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Bernie Su: Creator of Twitch’s live and interactive show, Artificial

By Randi Altman

Thanks to today’s available technology, more and more artists are embracing experimental storytelling. One of those filmmakers is Bernie Su, creator, executive producer and director on the Twitch series, Artificial.

Bernie Su

Artificial, which won Twitch its first Primetime Emmy for “Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media, features a doctor and his “daughter — a human-looking artificial intelligence creation named Sophie. Episodes air live with actors reacting to audience input in realtime. This is later edited into clips that live on Twitch.

The unique live broadcast and “choose your own adventure” aspects of the show created a need for a very specific workflow. We reached out to Su to talk about the show, his workflow and his collaboration with show editor Melanie Escano.

Where did the idea for Artificial come from, and what was its path to its production?
The original story came from my co-creator Evan Mandery. When we partnered, we looked at how we could present it in an innovative way. We identified Twitch pretty early in the process as a place to really push some groundbreaking storytelling methods. What would an original series on Twitch look like? What makes it Twitch and not Amazon video (Amazon owns Twitch by the way)? Once we pitched it to Twitch it was all systems go.

Can you talk about what it’s shot on and how you work with your DP to get the look you were after?
We shot on Panasonic Lumix GH4 cameras. We kept it pretty simple. DP Allen Ho and I have worked together a lot, and we tried to make Artificial feel real-yet-polished. Because we were on Twitch and that’s a platform where everything is livestreamed, we wanted it to feel like a real livestream yet have touches of a cinematic look. Every scene we shot in our show… we would always discuss why the camera is even there in the first place and how the characters react to them. The show called Artificial had to feel immersive.

Were you at all intimated by the interactive aspect of the show?
Nervous but not intimidated. I’ve done several interactive shows, but the live element is a different animal. A live interactive series is built around chaos, and if you aren’t embracing that chaos that the audience is going to throw at you, then you shouldn’t be making a live interactive series.

What went into making this interactive? Can you talk about the challenges and how you overcame those?
Well the first step is figuring how you’re building the audience into the story while still maintaining an arc. The second is how you make that audience consequential. You can always let the audience choose something non-consequential, like should someone drink tea or coffee.

Yes the audience made a choice, but it’s not consequential to the story. Now when we have the audience choose what a character’s relationship to another will be, or even if a relationship will end or not, now you’re letting the audience play with fire, and once they do it’s our responsibility to honor the consequences of that. The simplest way I can describe our solution is that we as the storytellers accepted every result we presented. We dared the audience to play with fire and if they burned a character, then that’s the consequences.

Your team used Adobe Creative Cloud to make this a reality. Can you talk about that and how you worked with your editor and post team? How involved were you?
Oh yeah, Premiere, Photoshop, After Effects and Audition were all in play for us. We don’t have a big team, but we have an incredibly versatile team. Any of us could comfortably jump into several of those tools and be able to knock something out quickly. We were all about speed and efficiency.

Once we got the systems in place, I wanted to stay at a very high level and let my team play. I trust them, if I didn’t, they wouldn’t be on my team. Co-producer Jen Enfield-Kane worked closely with our editor Melanie Escano and our writer/sound editor Micah McFarland. They would go back and forth with cuts and mixes. Then upon approval, it would go to creative producer Rachel Williams, who could implement final effects for broadcast. If everything is going smoothly, then we’re good to go.

But because of the speed of weekly broadcasts consisting of 30 to 45 minutes of edited content a week, and the fact that the post-team is literally four people, there were many times that someone would have to assist, and that’s fine. That’s what a great team does.

How did you work with the editor, specifically? What was your workflow?
Pretty straight forward. When you’re innovating in the live format, you purposely make the post system as simple and easy as possible. If the show is chaotic, you don’t want your post to be that. Melanie would do a rough pass using the script supervisor notes, Jen would give her notes on that and she would come back with another cut. After that, they might discuss color correction on a particular scene and get that done but that was rare. We always kept it simple.

Where can people go to experience Artificial?
Please visit https://www.twitch.tv/artificialnext.


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