INTERVIEW: Lynn Renee Maxcy Talks About How She Wrote an Interactive Film with ‘The Complex’ (2020)

The Complex is a science-fiction interactive film where players can not only watch the unfolding narrative but become an active participant and make imperative choices for protagonist, Dr Amy Tennant (Michelle Mylett), as she is tasked with saving a potential bio-weapons terrorist in a locked-down laboratory. With an emphasis on a branching-narrative that players can explore, I had the chance to review the interactive film for Flip Screen before having a video call with its writer, Lynn Renee Maxcy, where she discussed her love of science-fiction, her time working on The Handmaid’s Tale and the challenge of writing and developing an interactive film.

GS: There seems to be two big trends in the projects you work on: science-fiction and television. What is it about TV as a format and science-fiction as a genre that fascinates you?

LRM: When I was a kid, I discovered all of those Star Trek series and I was like, “oh interesting,” these are different stories to what I was reading in school or even the classic works of literature that I was looking at. I just fell in love with sci-fi because I think it’s this big umbrella; obviously there’s not one way to do sci-fi, but there’s something really interesting in being able to tell stories that still look at the things that we’re doing today, the questions that we have about today. But in the way that I’ve seen it, you get people to let their guard down a little bit because this story is happening to people who are thousands of light years away or are thousands of years in the future or are in an alien invasion. There’s a little bit of “oh, this isn’t the real world, so its fine, I’m not on guard but you can still talk about these really interesting big things.” Let’s go back to the original Star Trek series that was on in the 60’s: they were still talking about racism and sexism, but it was fine because it was happening elsewhere. Plus, I just really like stories about technology and the way that the tech that we have impacts the way that we live our lives. If I can fit into that where you can have, you know, a world that looks mostly like ours, but it has crazy tech or something. Everybody says, “oh its sci-fi” and I’m like “sure!” I just like the weird technology! So that’s kind of why I chose sci-fi and I’m incredibly lucky to get to write in my preferred genre of stories.

With TV specifically, I love telling both film and TV stories but there’s something very specific about TV in the way that its run; specifically, here in America (I think it’s kind of moving in this direction in the UK) there’s so much creative collaboration. You’re in a writer’s room, you’re working with other amazing people who are brilliant, and you’re all bringing your best to the table to make the story the best. Each individual writer gets their own episode and then you get to go away, you on your own for a couple weeks just writing the script. So, it’s a nice balance of everything and it’s kind of fun to hopefully get to tell, if you’re really lucky, 50 hours of story with these characters or even 100. That’s the dream, to really explore the ways people change over time and get to tell really fun things.

GS: You’ve spent three years working on The Handmaid’s Tale as a Staff Writer but also as an Executive Story Editor. How was your experience on such a big show and did it impact your work as a writer going forward?

LRM: The experience was incredible. I think it helped in that we didn’t necessarily know that it was going to explode in the way that it did so even in the first season we were kind of writing in a bubble. We just got to tell an amazing story and the people that I worked with on the show are just brilliant, lovely, human beings who challenged me every day and honestly made me a better writer. I think having such an incredible book to draw from, to focus on… I mean I read The Handmaid’s Tale so many times I have entire sections memorised! Focusing that deeply on one book, on one story, it definitely made me a better writer. It definitely made me really piece apart the story and why it worked and why it was so amazing. I was very lucky and I loved it.

GS: How did you first get involved with The Complex? It was a bit of a departure from the previous work you have done, so how did it all begin?

LRM: I wrote it as just a normal, one-storyline feature. It’s an original idea of mine and had been pursuing to get it made as a feature. I met one of my producers Jade Alexander and she knew our other producer John Giwa-Amu, who’s amazing and wonderful, and the three of us had been continuing to develop it and continuing to getting it made as a feature. John knew everyone at Wales Interactive (the publishers) and based on some of their conversations we really started looking at developing it as a branching narrative story. It was a very long process and definitely a challenging one: my 80-page script blew up to 190 pages, which you don’t quite think about. “Yeah, a branching narrative sounds fantastic. Oh, I have to write all of it!” But it allowed me to get to tell all versions of this story that I had kind of gone through as a writer. When you’re writing a story you get to ask, what if this happens? Or this happens? And now instead of having to choose one path through I just got to say, “yes, what if we do everything?” which was crazy.

GS: What was it about working on an interactive film that appealed to you as a writer? Was it this opportunity to explore all the different avenues within the story?

LRM: Yeah, it was not something that I had thought about doing before. Wales Interactive had already done projects like this with Late Shift and The Bunker, so I knew they were in existence but never thought about doing them (interactive films) for myself. The opportunity came out and it seemed like a really fun, complicated challenge that I was excited to dive into.

image courtesy of Wales Interactive

GS: What was the process on the project as a writer? I know you started with a traditional feature film script, so did you stick with that or did you use different formats such as Wales Interactive’s very own WIST (Wales Interactive Scripting Tool) program?

LRM: I don’t have a background in game design or anything, so I was able to just focus on a regular screenplay. I still wrote it all in Final Draft and was then able to give all the pieces to the team and they built everything underneath that actually made it into a functional, playable game.

GS: What was the biggest lesson or takeaway from working on The Complex?

LRM: There were probably a couple. The first is get amazing people on your team around you who will run with the project and make it the best that it can be. I never could have done The Complex on my own. Our amazing cast and crew and producers and everyone around me, dear god (I’m) so thankful for all of you! The thing for me, personally as a writer, it made me not afraid to take on new challenges and it really made me think about the ways that my character’s choices impact a world that they’re living in, in a completely different way. I’ve been able to bring that into things that I’m writing now.

GS: Would you like to work on more interactive films or video games in the future?

LRM: Absolutely. There was definitely a shock when I went on to a different project and just got to tell one story. It was just like insane. I really enjoyed telling a story in this format and I think now that I really have an understanding of how the best ways to do this, I think it would be a much simpler process the next time around. I would love it. I think it’s really cool to see the ways technology has kind of caught up to storytelling…maybe not that, maybe that technology has advanced in a way that allows us to tell new stories. That’s closer to what I wanted to say. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen next and what new stories we get to tell.

GS: What do you think the future of interactive film looks like?

LRM: I think that it’s going to become more of a thing moving forward, honestly. I think as we’re used to watching movies and TV on, especially on streaming platforms, we’re used to watching things on our computers, we’re used to it so it’s not just going to be like “oh, this is in the gaming community that this happens.” I think that as it expands, this technology expands, I think it’s going to become more of a thing. I don’t think that it’s going to completely take over, I think that there will still be a huge market for traditional, single-story projects. Of course, not everyone is going to want to choose through every movie they watch but I think that this is the beginning of what’s coming next. I think it’s exciting to see. The more we figure it out and the more we get better at it, the better our stories will be in the long run.

It’s so fun to have The Complex out in the world. It’s been such a bizarre experience for me as a writer to get to talk to people: they say, “okay we’re going to play through The Complex tonight” and I’m like “What happened? What happened at the end of the movie that I wrote?” It’s such a bizarre question but it’s so much fun to see as different people make different choices, what comes of it? We’re very excited that people are watching it and enjoying it.

The Complex is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

You can follow Lynn Renee Maxcy on Instagram and Twitter with the handle @lynnreneemaxcy