Meet the Filmmakers: iBible Creators Talk About the Upcoming Premiere at SXSW
iBible reimagines famous biblical stories through the screens of our smartphones. In the first episodes, which are set to premiere at SXSW this week, Adam swipes right on Eve, Cain blocks Abel, and God tweets out his Ten Commandments — all told in screenlife format by Searching and Unfriended Timur Bekmambetov and the creators of Dead of Night and Phony Texts.
Producer, director (Ep. 1)
Timur Bekmambetov is a digital filmmaking pioneer and inventor of screenlife format, where the action takes place on the screens of devices with Unfriended (2015) grossing $65 million and Searching (2018) — $75 million on a budget under $1 million. He has recently released the second season of Snap Originals hit series Dead of Night, signed a deal with Universal to produce five pictures of various genres in the screenlife format and started working on a sequel to Searching with Sony Pictures. His latest production R#J, a screenlife adaptation on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is being screened at the SXSW 2021 Festival Favorites. Bekmambetov is the founder of the tech startup Screenlife Technologies developing products based on Al and deep learning for mass production of screenlife content.
Simon and Jesse Brooks
Writers and directors
Jesse and Simon are two brothers who grew up in the Los Angeles area. In September 2018, Jesse and Simon launched Phony Texts, a chat fiction network that scripts text message conversations on various social platforms. Their passion for mobile culture and storytelling has made them the largest chat fiction network on social media — with over 5M followers in their network.
Majd Nassif is a Vice President of Film and Television at Timur Bekmambetov’s production banner Bazelevs. Majd joined the company as an intern, after connecting with them at SXSW, and quickly rose through the ranks to currently helm the company’s US film and television department. Prior to that, Majd was in charge of overseeing the company’s interactive and vertical mobile storytelling division, having produced Buzzfeed’s Future History: 1968, Snap Originals hit series Dead of Night, and a documentary series for VICE. Over the past year, Majd has been gearing Bazelevs’ multiple film and TV projects to get into production in the coming months. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, with a B.S. in Radio-Television-Film, Majd is currently based in Los Angeles, California.
Q&A with Filmmakers
What is iBible?
Timur Bekmambetov: iBible is a screenlife homage that the smartphone and social media culture pay to the Book of the books. Just like the greatest pieces of music, literature, paintings driven by the classic Biblical narratives in the epochs before now.
Simon Brooks: iBible translates religious texts into modern language. This is a fantastic journey from the Book of Genesis to Eternal Life.
Jesse Brooks: This is an attempt to tell the famous stories in a way which no one has tried before. Modern interfaces add a new digital dimension for eternal narratives and find out new meanings.
Majd Nassif: A modern rendition of the greatest stories from the Book of Genesis using the means and inventory of what everyone can find on the screens of their own smartphones.
Why did you choose the Bible?
Timur Bekmambetov: In the beginning was the Word… The Bible is the most widely read book in the history of the world. It is filled with some of the most renowned and inspiring stories we know. Most of what we value in our art, music and literature — Shakespeare, Bach, the Renaissance, etc. — is entangled with this ancient legacy. No other book in history has had more impact on Western culture. It contains drama, humor, fantasy, horror and basically every genre and subgenre one can think of.
Simon Brooks: The Bible has influenced art, culture and our daily life enormously. We refer to the great stories from the Bible in our speech, we watch modern films based on archetypes and conflicts of those times. The stories of the book of Genesis are, after all, just amazing stories, but they are getting a bit lost these days. So we work as storytellers in the age of smartphones.
Isn’t it dangerous to make a modern interpretation of a religious text?
Timur Bekmambetov: Made with so much respect to legacy and so much passion to the storytelling, iBible manages to avoid patronizing and presents narratives in a way that viewers can choose to digest however they wish. It’s a parody that both believers and non-believers would love to watch.
Simon Brooks: iBible is a piece of self-contained content that works equally as a source of entertainment, information or enlightenment. It works better as a stepping stone towards understanding a broader picture.
