Plenty of people watch movies on their iPads, but Neal Edelstein, producer of hit films The Ring and Mulholland Drive, wanted to go farther. His new movie, Haunting Melissa, is a ghost story told directly through an iOS app.
Not that Edelstein would exactly describe Haunting Melissa — the story of a teenage girl who believes her dead mother is haunting her, and then suddenly disappears — as a movie. “I didn’t want to take a movie and stuff it in an app,” he told me. Rather, the goal was to use technology “to push a story out to people in bits and pieces.”
Edelstein’s production company, Hooked Digital Media — which includes investor Kevin Washington as cofounder and MySpace cofounder Aber Whitcomb as advisor — built an iOS platform that pushes content out to viewers over time. Haunting Melissa doesn’t have a predetermined length: Edelstein shot thousands of hours of video, and it will be pushed out to viewers in “chapters,” or segments, on a timeline that can be tweaked on the back end. For example, if a user hasn’t entered the app for a while, he or she might receive a push notification that a new chapter is available.
In addition, the actual video content can be adjusted through the app’s content management system, so new content can be inserted into a chapter after a user has already watched it. The idea is to keep users coming back to the app, checking for new content and seeing what has changed.
The Haunting Melissa iOS app, available in the iTunes Store today, is free, as is the first chapter. If a user shares that chapter on Facebook, he or she gets the second chapter for free. Users can buy a “season pass” for $6.99 (standard definition or $14.99 (HD); if purchased individually, chapters are $0.99 for standard definition and $1.99 for HD.
“We are gambling on the notion that this is going to fit in the diet of people who watch and consume a lot of stuff,” Edelstein said. “This isn’t sitting down to watch X hours of House of Cards. It’s one piece of what you’re going to consume over the course of time.” He imagines that users will dip in and out of the app as new content becomes available — but he isn’t sure, because Hooked Digital Media hasn’t tested how viewers use the app. “We just have to go for it and see how people watch and react,” Edelstein said. “My experience in testing movies is that it’s a total clusterf*ck. Unless you have a sample size that’s over thousands of people, you can’t get an accurate measure of content consumption.”
So the company is waiting to see what viewers do and how they share Haunting Melissa on social media. Edelstein describes the creation of Haunting Melissa as “low-budget independent film making.” He tapped industry connections who wanted to work on a different kind of project and got to test new skills — like iPad color correction — for Haunting Melissa. “Because of that excitement level,” Edelstein said, “I was able to work with people I’d worked with before.” He is now working on a sequel.