When someone goes through a breakup, there’s often that inevitable replaying of events in the person’s head — the thoughts of what you might do if you could go back and redo it, say things differently, respond differently.
The latest project from the duo known as Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert)— who helmed this year’s buzzy Sundance film Swiss Army Man (yes, the one where Daniel Radcliffe played a farting corpse) — takes that to a mathematical extreme. In Possibilia, the pair crafted an immersive, interactive tale that lets the viewer steer a relationship’s unraveling, choose-your-own adventure style.
Girls star Alex Karpovsky and The Mindy Project’s Zoe Jarman star as the couple in question. When Possibilia begins, their characters are just beginning to call it quits. As the film continues, the screens split in two, and then four, and so on, and viewers can click from screen to screen to see all the different ways the story can play out.
Possibilia screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014 and is now available online for viewers to experience for themselves. Ahead of its debut, Karpovsky spoke to EW about wrapping his brain around making an interactive film, crafting the relationship that ends in it, and the “astronomical” number of different ways the film can be seen.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is such a visual kind of project. How was it first presented to you?
ALEX KARPOVSKY: It was presented to me as these two young filmmakers doing something in an interactive space, and then they sent me kind of a loose idea of what the script would be. I thought the idea of exploring a new type of platform could potentially be interesting, and then when I started digging into their work I thought they were just brilliant and amazing. So it was a very easy and quick decision to hop on board.
Were there any thoughts of, “How is this going to work?”
I definitely did not fully understand it when they sent me an email explaining it. I kind of got, maybe, a third of it? It wasn’t really until we started shooting, to be honest, and I saw everything in front of me that I began to kind of wrap my mind around the whole thing. And even so, I don’t know if my mind was ever fully, fully, fully wrapped because the editing was so complicated. But I read the script, and then we talked on the phone and they answered a lot of questions I had about how specifically the interactivity would work and where the mini-screens and options for the narrative would present themselves, and that was really helpful. That’s when I got really excited about doing it.
We’re seeing the end of this relationship play out in all these various different ways. How much did you think about what their relationship was like leading up to that point?
We talked a lot about it. I think most of our conversations leading up to it with Zoe and the Daniels was about the nature of the relationship — what is the backstory, what are some of the tensions in play, what are the affinities in play, because there are so many outcomes to this thing that we had to account for all of them and see if their relationship was going to have enough versatility and depth to be able to go to this place, and that place, and the other place.
In many ways, [the film is] a cross-section of a relationship at any given moment — any given serious relationship has elements of ecstasy, and fury, and jealousy, and distance, and a million other things. So what I wanted to understand is how long they’d known each other, what are the things they most respect about each other, if there’s elements of contempt or discontent between them, where are they coming from — just basic lighthouses that can guide us through being able to explore certain types of dynamics in all these various spaces.
One of the things I thought was most interesting was that the dialog stays the same. You’re going to all these different places emotionally, but the words that you’re saying are the same. How’d you make them feel separate from piece to piece to piece?
That was something that was really interesting and something I’d never done before and probably will never be in a position to do again. We had to say the same words in many, many different environments and contexts, but they had to be said at the exact same speed, with the exact same pacing, so that the thing could be stitched together. So as an actor it was a really interesting and challenging exercise to say the same phrase in 32 different ways while preserving a single take — say it ecstatic, say it angry, say it with where there’s jealousy, say it where there’s this or that. And the way we did it technically was, they put an earwig, which is a really, really small receiver, in our ears, and it would play our dialog on a loop so that we could get the pacing down perfectly.
One more layer to that is me and Zoe had a rehearsal a few days before we shot where we kind of improvised — it was a structured improv based on this script that the Daniels wrote for us, where we would explore certain scenes and there were no cameras but we were mic’d for sound and we tried a bunch of different versions of different scenes and emotions, and then the directors went away and edited that audio down to the pieces that they wanted to use in the finished product. And then with that audio content, that’s what they plugged into our earwigs when we ended up shooting later.
Different people can come to this and see a totally different movie, depending on what they choose.
I asked one day during a breaking in shooting how many different mathematical possibilities are there in exploring this story, and they tried to figure out the number and it’s an astronomical number — 32 factorial or whatever it is. It’s in the deep trillions, I would guess. So that’s kind of weird and exciting and totally new for me. Getting to tell the same story in so many different ways.
Tell me about working with Daniels. What are they like as directors?
It was amazing. I think the most important thing, for me anyway, when you work with directors is you hope that they have an idea, a very detailed idea, of what they’re doing, and then on top of that you hope that if they do have that, they’re able to express it to you in a way that’s coherent and accessible. And they proved that to me within, like, three minutes of our initial phone call. They were very, very detailed. They were very specific, they had the whole thing very clearly mapped out in their minds, and they knew how to share and relay that specificity to me and to Zoe, and that that created this whole foundation of trust and respect that was wonderful to work with. And then on top of that, when you see them on set after you have all this trust and respect for them, you see just, their brilliance and how they just came up with all of these scenarios with such — they’re all in my opinion just so moving and engaging or funny, but they all have something that’s really kind of vibrant, and visceral about them, and cinematic about them.
So I felt like I was in really, really good hands, and on top of all of that, there’s just so much math involved with this! Not only are we doing an interactive video with a mathematically virtually infinite number of possibilities for the narrative, but there’s also a lot of CGI involved, and crazy visual effects, but not once did I see either of them take out a piece of paper or a clipboard or anything — it was all in their heads. So that was yet another level of astonishment for me. I was like, Jesus Christ, these guys are pretty damn bright.
You can watch Possibilia in the player below.