Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Act 3, Act 3, Act 3: De-centring the Climax as the Terminal of Dramatic Meaning Making in an Interactive Film.


Presenter: Michael Keerdo-Dawson 

Registration Number: 010

Institution: Tallinn University, Estonia 

Abstract: As part of my PhD, I am conducting artistic research into interactivity and filmmaking and reflecting on how interactivity opens possibilities and restrictions for the creative process. This paper will examine how interactivity and film dramaturgy complexify the meaning-making process. Playwriting guides, creative writing handbooks, and screenwriting manuals are replete with guidance on how writers should express their themes, as a reoccurring idea that underwrites the entire story through what the characters learn or how they change, proving their position on an issue, etc. But the majority agree that the theme is most clearly expressed at the climax of the story. The climax is where theme, character, and the narrative’s result often converge in the terminal of dramatic meaning-making; if the theme is established and elaborated on during a film, then its climax is where the film’s author expresses their position on the matter through the narrative’s result or a lack thereof. As part of my PhD artistic research, I have written and directed an interactive film, The Limits of Consent (orig. Nõusoleku piiril). The film follows a tree structure where the narrative splinters at the end of the second act and presents four nodes with two options, and thus five separate climaxes for the film. Each climax is significantly different in its character focus, action, tone, and, crucially, its expression of the film’s themes. The meaning that a film expresses may be transmitted in concert but received differently, the author of a story affects the perception of their audience through a communicative act that is narrative; this effect might be exactly what was intended, or it might fail completely, or it might land somewhere in the middle. There is, however, an entirely new dimension to a film being potentially taken to different thematic statements during different viewing experiences depending on whether one or more of the film’s climaxes are explored, effectively offering a more explicit opportunity for the co-construction of meaning. The Limits of Consent has many themes, but as the film’s title makes explicit, the grey zone of sexual consensual practice is one of those themes. The selection the viewer makes at the nodal junctions effectively change the film’s thesis on this issue (e.g., the consequence of a consensual violation can be overcome or forgotten; the consequences cannot be overcome and continue as maladaptive schemas, etc.). The nodes present clues as to what the character will do next if one or another branch of the story is selected, allowing, within limits, for the thematic expression to be chosen and meaning-making to be diversified beyond ambiguity or interpretive possibility by adding interactivity. In this paper, by examining how the thematic portfolio of The Limits of Consent was established and then elaborated on in different ways depending on the selected ending, I will explore the implications of this difference between a traditional film and an interactive film.

Bio: Michael Keerdo-Dawson is an artistic researcher at the Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School (Tallinn University). After ten years of working in the British film and television industry in a variety of roles, including as writer and director (his output includes a feature film and two award-winning short films), he moved to Estonia and began a career in academia, completing a MA in 2018 in Literature, Visual Culture and Film Studies. He is currently in the second year of his PhD in Audiovisual Arts. His areas of research include interactivity, screenwriting, sexuality, the Romanian New Wave and epistemic violence. His first academic article was published last year in Studies in Eastern European Cinema on the Romanian film Tuesday, After Christmas, where he analyzed how the film’s poetics undo any potential epistemic violence the film might commit.