Jesse Brooks: Our series boil it down to essentially just the stories and give them a modern spin by using smartphone screens and visual language of popular apps and social media.
What makes iBible so unique?
Timur Bekmambetov: For the first time, we have tried to tell stories from the Bible in a modern way, with great respect for the texts, with an educational and engaging message, and in a form in which it is convenient to explore this content in the era of smartphones and short attention span.
Majd Nassif: We are historically accurate, while we speak a modern language, which is the language of art of the digital era and screenlife.
What does the Screenlife format give to these narratives?
Timur Bekmambetov: Screenlife enables us to play out these stories organically on smartphone screens, giving the viewers a sense of immersion they can’t get when watching this content on any other device.
Jesse Brooks: We’re just such visual learners. We’ve experienced this with a newer generation of our Phony Texts followers who are just consuming media from a visual standpoint. Screenlife allowed us to create something that resonates with the way we live today, as we spend almost half of our lives (when we are awake) using our phones.
Simon Brooks: Screenlife makes next-level video essays that can tell all kinds of stories and narratives in the language of smartphone app interfaces and social media communication.
Why has a short form of a TikTok-long video been chosen for the series? Wouldn’t longer episodes work better?
Timur Bekmambetov: We take only as much of the viewer’s time as we need and not a second more. Since this project is for smartphone viewing – we must compete for users’ attention with pop-up notifications, texts from their family and love interests, as well as their favorite bloggers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
What was the inspiration for the series?
Simon Brooks: As fans of Mel Brooks and Monty Python, we loved how one can approach the narrative with humor and passion to make those stories shine in a new way relatable to contemporary audiences.
Timur Bekmambetov: There’s so much creativity in the way we use our phones and in the way it manifests on their screens. Nothing is more authentic and more sincere than the way we type and erase our messages, how we phrase our search engine requests, how we scroll through social media. It all creates a whole new level of intimacy, even though out there on the Internet we have never been more exposed. iBible’s screenlife imagery connects ancient narratives with our everyday lifestyles and uses this surreal blend of private and sacred, and common and popular.
Who are the main audience?
Timur Bekmambetov: It’s very mainstream as both the screenlife format and the content make it so common and so relatable to audiences all around the globe. Some will see it as a source of information, some will find it as entertaining as their favorite YouTube channels or TikTokers, others will be inspired to create something like this using the screens of their smartphones. That’s an example of how any story can be told organically on our devices.
Simon Brooks: This might actually inspire the Millennials and Gen Z to explore ancient texts and all the cultural legacy it led to: great Renaissance paintings, great literature, and even contemporary movies.
Jesse Brooks: The series can be used as teaching material for children. Children should have access to stories that are central to the culture in so many countries. Many common phrases rely on knowledge from these texts, as do many of the moral assumptions echoed in our society.
Why is a new project about the texts of the Bible necessary?
Jesse Brooks: It’s bite-sized access to greater knowledge. Exploring the Bible can provide a useful understanding of history, sociology, psychology, literature, and language. We’re building this bridge from inside the episode to the digital domain through your smartphone where you can get more information, more enlightenment and share and discuss it with your friends and a wider audience. The interactive environment of the screenlife format where all those things co-exist becomes truly instrumental for this experience.
Timur Bekmambetov: iBible is the point where the ancient truths, concepts and stories penetrate the new “wild” digital space where the rules of the physical world we’ve been living in up until now are not applied. People can do online what they would never do in person. From the Bible we know about the seven deadly sins. But are there deadly sins in our digital lives, on the Internet? Are they different? That’s the whole new process we’d better embark on now to fill in the new digital world with the right narratives, with the notions of what’s good and what’s not in order to prevent it from becoming a place solely for bullying, hate speech, fake news, hypocrisy and so on. It is our duty to humanize this new digital world in which we live.
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In a Screenlife film, viewers see the action play out from the POV of the computers, tablets and smartphones used by the characters.