For the past three years, the Toronto Silent Film Festival (TSFF) has used Instagram as the main driver of its annual campaign. In 2013, it turned its Instagram feed into a flip book trailer. Last year, it used the platform’s grid layout to create a “time machine” timeline celebrating the career of Charlie Chaplin.
For TSFF’s 2015 campaign, the festival and its agency, Red Lion, turned its account into a portal for followers to create a ‘choose your own adventure’ silent film.
The story starts off pretty simple: two men are fighting in the street. When the video ends, the user’s asked whether they want to run away or call the cops and are invited to make their selection by choosing one of two hashtags. From there, they fall into a rabbit hole of decisions in which about 100 clips provide potentially “hundreds of thousands” of story combinations, according to Red Lion president and chief creative officer Matthew Litzinger.
Litzinger has been at the helm of each of TSFF’s Instagram campaigns. He worked on the 2013 and 2014 editions as co-COO at Cossette, then brought the client to Red Lion when he joined the agency 10 months ago. Creatively, he said the main goal each year has been to do something “as innovative as silent films were in their day.”
“Silent films, when they originally burst onto the scene, set a new definition for how entertainment could exist. Now, this festival is at the forefront of trying to redefine the way people experience film,” he said.
At the festival this includes live elements to the show, like a stage-side pianist playing the original score to the film. Online, Litzinger said TSFF has been eager to redefine the way silent films are seen, which is why it has relied so heavily on Instagram – a visual medium and a home for current, contemporary bits of culture. All of the choose your own adventure stories on Instagram are made up of clips from this year’s TSFF films.
Putting together the web of stories and ensuring each was uploaded in the right sequence was a long, grueling process of trial and error that required his team to be “obsessive compulsive,” Litzinger said.
His team used a white board to plot each of the clips out onto a map, ensuring that some stories were short, some were long and some looped in a way that seemed never-ending.
The main idea, he said, was to gain awareness for TSFF by creating a personal experience a consumer could have with silent film on their phone. It was based on an insight about the nature of silent films – while all films are interpretive, silent films are an even more personal experience, because as a purely visual experience, they leave more room for the viewer to interpret the story in their own way.
“Because the films say less, you actually internalize and experience more personally,” he said.
In previous years, TSFF has included other forms of media in its campaign, but for 2015 it only used Instagram. No media buy was implemented.
Here’s a look at how the campaign works: