Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Vault - "Hotel Blue", Part 1

A glorious experiment ahead of its time in 2002 that may find new life in the next decade in more traditional form. The original idea from producer Tony Eades: an interactive television drama where the audience could choose how the story progressed.

My involvement - a writing friend had recommended me as someone who "could write fast". To this day I don't know what that meant but meet Tony I did. His pitch - an interactive story about a security guard in a five star hotel ... adventures ensue.

I suggested other writers and Michael Bond was already on board as director. The first task - to demonstrate that an interactive drama could work. Remember, this is 7 years ago and right before shows like Fat Cow Motel (ABC) and TwentyfourSeven (SBS) also dabbled with interactive elements.

But Tony envisaged something far more complicated than audience voting at the end of each episode for next week's storyline. He wanted voting within the episode!

The other writers who came on board were Anna Bennetts, Hellie Turner and Gerry Lyng taking the creative team to six. It was decided to shoot a "pilot" with a simple premise that could generate multiple story strands. Sounds easy but was incredibly complicated when voting choices happened at two separate points. Given this, the brief was for each writer to develop scenes where: it's the security guard's first day, money has been stolen from the hotel safe, he kisses "the girl".

I still remember the afternoon we read out our scenes. I went last and totally bamboozled everyone with a scene where our hero appears at one stage in pyjamas, finds syringes and other strange goings-on as is my want.

Then I uttered the fateful explanation - "because he's not really a security guard in a five star hotel, he's a drug addict in a rehab centre who thinks he's a security guard in a five star hotel". Michael did his best Marty Feldman impersonation and immediately tapped into the Lynchian possibilities. Not everyone else was as enthused though Anna liked the notion and I can't recall Tony's immediate reaction.

But to me it added depth and layers to what could have been merely an interactive version of Las Vegas. It posed a few problems - the writing of the pilot ended up being quite contentious as eventually Tony decided that only Michael and I would complete the shooting draft after some resistance to the direction the project was evolving. The second was around copyright issues given that it was the execution of two distinct ideas that contributed to a greater whole. Both those matters could have been better handled but at the time production deadlines loomed and some of the niceties were lost.

Ultimately a 50 minute pilot was shot using professional actors and Central TAFE students as crew. There is much to like about the results though it's not a true pilot, more a hybrid of what the show could be.

Hotel Blue was accepted into the inaugural X-Media Lab in Sydney, 2003 though, from memory, only Tony attended as ScreenWest did not offer funding support for this initiative ... until the next year!

But this is only the beginning of the Hotel Blue journey and befitting its identity, unexpected twists and turns lie ahead ...

To be continued

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