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Reshaping Interactive Media: Interview With Devo Harris Of Adventr

The Grammy award winner shares his thoughts on interactive movies, games, AI and the future of narrative

Interactive streaming platform Adventr is building the next generation of interactive experiences that’ll allow creators and companies to easily create videos with their desired personalisation, searchability and connectivity to engage viewers across the globe.

The company’s no-code, scalable platform makes connected media accessible to everyone. Viewers can take control of stories, purchase products, link to anywhere on the web, make phone calls, send text messages and more, all within a video which can also be shared across various social media platforms.

We spoke to the founder, Grammy-award-winning Devo Harris, about the company’s interactive short film Lab Rat, Adventr’s role in evolving the interactive media landscape and how the platform plans on leveraging AI technology. We were also joined by Austin Smith who penned and directed the short film.

Winning a Grammy was undoubtedly a big win for Devo, but he didn’t stop there. He decided to bring his skills into the tech world with Adventr, a move he believed would be a challenge since being successful in one industry doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in another.

As a Grammy Award-winning producer who has worked with Kanye West, Britney Spears and John Legend, what inspired you to start Adventr?

Devo Harris: This started from a music video that I made years ago. We made the first interactive ‘choose your own adventure’ music video in 2012 and people loved it. And when we showed them the same thing that wasn’t interactive, people didn’t love it. So it was really interesting how people were responding to this. And all these big companies started to reach out to me saying, “How can we make our content like this?” I still feel like I’m doing the same thing; trying to make great media products.

We made the first interactive ‘choose your own adventure’ music video in 2012 and people loved it. And when we showed them the same thing that wasn’t interactive, people didn’t love it

Devo Harris

Before, it just happened to be music and an artist, but now it’s software and experiences. But, you know, if it wasn’t for Kanye and him showing me and all of us how to make exciting products, I wouldn’t be doing this. So, if you think about like Virgil Abloh, it’s all the people from this Kanye tree. I’m following in the same footsteps, just my stuff isn’t fashion – it’s experience.

Lab Rat tackles some complex and thought-provoking themes, what do you hope viewers will take away from the experience?

I’m a Christopher Nolan fan, so this is like a sort of a techie Inception to me. There’s two things I want people to walk away with. One, when we talk about Lab Rat, I think you assume it’s the main character Logan in the movie that’s the lab rat. He’s not. You’re the lab rat. Right? As the viewer. So that’s one thing and I want you to think about, you know, ‘I’m the lab rat, am I choosing violence? And why? Why did I just choose to kill this guy? And what am I feeding into my system that would even make me think that’s appropriate?’

There’s this film, In the Mouth of Madness I saw as a kid. And when I left the movie theatre I didn’t know if I was still in the movie or if I was in the real world. I want that to be part of it too where you’re like, ‘Am I an experiment? Is this real?’ So those are a couple of things I hope some people come away with.

What sets Lab Rat apart from other interactive films and digital experiences?

Austin Smith, writer and director of Lab Rat: Any film that has this type of capability connects people a lot; much more easily within the theatre. And so when we showed it in the theatre, it really did go that way too, where so many people were just discussing afterwards and it was really cool to see that go about. The second thing I was thinking was it’s just entertainment. It’s just a film.

And as Devo was saying, you start thinking, ‘Why did I choose the evil though? Why did I choose to kill?’ Obviously, it’s just for fun, but at the same time, I hope that it kind of goes into the mind of, ‘Okay, it’s just for fun. But again, Why did I prefer to see that? And then looking at your cell phones in general, like social media and news. ‘Why am I preferring the dark side of things?’

You start thinking, ‘Why did I choose the evil?’ And then looking at your cell phones in general, like social media and news. ‘Why am I preferring the dark side of things?

Austin Smith

What challenges did you encounter during the development of Lab Rat, and how did you overcome them?

Harris: Well, we built this software for Lab Rat. So you know, the Adventr platform is a software platform, but the ability for you to have your phone and for us to jump in together as a community and see what other people are scoring, we built all that originally for this short film. I feel like it was pretty straightforward for us. Austin was more hands-on, so he can tell you more.

Smith: The most part went very smoothly. I think the biggest challenge was just maintaining a theme; how do we create a theme that also goes along with the interactions? I remember when I was writing the script, and I’m sending deep all these drafts, I kept struggling with that thought of if we give them the choice here, it kind of destroys the theme that we’re trying to build.

And so when Devo and I figured out the John 3:19 type of theme around it, I think everything just kind of flowed out from there and was I like, okay that makes so much sense and as Devo put it, “They’re the lab rat.” And I think this is something that makes interactive films amazing – when you make the person interacting also a part of the story, then that issue of trying to maintain the theme even though you’re giving them creative freedom in your film, can still be held together.

The experience feels more like a game…

Harris: I think as we started making this project – and we’ve used the word film – it’s become more and more clear that this is really a game. And before, for you to do something like this you need a gaming engine, you need Unity, you need PlayStation. This is the first time that you could do something like this in terms of the logic and the communication, that doesn’t have a gaming engine, that is in a video context.

