"... you get the idea.

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    #10 - You're kidding me, right? A GRAND??? Okay, you get everything listed in Reward #8 PLUS a dinner out with creator, Daniel Knauf in L.A. You pick the style of food, Daniel picks the restaurant. Grub's on us, and you can bet your boots it won't be no greazy spoon, neither! Not for ten large, anyway...

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    #11 - You're just looking at this one out of idle curiosity, right? You're not? Okay then, everything listed in Reward #8 PLUS Associate Producer credit. Knauf will fly out to wherever you live and provide LIVE creator's commentary while you and your friends watch your favorite episode of CARNIVÁLE. Continental U.S. and Canada only.

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    #12 - Okay. We get it. You just won the lottery, right? Sure you did. Okay, then, everything listed in Reward #11, but just for giggles, we're gonna give you an Executive Producer credit. Next time one of your friends asks, "What the heck does an Executive Producer do?" you'll be able to reply, "Whatever I'M doing RIGHT NOW, chump!" then throw your phone at him and tell him to bring you a latte, chop-chop.

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