“The Greak Work” is a documentary by two Swedish filmmakers, Oskar Östergren & Fredrik Oskarsson (details at the end) about 30-year-old Christer Böke from Malmö, Sweden. He has taken one year off from his well-paid job as an IT-salesman to become a full-time Alchemist. The film concerns mankind’s eternal ambition of wealth and immortality and one mans dedicated struggle to solve “The secret of all secrets”. This struggle is known at The Great Work.
What’s particularly interesting about this project is that the filmmakers have teamed up with an independent game designer, Niflas, to create a game to complement the movie.
The Great Work will be screened on SVT (Swedish Television) as a 58 minute version, winter 2011. So don’t forget you heard about it here first!
Here’s the movie trailer…
About the Documentary
The documentary follows Christer from the day he leaves the city to the first day back at work the next year. During this year he moves to the island of Gotland on the Swedish countryside where he builds a laboratory in his dead grandfather’s garage, he lives three months in France to study the language and exchange ideas with French alchemists. He keeps a blog and starts writing a book. He has a big argument with his best buddy and fellow alchemist since 15 year (they later reunite). He uses his “detective skills”, makes lots of experiments and gets closer and closer to his interpretation of the “recipes” of how to make The Philosophers Stone.
The Idea for The Game
Rob: How did the idea for a game come about?
Early in the process, we discussed that it would have been nice to make a game for the film because the topic of alchemy itself invites such thoughts. We had spent hours with our friend and the main character Christer Böke where we tried to solve “word puzzles” in old alchemical manuscripts and quotes that could lead you to the right subject which the great alchemist Fulcanelli was talking about.
At the same time I read an article about “Nifflas” and his game, Saira. We thought that a collaboration with him would be exciting and he lived in the same town and we had some common friends.
Together, we concluded that the game should stand on its own but our main goal was off course to use it as advertising for the documentary film. We had never really heard about a collaboration between a documentary and a indie-gamemaker. We have a strong interest in games and its form of narrative, and we thought the theme of alchemy would be suitable for Nifflas as a game developer. And, after our first meeting we felt that it could work out very well!
When we contacted Nicklas the first time he was skeptical about cooperating with us. He had expected the documentary would be about a major political topic and could not see the similarities with his own narrative, often based on a specific mystery and a character-driven portrait. Once we met everything fell into place and our collaboration has been great.
Nifflas never had any problems understanding our characters who defied science in search of “the philosopher’s stone”. Many of our financiers from the world of television and film were very doubtful about whether the story was real and at the same time are provoked by a person who claims to believe that he will be able to solve this amazing riddle. People think our documentary character must be a crazy guy or else we’re trying to fool them with a mocumentary. In the game world, however, these kinds of stories are not so strange and Nifflas could directly relate to our character and never doubt our way of telling his story.
The Relationship Between the Documentary & Game
Rob: How would you describe the relationship between the documentary and the game – in terms of story, marketing, possible revenue model?
Our main story in the game is very similar to the film’s alchemical elements, that through the characters and manuscripts find different things that will lead you to new discoveries that will then guide you through the story of the great goal of making the Philosopher’s Stone.
All these characters are people from the alchemical history or allude to contemporary alchemists from the documentary and their aliases used on various internet forums. For example, you will meet our main character (Christer) who in the game is called “Spintheros”. Google that name and you will find a number of posts and articles written on various forums of our man Christer Böke.
From the beginning, we had much bigger ambitions for the game. We tried to make a budget so that Nifflas could work full time for a long time. We were sitting with Nifflas and Christer and brainstormed ideas that later turned out to be too advanced for an average gamer to understand. We had some intense discussions with Christer about this. He knows so incredibly much about the subject and couldn’t really see why some things were too advanced. For example we had a long discussion about whether people know the Periodic Table and all the latin names and planet/gods related to these.
Together with that and a much smaller budget we developed a simpler and much shorter game. We found 50% of 30 000 skr (4500 dollar) to pay Nifflas to program our idea. We got this money from Filmarc (www.filmarc.net) and he started to develop environments and how the puzzles could be adapted in the game. Then we discussed the characters and which different material we would use in the game. Material like Stibnit, Galen etc. It was very important that this material was familiar to alchemists. when people play the game they should know that this is not just some random stuff – it’s the real thing. You will get a very good idea how to start your own alchemical experiments by playing the game if you want…and some grand secrets too.
Marketing & Business Model
Already at the first meeting we decided that the game would be free and marketed freely from both our site www.grtwrk.com and Nifflas website. We were aware of Nifflas position among indie gamers and wanted them to recognize his style. To access the gamer audience, we have made a menu in the beginning of the the game that includes the trailer for the film, we will also add a direct link to the film that allows players to download the movie via the game. This could get us in some trouble with the Swedish Televison but I think they will understand our idea when we release it – they tend not to like it when you put stuff from the film on internet before you have screened it on TV. (www.studioparallell.com who made the menu for both the movie and game ensured that they’re the same style).
Last but not least, we will use open-source code so people can make their own puzzles and characters – perhaps based from the discussions in the film or from discussion that will come after you seen the movie. Alchemists always debate “the true matter”.
We have also discussed posting the script ahead of the movie release. The script contains the high-end solutions based on Christers hardcore alchemy puzzle. Some of the puzzles in this game will certainly also be discussed on alchemy forums and then it will be interesting to see if you are able to influence the game. For example, if it should be Stibnit or any other topic and then the player can change this can do their own version of the game.
We see the game as an interesting model to distribute the film in larger circuits because we think some relevant audiences might otherwise never discover our film. Even after several days, Nifflas’ game trailer 10 000 hits on youtube. All these people also visited our website to learn about the film. Similarly, Nifflas will get people who never played his game to visit his site and maybe even play more of his game. It’s a great cross-collateralization of audiences.
Partnering with a game is also a way to get the film’s story to survive and develop. Our main character and our film will hopefully create a movement on the internet which questions the scientific truths and interests people to go deeper into the subject. It is obvious that Christer has become very well-educated when he read and researched about alchemy. And, imagine if you in a playful way, can get people to understand that learning can be presented in different ways than through ordinary books or teachers that is rarely questioned. So we hope this cooperation will both promote our film and the game as entertainment but also educate and raise ideas that can live on after the premiere of the movie, and become more than a DVD and a game on your PC.
We must look at how the gaming industry markets itself. The film industry is hopelessly behind and the music industry has begun to learn with Spotify, itunes, etc.. To survive as a documentary filmmaker, we need to think outside the box to survive. This may be one way?
In order to spread among gamers we focus on blogs and forums. To get them to see the film, we understand that we need to make it as easy as we can for them to download the movie as well. We hope to find a solution to this by uploading the movie on iTunes or similar channels and then place a link to this page in the game. We also run a facebook group and website and through these we hope to communicate with our audience. Then we will try to get som material published in traditional media like newspapers and say, culturalnews on TV. But, above all, we hope that the movie and the game spread itself through short clips on youtube, blogs, forums, Twitter, etc.
Example Puzzle & Initial Game Meeting Video
Mineral Stibnit + Mars (Iron) + owen – regulus of antimon + Caput mortuum
Give the Regulus av antimon to character ”Newton” – he will then give you a glove, that you can climb with.
Give Caput Mortuum to ”Spintheros” – and he will give you the second glove and now you can climb the roofs.
This video is from one of the first meeting together with Nifflas and our main character Chriter. They discuss ideas about the developing of the game (it’s in Swedish, naturally!).
We hope that both the film and the game is fully completed in June but we still have not decided whether we will be releasing the game a bit earlier.
We will soon have a meeting and try to find a good strategy for this. Anyway, the documentary has been scheduled for a television premiere in October in Sweden.
We would also like to show the movie at some film festivals abroad and try to do a screening in which the visitors before and after have the opportunity to test the game at the cinema. One could also imagine an exclusive screening where our main character performs a simple experiment with the audience. We try to think that we should give the people who come to watch the movie something beyond the expected.
About The Filmmakers: Oskar Östergren & Fredrik Oskarsson (oskar&oskarsson)
Oskar Östergren (born 1976) and Fredrik Oskarsson (born 1979), both born and raised in Swedish Lapland. We are educated at ”Nordens Documentary Film School, Biskops-Arnö” (2002-2004) and, since 2003, we run the film production company oskar&oskarsson based in Umeå, specialising in documentaries. Our productions have been co-produced with SVT Dokumentär and Film i Västerbotten and besides directing and producing films we teach documentary film making at The Academy of Fine Arts in Umeå and work as photographers and editors for other productions and TV-shows. Our last SVT Co-production “The Police and Lapland” has been seen by more than one million viewers on SVT.
Contact: +46 70-555 13 17 (Oskar) or +46 70-640 23 67 (Fredrik); Email: oskar at oskarochoskarsson.se or fredrik at oskarochoskarsson.se
Posted in audience-building cross-media experimental gaming marketing movies storytelling television transmedia