Now we have companies that are coming to make game-oriented content, whether it’s for a big screen, or for training purposes inside of the company. This has opened my eyes and we are going to pursue more and we’re going to be in more conferences that are in the gaming space. We are now looking at doing licencing deals with gaming companies. So I think this is what’s interesting for me, to sort of have this shift. This is no longer a film – this is for people that love games. This is like a casual game.

So game, video, movie, show, content – it’s all merging. And at the end of the day our software – I don’t care what you call it or where it sits – but I think realistically, this particular offering is more relevant to a game player and the mechanics are that of a game, not a film. So it’s a whole new world that opens up when we look at this from a game perspective and not a film perspective.

Game, video, movie, show, content – it’s all merging… It’s a whole new world that opens up when we look at this from a game perspective and not a film perspective

Devo Harris

Does Adventr currently utilise any form of AI technology?

We do use AI technology. In the next couple of weeks or at least the next month we’ll be announcing our new AI-powered product called SmartListen. We’re launching in partnership with 23andMe.

With the rise of AI, there will be more competitors. How does Adventr plan to stay at the forefront of these developments?

I think it’s pretty clear from a creativity side that we’re ahead of the pack. We operate in more environments, ad networks, social media, people’s websites etc. The reason why we do that is so that, number one, there’s more value that we can share. But also, far more than any other company in the space, we look at ourselves as data first. So we’re collecting every engagement across every platform and since day one, the goal has been, ‘If we’re going to have all these people engaging, how can we turn that into usable data?’

So we’re collecting data on creation to have the largest dataset of interactive creation and we’re collecting on consumption. We’ve been focused on that since day one. Plus we have patents and stuff, so it’s a lot of work going into building a moat. And hopefully we have the best brand, we have the coolest name that people have heard of and trust.

How do you see AI technology evolving in the context of interactive storytelling?

I have a concept I call smart media. There’s a scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise walks into a Gap and a hologram pops up and the hologram communicates to Tom Cruise. They know his name, they knew what he purchased in the Gap and they want to help him out in real-time. That is where I see us going, that’s literally what we’re building at Adventr. ‘Smart media’ as I call it, is media or whatever sort of game, hologram, video – whatever it is – that changes dynamically for each viewer based on the user’s input or data.

‘Smart media’ as I call it, is media or whatever sort of game, hologram, video – whatever it is – that changes dynamically for each viewer based on the user’s input or data

Devo Harris

So where AI is coming is that in the content world, any experience that you have – that I have, that Austin has – can all come from the same source but be completely different. Based on my browsing history, based on my eye health at that time, based on where I am, the content can be literally changed in real-time, based on all these factors, my purchase history.

That’s where AI comes in and is able to say, ‘Hey Devo what’s up? Good morning, how was the taco yesterday? Did you want to do this today?’ And you will have a different experience, but coming from the same source. Whether that’s video or something else I don’t know yet, but that’s where I see us going. All this data informs your media in real-time.

What challenges do you see ahead?

I think we know this is where the market is going just in terms of the content; more personalised, more active, more fun. I think it’s the education component. How can we efficiently show as many people as possible, how easy it is to get involved in this sort of thing? That’s the thing I think a lot about.

What’s next for Adventr and Lab Rat? Are there any upcoming projects or collaboration that you’re particularly excited about?

I’m most excited about SmartListen, the ability for you to talk to videos – that’s an epic game changer. And it’s available on our platform now. And again, we’re launching that in collaboration with 23andMe, the DNA company. So that’s the next upcoming thing. This whole suite of tools, gamification, keeping scores, remembering what you did, that’s going to be the next sort of product release. We’re literally trying to figure out the name now, but it’s gamification tools.

I’m most excited about SmartListen, the ability for you to talk to videos – that’s an epic game changer

Devo Harris

Anyone can make true games in their video and share it at scale. So I’m excited about bringing these sorts of game tools and the best practices and science behind it. All the stuff that you’re seeing, there’s a map and there’s a logic and there’s a playbook. That’s the thing we need to get more people to know, the playbook and how to make this stuff. But outside of those, you know, I’m trying to get my head around the next projects. We’re talking to film studios and streamers about how do we do this sort of experience at a bigger scale. So that’s what I’m excited about as our next steps too.”

You can find out more about Adventr from its official website and follow the platform on Twitter to stay up-to-date on future announcements.

Devo won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Song (Kanye West’s “Diamonds (from Sierra Leone)”) while producing and writing for artists from Britney Spears to Jay-Z & more. He also discovered and signed EGOT Winner John Legend to GOOD Music. Devo is a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Business School.

Written By

Isa Muhammad is a writer and video game journalist covering many aspects of entertainment media including the film industry. He's steadily writing his way to the sharp end of journalism and enjoys staying informed. If he's not reading, playing video games or catching up on his favourite TV series, then he's probably writing about them.

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