Bringing Juno to life for Remembrance Day

Telling the true gritty stories of war can be quite the undertaking. Throwing an interactive component on top of that? Even more so. Here's how new media house Secret Location, Windup Filmworks and Shaw Media brought docudrama film Storming Juno to life in the digital world.
Storming Juno

Telling the true gritty stories of war can be quite the undertaking. Throwing an interactive component on top of that? Even more so. Here’s how new media house Secret Location, Windup Filmworks and Shaw Media brought docudrama film Storming Juno to life in the digital world.

“I always knew I wanted to have an interactive component,” says Christopher Gagosz, Windup writer and producer of the eOne/History Television film. “Websites are a great platform for series formats where they can live on for a period of time. We wanted to create something that would resonate after the initial broadcast of the show and that would give people more access to the veterans and the stories.”

He was adamant about working together from the outset, so well before production in summer ’09, he turned to executive producer James Milward at Toronto-based Secret Location. They interviewed a living vet and the ideas began to flow.

“I really wanted to avoid generating a web-based project that was tacked on,” Gagosz tells Playback Daily. “I wanted to work with someone who understood that world, because it’s not one I pretend to understand, and give them time to bring ideas to the table – even ideas that would influence our broadcast project.”

Gagosz and Milward approached Canadian history org Historica-Dominion Institute, which was already creating a database of living vets for its program The Memory Project.

The org came on board, facilitating interviews with the vets filmed for Storming Juno that will also be part of the database. HDI is also helping to create an education guide to the Juno Beach invasion for school distribution, as it did for Paul Gross’s Passchendaele.

Everything was falling into place and production for the film and digital took place concurrently. Secret Location developed an online experience that puts the user directly onto the battlefield.

“We made a 3D interface that shows what it would be like on Juno Beach that day,” explains Milward, who was mindful of telling real stories without romanticizing them.

“When you click on different people or objects, it moves you through the beach and you get a clip from the film and real vets talking about what they went through that day.”

The online hub also gave the filmmakers a way to use material that didn’t make it into the final cut. “Specifically in docs, you’re often confronted with a problem where you do all these great interviews, but you can only use some of them,” says Gagosz. “We cut a bunch of interviews for them to live on the web.”

It was more than enough to impress the broadcaster. Shaw Media’s director of digital content Chris Harris was “blown away” by Gagosz and Milward’s initial pitch.

“Not only was it a ground-breaking way to tell these really compelling stories, but the technology was never really seen before, so we were in from the get go,” he tells Playback Daily.

History kicks off its Days of Remembrance programming on November 5, airing Canadian produced content about the war, and culminates with the Storming Juno premiere on November 11.

“The website is a great complement to the movie,” he says. “It’s something you can experience having watched the film, or it can be a standalone entry into that world.”

Shaw Media has an in-house team, but Harris says he’s progressively working with more third-party interactive companies with specific expertise (3D or alternate reality games, for example) on projects supported by the Bell Fund or CMF.

Storming Juno will have its own on-air promo, as will StormingJuno.com. “We rarely do a separate cut for a digital experience, especially for History,” notes Harris. “It’ll usually be tagged into a non-air spot and those are still some tactics we’re going to use. This will hopefully boost the eyeballs to it.”