All Tech Considered
2:36 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

App, Secret Sites Create The Immersive World Of 'Night Film'

Originally published on Mon August 19, 2013 4:58 pm

When you watch a DVD these days, there's a whole array of extras waiting for you after the movie — commentaries, deleted scenes, special re-creations that add to the experience.

But what if you are a novelist and want to do the same? Could you? Should you?

In her new thriller, author Marisha Pessl mixes traditional literature with elements from the digital world. The book is called Night Film, and it's the fast-moving tale of a relentless journalist trying to unravel the mysterious death of a famous filmmaker's daughter.

But the story doesn't end there.

In the very back of the book, just before the acknowledgements, you'll find instructions to continue the story — with an app. Pessl tells NPR's Audie Cornish that the idea for the app originally came from her need to find a quick way to set up the world of reclusive filmmaker Stanislas Cordova for her readers. "I wanted to have cultural cornerstones that immediately alerted readers to the fact that he was endemic within popular culture as this reclusive cult figure," she says.


Interview Highlights

On her non-tech-savvy main character, reporter Scott McGrath

"These people do still exist, the ones who still have trouble figuring out how to use cellphones, 'cause I'm friends with some of these people, so I wanted a bit of old-school throwback to those days where we did need printed paper. But I think it is hard, in the sense of writing a thriller, that there can't be too much miscommunication.

"I used to always think that so many old movies wouldn't work in this day and age, because old screwball comedies were about miscommunication, and telegrams getting lost, and in this day and age, we as writers have to be creative within these new boundaries of technology. But rather than bemoaning the fact that we just know too much about everything, we can still find mystery, and we can still find those dark recesses where we can build worlds."

On the other multimedia she's created for Night Film

"There are screen shots of hidden websites, there are blog postings and anonymous user comments, and sprinkled throughout these illustrations there is a secret, very discreet bird symbol, and if you download the app and scan the illustration that has this bird symbol, you will get extra content on your tablet or phone.

"Ideally you will read the book, and if you want to continue the experience, that's when you find out about the app, and you can get additional content in that way. But it is certainly not something that you need to do while you're reading, because I love the immersive reading experience, and I did not want to interrupt that in any way with technology."

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When you watch a DVD these days, there's a whole array of extras waiting for you after the movie - commentaries, deleted scenes, special features that add to the experience. But what if you're a novelist and want to do the same? Could you? Should you?

In her new thriller, Marisha Pessl mixes traditional literature with the digital world. The book is called "Night Film," and it's the fast-moving tale of a relentless journalist trying to unravel the mysterious death of a famous filmmaker's daughter. But the story doesn't end there. In the very back of the book, you'll find instructions to continue the story with an app.

I asked Marisha Pessl why she chose to add techie extras, why she included all kinds of other media in the pages of her novel - everything from slideshows to blog posts.

MARISHA PESSL: That originally came out of my need to set up very quickly for the reader the world of this reclusive filmmaker named Stanislas Cordova. And I wanted to have cultural cornerstones that immediately alerted readers to the fact that he was endemic within popular culture as this reclusive cult figure. So I thought that I would use the process that we all do when we find out about something or someone we've never heard about, a Googling process where we get a lot of different voices. And from that patchwork, we compose who exactly this man is.

CORNISH: In that, those first couple of pages, it also introduces to the main character, this investigative journalist Scott McGrath. And then throughout the book we're almost on the investigation with him, right? Like, when he gets a text, you see a little text bubble on the page.

PESSL: Exactly.

CORNISH: And he's also - he's got an old-school streak, right? He fumbles around with his cellphone. At one point he instructs someone to, you know, look something up in the phone book...

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Which now seems somehow antiquated.

PESSL: Right. Right.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Is it hard in this day and age to write this kind of thriller?

PESSL: These people - well, these people do still exist, the ones who still have trouble figuring out how to use cellphones, 'cause I'm friends with some of these people. So I wanted a bit of old-school throwback to those days where we did need printed paper. It is hard, in the sense of writing a thriller, that there can't be too much miscommunication. And I used to always think that so many old movies wouldn't work in this day and age because old screwball comedies were about miscommunication and telegrams getting lost.

And in this day and age, we as writers have to be creative within these new boundaries of technology. But rather than bemoaning the fact that we just know too much about everything, we can still find mystery, and we can still find those dark recesses where we can build worlds. So it's just a different landscape. It's neither better nor worse.

CORNISH: So there are all these illustrations sprinkled throughout. We mentioned the slideshow. What are some of the other sort of interactive or multimedia elements that end up on the pages?

PESSL: There are screen shots of hidden websites, there are blog postings and anonymous user comments, and sprinkled throughout these illustrations, there is a secret, very discreet bird symbol. And if you download the app and scan the illustration that has this bird symbol, you will get extra content on your tablet or phone.

CORNISH: So you're literally holding your device up to a book.

PESSL: Yes. Yes. However...

CORNISH: It feels like upside-down world somehow.

PESSL: However, this is something that I collaborated with Random House on. And ideally, you will read the book and if you want to continue the experience, that's when you find out about the app, and you can get additional content in that way. But it is certainly not something that you need to do while you're reading, because I love that immersive reading experience, and I did not want to interrupt that in any way with technology.

Because I mean, I am a traditionalist. I think that the book does always need to stand on its own, but the nature of this world that's quite expansive, there are ways for me as a writer to be innovative as well and to allow Cordova's universe to spill beyond the page into both the Internet and social media. So that, for me, is really exciting, to push those boundaries while never intruding upon just the simple incredible reading experience of diving into a book and forgetting the here and now.

CORNISH: Did you worry that it would come off as gimmicky in some way or that people would interpret this as the book not quite being able to stand on its own?

PESSL: It was a fine line that I wanted to walk, in terms of curating all of that content. So first and foremost, for me, it was constructing a novel that if someone doesn't ever Google Cordova or find any of these hidden found footage films or even download the app, that the book itself is a mesmerizing - hopefully mesmerizing reading experience. Because in the end, I approach novels as a reader, first and foremost.

And in the end, I want to just get lost in the story and fall in love with characters and so that, for me was the main goal. But then the fact that we're in such an innovative time right now in terms of storytelling and content creation and that boundaries between books and film and the Internet aren't so rigid anymore. That was just another universe that I could play within and be creative.

So it was walking the fine line between being traditional and being a little bit more innovative.

CORNISH: Well, Marisha Pessl, thank you so much for speaking with us.

PESSL: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Author Marisha Pessl, her new book is called "Night Film." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.