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by Kate Moody | Stornaway Communications Assistant,  June 2023 sponsored its first Higher Education Summit in June 2023, hosted by Dr Roy Hanney, Associate Professor at Southampton Solent University. The event was highly sought after, with over 80 attendees, 8 speakers and many great talks given during the event.

Interactive narrative is fast becoming a vital aspect of modern media. Audiences are seeking more immersive and engaging experiences, while producers seek to cut through the noise by creating interactive narratives that will capture their audience’s attention and leave a lasting impact.

As educators, we need to prepare our students for this rapidly changing media landscape while as researchers and practitioners, we need to be up-skilling ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities offered by interactive media.

With this in mind, we asked our academic partners to share their experiences working with their students over the last year to answer some questions and give their Top Tips on :

What is the best way to make these interactive experiences?
How do up-skill your students to think about interactive narrative?
How are students and teachers bringing their audience into the story?

You can watch the full summit here.  Or skip to the Top Tips (below)

1. Build a believable world

Martin Percy  is a BAFTA British Academy Award winner, an Emmy Award winner, an eleven time Webby Award winner, well versed in creating interesting narratives that appeal to audiences.

He believes the key to interactive filmmaking is building a story world that your audience believes in and can connect with. Unlike traditional filmmaking where you might set out to ‘tell a story,  “Life is interactive”.

He spoke at the summit about knowing an audience’s needs with a story- what do you want them to do, and why should they want to do it? With this in mind, he also speaks about how important it is for the audience to buy in to your story world, and how this can be the ultimate decider on if your film does well with an audience.

“Don’t set out to tell a story, build a model for real life.”

2. Give your audience agency

Roy HanneyAssociate Professor at Southampton Solent Univeristybelieves the answer lies in the initial stages of creation: scriptwriting. He spoke about how non-linear filmmaking requires a different approach to the creative process, and how creators need to think more in to the importance of the autonomy they give their audience.

“How do you teach and design the selection and decision points? For me, it’s the difference between effect and affect. Effect being plot and affect being story. If you can create plot points that are affective, then you are on the right track.”

3. Use accessible and intuitive tools

Judith Aston, Associate Professor in Film and Digital Arts at UWE Bristol, believes that the tools you use to create interactive content determines its success. With accessibility to these interactive tools growing exponentially, especially with Stornaway’s new Free Plan,  creators now have ability to make engaging and effective projects even on a small budget.

“There is now a new wave of interest in interactive authoring tools that are accessible, and Stornaway is making really great waves with this all around the world.”


A great example of this is from Judith’s students at UWE Bristol, who made a short interactive film in their flat in lockdown. ‘Lost and Found’ then got featured in Encounters Film Festival 2021.

4. Think like theatre

John Moore, a professor at Austin Community College, says that it is important to think of interactive film in a different frame to standard linear film. He spoke about the use of 360 cameras in his students’ interactive film projects, and how he advises them to use this to their advantage when creating interactive media. To think about how to draw and sustain the viewer’s attention. And use the interactions to move the story on.

VR has the advantage of an extra level of immersion, which can be enhanced with interactions. John shared his project for the Swedish police, putting the viewer in the shoes of an officer approaching a suspect and how they should/shouldn’t proceed. Having made the project in Stornaway, he can share this with his students, whether they are using a VR headset, or just watching along on their devices.

“When making virtual reality: think like theatre”

5. Get people talking

Romain Herault, Lecturer of Computer Science and Media Technology from Linnaeus Universitybelieves the best way to use interactive storytelling tools is to begin a larger discussion. Romain gave some great examples from his students at Linnaeus University, including ‘A Play Date with Christopher the Friendly Dog’ and ‘Interactive Tech’.

Romain says that the idea of interactivity sparked new concepts and narratives for his students, creating so many different and creative projects. The usability of Stornaway’s platform allowed for students to make projects by simply filming on their phones and dropping in to the drag-and-drop editor.

“Use interactive videos to trigger discussions in the classroom.”

6. Make an impact

Dr Caroline Kingori and Adonis Durado, professors at Ohio University, believe making something impactful is the best way to use interactive filmmaking. Their project ‘Dating Forward’ is a great example of how to do this.

Using the stories of students at Ohio University, they were able to create an interactive story about sexual activity, HIV testing, disclosure and treatment. It is aimed at educating young adults and students on the impact of their choices around dating. This fantastic, behaviour changing interactive video has recently won two major interactive and design awards. 

Adonis also pointed out the importance of considering how much you can manage based on your project’s budget. This will also translate well to the achievability of a film, and make it easier to your production to be completed.

“Consider the concept of combinatorial explosion.”

7. Connect data and story

Liz Karns, Sr. Lecturer and Provost Fellow, Statistics and Data Science, Cornell University, talked about the importance of widening your horizons and allowing other creatives to get involved with your project.  You can read more about her experience here.

As a lecturer in Statistics and Data Science, Liz said she found it difficult knowing how to build her film, ‘Nobody’s Fault’, without any prior knowledge in the field of interactive filmmaking. With the help of and Bafta Award Winning director Martin Percy, Liz built a story map and then collaborated with Martin, who acted as a remote director on the shoot, to help shape and create her film, and ensure she got what she needed.

When her students played through the film, she was able to gather feedback on their engagement.

“Students reported to me that they could see the ethical problem and choice consequences more clearly in the Stornaway story island form than typical outlines. From the education standpoint this is a big win.

The students (48) were a mix of undergraduates and graduates and came from non-art or humanities backgrounds. Most were in data science programs and a few from labor relations. They described this as one of the most fun and creative projects that they have done during their education.”