After being given a press release pass to check out the new Mystery at Mansfield Manor game, I was kindly offered the chance to interview a few members of cast and crew and get all the questions I had about the game off my chest.
This is the first of a three-part series of interviews for the game.
So without further ado, here is the interview with Rory Scherer, producer and screenwriter.
Andy Ogier: I'm here with Rory Scherer, the producer and screenwriter for the brand new "Whodunit?" interactive movie game Mystery at Mansfield Manor.
Could you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself Rory?
Rory Scherer: Hi Andy. To make a long story short, after working in software for a few years I went back to school in September, 2003 for an MBA with the intent of learning the business skills (marketing, business plan writing, etc.) to produce an interactive movie. In my last semester I completed an independent study with a professor in which I wrote the business plan for Mystery At Mansfield, an interactive murder mystery movie in a DVD format. Once I graduated, I shopped the idea around to several companies. The usual response was “sounds great, but show me a prototype.”
Finally I decided it would not make sense financially to produce a prototype because if you were to spend a little more money, you can complete the entire production and rather than creating a DVD, I could create a website. Some of the advantages of creating the website is that distribution is no longer a concern, DVD piracy is not a concern, and there is no packaging needed which significantly lowers your costs. I wrote the screenplay, applied for a small business loan at a bank, and arranged to have a production company handle the production aspect and another IT company to follow my directions to create the website. Once the loan was approved, we started on pre-production immediately.
Andy: How did you get into independent movie making?
Rory: As a hobby, I would write screenplays. Finally I decided to pursue the dream of producing a screenplay that I wrote. However, when I wrote Mystery At Mansfield Manor, I wrote with more of a business approach rather than an artistic approach because I was financing the production. That is the key reason why 95% of it takes place in one location. My other screenplays do not have any artistic limitations.
Andy: And your newly released Mystery at Mansfield Manor — what is it? What's it all about?
Rory: Mystery at Mansfield Manor is an online interactive murder mystery movie. Some people have described it as a combination of Clue and a choose-your-own adventure. Essentially the user takes on the role of the protagonist, Detective Frank Mitchell, and must solve the crime before the midnight deadline.
Andy: Why did you choose to make Mystery at Mansfield Manor an online title? What benefits do releasing the game in this form have over, say, releasing it as a DVD that people could buy on a store shelf?
Rory: The most significant advantage is that you do not have to concern yourself with distribution. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can visit the website and play the movie/game. Another advantage is that the threat of DVD piracy is not a concern. But most importantly, films today all rely on their opening weekend. If it fails in its opening weekend, it is more likely that the film will not be an overall success. Because MMM is a website, it has more of a ‘bell-curve’ approach where it will slowly build its audience, reach its peak, then slowly decline over time. Also, another advantage is email forwarding. Several websites become popular because friends email their friends a link and those people keep forwarding the email. I am hoping people will forward the link to Mystery At Mansfield Manor to their friends and it keeps going like the Energizer bunny.
Andy: I've been playing this for quite some time and I must say it's thoroughly engrossing, and it really goes to show how versatile Macromedia Flash is when creating online content – especially with the game's multiple endings – but I'm sure creating an interactive product such as this must be quite a lengthy, tricky process. How long did it take to make, and what obstacles did you face in writing and producing it?
Rory: We filmed MMM in March and the website was officially launched on July 19. Most of these questions are answered in the documentary in the Bonus Materials section. It’s funny because I filmed the documentary with my friend’s digital camera that has an option to create MPEGs. That goes to show you how small the budget was. Then I edited it with Windows Movie Maker, the basic editing software that comes with Windows XP. But I want to stress that the film was completed with high quality cameras as I hired a production company for MMM. The difference between MMM and the documentary is night and day.
Andy: You certainly made the best out of a tight budget. It seems like there was a lot of work involved in making this, but you don't have a high price point for the content. In fact, it's a very agreeable $4.99 for three days unlimited access. That's the equivalent of two nice cold beers down at the local bar! Why such a low price point?
Rory: It takes the same approach of renting a DVD from Blockbuster or any video store. You rent a movie and have to return it a couple days later. With MMM, you log in and a countdown timer begins. In MMM’s case, there is nothing to return so the customer is not inconvenienced by leaving their home.
Andy: There have been games similar to this in the past, especially in the early 1990's "FMV Boom", which didn't exactly meet worldwide praise. Were you aware of these earlier games, and how did you ensure that Mystery at Mansfield Manor didn't fall down the same pitfalls as earlier titles?
Rory: I did some research and I wanted to ensure before I embarked on this venture that there is a demand for interactive movies. I’m not familiar with FMV Boom, but in 2006 most households in North America have high-speed Internet access so Mystery At Mansfield Manor can be accessed quickly and conveniently.
Andy: The acting of the cast is particularly solid and believable, which, for me personally, really differentiates Mystery at Mansfield Manor from the earlier games of this genre. What did the cast members have in their auditions that the less successful applicants didn't? What made you choose them?
Rory: When I wrote the screenplay, I had the characters visualized in my mind. When the actors auditioned, I selected the ones who I felt best matched with my interpretations of each character.
Andy: Judging from the "Behind the Scenes" content on the site, you and the cast certainly seemed to enjoy themselves behind the scenes. Were there any amusing bloopers you'd like to tell us about? If so, will you put them online along with the game?
Rory: There will be a bloopers reel added to the Bonus Materials section in the future. It is in progress at the moment. I will also be adding a ‘media’ section that will include all of the interviews I have done as well as any reviews of Mystery At Mansfield Manor.
Andy: If you knew everything you knew now before you started creating Mystery At Mansfield Manor, what would you have changed and why? In retrospect are you happy with the way that the game turned out?
Rory: I am very happy with Mystery At Mansfield Manor. I think the actors went above my expectations, especially considering they were only allowed one take, the editing, the website, and even the background music.
Andy: So, now that Mystery at Mansfield Manor is "in the bag" so to speak, what will you do next? Any plans for a follow up?
Rory: My goal for Mystery At Mansfield Manor is two-fold. The first, I want to break even. Once I do, I may remove the price. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. The second is I would like to find someone, whether it is a company (production, toy etc.), a partner, a silent investor, an agent, a manager, anyone…to work on the next one with or any of the other ideas I have for interactive story telling. My long-term goals are to produce the screenplays that I wrote years ago, but the budgets on those are significantly higher than MMM.
Andy: Finally, All of the actors seemed to be really excited about the launch party you promised them in the "Making of" short film on the Bonus Material on your site, which led to a great little gag at the end. How was the real launch party (which was on the 17th July) for you? Unfortunately I was too far away to attend, so can you tell me what I missed out on? Were the actors pleased with the “real” shindig you promised them?
Rory: The launch party was last week. It was a lot of fun and it was great to see the cast and crew (those who were able to attend) again as I haven’t seen most of them since we filmed MMM in March 2006.
Andy: Thank you Rory, it's been a pleasure. I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.
Mystery at Mansfield Manor is online and costs $4.99 for three days of unlimited access.
Mystery at Mansfield Manor was awarded a score of four out of five stars in my review of the game.