Choose Their Own Adventure – John Lengsfelder’s film ‘Blind Date Interactive’ letsthe audience choose the outcome

Max chats up Sydney over coffee in filmmaker John Lengsfelder's ?Blind Date Interactive.?
Max chats up Sydney over coffee in filmmaker John Lengsfelder’s ?Blind Date Interactive.?

John Lengsfelder spent the earlier part of his filmmaking career working in a typical linear form, where stories had beginnings, middles and ends before being packaged up and sold. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for him.

“I reached a point in my life where I loved making films, but there was a letdown when it was done,” he says. “It’s no longer yours, and you have no relationship with it. I wanted to try staying in a relationship with my film, which meant being interactive with the film and the audience.”

The Santa Barbara-based filmmaker’s wish resulted in “Blind Date Interactive,” an audience-participation movie screening opening this weekend and continuing into October. In it, we follow the first meeting between Max (“widowed, artist, withdrawn”) and Sydney (“ambitious, professional, high-strung”) as they take in a meal, visit an art gallery, take a stroll and just get to know each other.

At various points in the narrative, Lengsfelder will offer the audience a chance to make a decision for one of the characters, which will then spin the narrative in a new direction. Will “Blind Date” be a romantic comedy… or a romantic tragedy?

With eight screenings scheduled, Lengsfelder promises eight totally different movies, while the actual number of endings remains a trade secret. With three choices at each decision point, the possibilities are endless.

If that sounds a bit like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from the 1980s, Lengsfelder welcomes the comparison, but notes that nothing too crazy will happen to the couple in their various stories. In other words, no ninjas will attack and no aliens will land.

“There is humor in the film, but I didn’t want it to be one of these things where it was a fish out of water or unrealistic. Yes, these are four dates crammed into one, and people may not talk that much in one evening, but it is a movie. I want to stir something up in people.”

Lengsfelder cast the film in Los Angeles, finding Jennifer Jean and Andrew Abelson through auditions. The director made sure the two actors kept away from each other outside the shoot to keep the “first date” quality alive over the multiple-day shoot. The word-heavy script weighed in at 75 pages of dialogue, which the actors say was a lot to memorize.

Lengsfelder shot “Blind Date” on video around Santa Barbara, and clips on the site reveal a few locations such as Fresco and what looks like Sullivan Goss art gallery. But hopefully the audience — there are only 40 seats available per night — will not spend time figuring out locations, but instead debate what the characters should do next. Lengsfelder has turned the old Pep Boys space on lower State Street into a “theater in the U,” where the audience members will all have Herman Miller swivel chairs. Letting everybody see each other helps the communication between sequences, he says, and stops a lot of necks from being craned.

“Part of this experience is the other people in the audience and what they bring to the discussion. It’s not just a choice between A, B and C. People bring their own experience to the decisions.”

A portion of ticket sales will benefit the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative, a local nonprofit.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; through Oct. 23
Where: 424-C State Street
Cost: $10 advance, $12 at the door

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