As a child nearing my preteen years, I greatly enjoyed reading Choose Your Own Adventure books . For those who are not aware of this series, they consist of a far-ranging plot where the decisions of the reader affect the sort of story that develops. It is fairly easy to construct a book like this, which provides a great deal of potential re-reading value. Yet one thinks about movies and realizes that they tend to be a fairly passive form of entertainment. Reading allows for a great deal of choice–I tend to read from beginning to end in a linear fashion but that is not always the way that other people choose to read. On the other hand, movies, particularly in the theaters, are done according to the director’s vision. Being the sort of person who is interested in chance elements and intertextuality, as well as good replay value and contingent freedom within certain bounds based on choice with the clear presence of responsibility, I pondered what it would take to create a movie that offered a legitimate choice for its viewers.
The first element of choosing such a movie would be in the writing, where most such creations begin. A choose your own adventure type of movie, done in true style, would offer a fair amount of choices and also a wide variety of possible endings, which would drastically shift the action and the potential genre that a film would end up being. The writer of such a film would therefore need to examine a wide variety of possible scenarios that would shift or pivot based on certain decisions being made a certain way. Instead of a linear plot, the script would end up being a more complicated decision tree, perhaps one where many decisions would make only a slight difference but that some decisions made would be pivots that would drastically affect the course of a movie the way that such decisions drastically affect the course of our lives. After the various treatments were written, then it would remain for the director and actors and film crew to produce the various scenes of the movie with each possible decision in mind, not knowing which ones would likely be chosen, but with at least the potential knowledge that the scene could be chosen by any particular audience. Post production would then focus on the transitions between scenes and the way each scene worked in particular, with the knowledge that it would be impossible to know beforehand which movies would end up being seen the most often, or which ending would result from a particular performance. Admittedly, this would be tough, but it is an inevitable choice of selecting a model of filmmaking that does allow for chance events. That said, every scene would be produced with its score and effects as if it would be seen, even it would not be, to make sure that every possible film choice was produced to the highest degree of skill possible.
It is in the viewing of the film that the biggest differences would exist, at least from the point of view of a film viewing experience. After all, in a contemporary film, there is one cut that a given theater receives that is then viewed by the audience. In the sort of film that would be viewed with audience choice taken into consideration, this would not be the case. Instead, each choice made by the audience would lead to a different choice that would jump to a different section, making the film viewing experience a far more complicated one. In addition to this, there would have to be a way for the audience members to meaningfully, and at least somewhat privately, make their opinion in the absence of peer pressure, to the greatest degree possible, as a way of making the choices that would drive the particular viewing experience. One thinks of the sort of infrastructure required to play a trivia game at one’s local bar, for example, with each handheld device being activated for one purchased ticket, meaning one person, one vote. The tabulated votes of the audience, based on a plurality (where there are more than two options, as might be the case sometimes), would drive the action of the story, leading to an outcome based on what people want to do. This would require that the film have the freedom to point to different directions with the votes chosen providing the decisive factor in which parts of the film were seen in a given performance, although all of the viewings would take the same amount of time, which could be done by having time limits set to each decision.
Obviously, once the aspect of providing the film that would be able to be viewed in such a fashion along with the voting mechanism for viewers, the replay value of such films is immense, given that people who were upset about a particular choice or series of choices made and who wanted to see a different movie would have strong motivation to seek to pack a film showing with like minded people to see the sort of film that one would want to a second time. Here one sees not directorial heavy-handedness in forcing a particular story, or a writer who contrives to make a horror movie, to give but one example of genre, where the victims within the horror movie make all the wrong decisions and thus are considered to be responsible for their own doom. Such a movie viewing experience would allow for genuine freedom, but it would be bounded by the fact that there would still be a finite limit of possibilities based on the particular choices that were made, and that making certain choices precluded other choices, just as is the case in real life. There is always opportunity cost, and the cost of choosing one option is forgoing the possible rewards, and avoiding the possible risks, that would have been made with another choice. There would be a boundary of opportunity based on the moral worldview of the writer and director, but at the same time there would be a meaningful way for the audience to recognize between the responsibility of the actor on the screen to contributing to an end through the choices made by the audience and the sort of structural violence that would take place based on the decision tree made by the writer/director/producer. No longer would it be possible for a viewer to see a film and blame the bungling on the character on the screen, because that bungling would be the result of the audience’s own decisions, for which they would bear responsibility. One wonders what sort of choices an audience would make, and the distribution of those choices, which would be able to be recorded and serve as a data point as far as what film was viewed, to see which options were chosen the most by audiences, to which ends.
What would be the goal of this proposal? There would be multiple goals. Chief among them would be to reduce the level of distance between viewer and viewed in movies, and to reduce the passivity that tends to result from ready-made entertainment, and to provide an element of responsibility for the actual film content that is shown on the screen. To be sure, given the variability of the film material shown, the rating provided by the film would have to be based on the worst-case scenario possible, with the realization that these options may not be chosen. Some concepts for such a film could easily range from PG to R based on the choices that were made and their repercussions. Such a film would make for a very intriguing conversation topic, and would likely test the capabilities of the writer, director, and actors. Yet as actors often do not know the sort of film they have made because the scenes are put together by the director during the post-production process, until the film is released, the fact that the film would not be obvious until it was viewed, and perhaps viewed many times, would not make the experience different for them. Where the real difference lies is in the difference in responsibility between the writer and director and editors on the one side, those who create the world of possibilities within the film, and the audience, which chooses among the available paths. With the audience sharing in the creative responsibility, one imagines that audiences will be able to face the sorts of films that they really want to see, and the results of the choices that they make within the moral worldview of directors, which offers a fascinating area of thought and reflection for all of those involved in films at all levels of their conception and creation.
 I occasionally read and review such books from time to time: