Before going to see the film, moviegoers are asked to download a free app (available for Android and iPhone) to enhance the plot, which involves a 21-year-old psychology student who becomes addicted to her smartphone following a tragic accident.
"The technology uses the entire audio spectrum and embeds watermarks in it. The watermarks also drive the app that goes with the film. It talks to the speaker of your phone. Human beings can’t hear it, but your phone will," explains Kees Abrahams, CEO of Imagine Nation, the global media company that created 2CFilm, the company that produced App and developed the app in partnership with Service2Media.
After deciding to incorporate the synchronized second-screen application, the filmmakers adapted the script, adding additional content and bits of story line for the app. But the team emphasizes that the app isn’t essential in order to enjoy the film, which will be released in the Netherlands on April 4.
"The movie works perfectly without the second screen. It’s a well paced thriller, but there are 35 moments in the movie when you can get additional information or content that will enrich the experience," says Robin de Levita, chief creative officer, Imagine Nation.
Moviegoers will be advised to leave their devices on their laps during the film. When additional content is available on the second screen, audience members will be notified by their vibrating phones.
The second screen content will rely on visuals rather than audio. "For example, there could be two people in a room with a bomb ticking, only they don’t know about it," says de Levita. "On the second screen, the audience would know how much time is remaining."
Abrahams offers another example of how the app will enhance the experience of App: "You see people at a party on the screen and the characters are text messaging. You’ll be able to see their texts on the second screen."
Until now, when we’ve talked about the "second screen experience," we think television. But if App succeeds, that could change.
"It started in the middle of the '90s with people being able to vote on TV shows," says Abrahams, who was formerly president of International TV Production at Sony Pictures Television and cofounder and former CEO of the company that owned rights to Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
The concept of experimenting with adding layers to the moviegoing experience harkens back to the 1950s when Hollywood tried to compete with the new lure of television by introducing new technological gimmicks, such as 3-D and Smell-O-Vision. Only time will tell whether the second screen experience will be embraced in the theater as it has been in the living room (most filmmakers would likely shudder at the thought).
"If this works, and we’re hopeful, I think we will be approached to do other projects and we may do other projects ourselves," says Abrahams, who emphasizes that the second screen "has to make sense from a content perspective."
The app, which features the trailer and other promotional material, will also be used as a marketing tool. Then after the film ends, the app will provide bonus materials.
It’s annoying enough when fellow moviegoers fiddle with their phones during a movie. Won’t the two-screen experience be distracting?
"We were skeptical a bit ourselves, but it’s much less disruptive than you would think," says de Levita. "The film is about how communication has changed our lives completely—maybe even for the worst. Even if it is distracting, it’s sort of what the movie is about."