Moviemaking and matchmaking have come together in Tinder’s Swipe Night, an innovative and somewhat quirky bid to bring interactive entertainment into the dating app’s all-important collection of user data. Swipe Night launched on October 6 with the first of four episodes, each about five minutes long. The final episode will be available on the tinder app this Sunday from 6 p.m. to midnight. But what exactly is Swipe Night?
It’s billed as a first-of-its-kind micro-series with actors portraying characters in a scripted drama about the last night on Earth. Along the way, the characters break the fourth wall to ask the viewer questions or offer them choices. The decisions that each viewer makes at those junctures will tilt the narrative in different directions from that point forward — not unlike the Choose Your Own Adventure books series or last year’s Emmy-winning Dark Mirror episode, Bandersnatch.
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But unlike those decision-driven predecessors, Swipe Night has a motive that goes beyond entertainment. The answers that tinder members provide will become part of their member data. The official synopsis from tinder elaborates: “Swipe Night follows a group of friends on their journey to the end of the world after discovering there’s only three hours left to live. It’s shot entirely in first person, so the member is placed squarely in the middle of the storyline, making each episode a wild ride of self-discovery and new connections. As the story unfolds, members will face moral dilemmas and practical choices, with only 7 seconds to decide and there’s no going back to change your mind. Swipe Night choices will give you more insight on your matches and offer plenty of material for post-apocalyptic banter. You learn a lot about someone by being in the trenches with them.”
The Swipe Night initiative is aimed squarely at tinder’s Gen Z users (18-25), a segment that now represents 50% of the dating app’s membership. To communicate with that demographic in an authentic way tinder enlisted Karena Evans, Drake’s go-to music video director (she helmed both In My Feelings and God’s Plan) as well as the 2019 BET Award winner in the best music video director category, Deadline caught up with Evans to get more insight into Swipe Night and the possibilities of similar new-form screen productions.
DEADLINE: Part of me wonders if this tinder’s way of acknowledging that modern dating is a disaster waiting to happen. That’s not the case is it?
KARENA EVANS: Not at all. In fact, its purpose — beyond it being an innovative piece of storytelling — is to match its users and ultimately provide for deeper conversations and meaning within modern dating. And to me, that is really special.
DEADLINE: What was the genesis of the concept? The genre and tone could have gone in a million different directions. Can you talk a bit about those choices?
EVANS: It wasn’t just about inventive storytelling. It goes deeper than that. The show allows audiences to explore who they are and what they’re into. There’s a sense of meaning here, and in order to tap into that visually, it was about making the series equal parts authentic and connected to Gen Z, yet heightened and exciting. This called for the visuals to be stylized through and through. Sculpting this involved a lot of variables. It needed to feel totally true to a generation and its behavior, and that included: the premise, story, character development, language, dialogue, cultural reference, visual style, tone and casting.
DEADLINE: One intriguing aspect of using drama to pose ethical questions seems to be the possibility of more candid responses. Filling out a questionnaire feels like an audition and the responses might be idealized, evasive, exaggerated, etc. But someone responding in real time to an unfolding screen drama? That might draw out their gut reactions…
EVANS: That’s exactly what drew me to being a part of the project. Everyone involved in developing the series wanted to make sure that every step of the way, what users were being asked, the characters they were meeting and what at the heart of the story is being communicated, allowed audiences to understand themselves on a deeper level. Users can own their choices, embrace their true nature, and do things their way by creating their own adventure. It gets so personal (whether the questions are simple or deep), yet it’s also beautifully universal. At its core, it’s an experience about genuine self-discovery and connection.
DEADLINE: Go back to Day 1 of the project: What would you say was your biggest concern or challenge at that point? And how did you end up addressing it?
EVANS: I had never done anything interactive before, so my concern was making sure I was not only doing that particular medium justice, but also this brand new medium tinder was creating with the vertical video and this first of its kind series. So I worked with the brilliant DP Carolina Costa, and in order to keep the user engaged, together we had to find a new visual language that worked specifically with this new interactive medium, the vertical video, and the first person POV. We approached every scene like a “oner”, with fluid transitions in and out of every scene and adapted the camerawork to move in a human-like way.
DEADLINE: It was a single-camera shoot, correct?
EVANS: It was a single camera shoot to keep a consistent POV yet dynamic camera style, but for the heavy rigging action sequences (in order to shoot with the necessary speed while riding with the actors), we used a helmet camera. We tested various types of lenses but we loved the look of the Zeiss Supremes and within that lens set we favored how poetically the 29mm and 50mm worked with the vertical format and framing, and how close they feel to the human eye. The idea was to be able to swap between those focal lengths from path to path. In the same way that we look at life around us, we are sometimes more focused and fixated on specific things or people within our view, and at other times we take in the full picture in front of us. It helped to intensify dramatic, comedic or action-felt moments without being able to get traditional coverage and it also lent itself to finding the line of being cinematic and captivating but still real and visceral.
DEADLINE: I suppose you had to account for the fact that a lot of your audience would be watching on a smartphone screen…
EVANS: Our camera never felt too delicate. At all times Carolina moved the camera to behave like a human — it can turn quickly, it can hit things, it can fall over on its side — she got right there in the action. But we were very aware of the amount of movement that will be felt specifically on a cellphone screen when viewing, so it needed not be jarring unless we wanted it to be for a particular chaotic moment.
DEADLINE: How many decision points are there along the way? What sort of feedback has been coming back from users?
EVANS: There are about 8-10 decision points in every episode but it very much depends on what path users end up on during their “choose-your-own adventure” as it varies from path to path. Overall, the feedback has been quite positive. It’s been really fulfilling to see how much the culture is responding and receiving each episode, especially how connected audiences seem to be to the story and the characters, which took a lot of time to develop.
DEADLINE: What was the production like? Was the shoot logistically similar to video game production? Video games would be the screen entertainment sector that has to account for branching narratives and typically the only one where a large cast of characters break the fourth wall to engage the audience directly…
EVANS: We prepped the series like a feature with six weeks in pre-production and an 11-day shoot, but the agency, 72 and Sunny, had been developing the project since the beginning of 2019. We shot in Mexico City. There are three lead characters and roughly 23 supporting characters. With our three lead actors, I did about a week of rehearsals with the cast and the DOP in order to reach the story in every episode, but to also give the actors a chance to both find and breathe life into their characters — how they talk, how they walk, and their relationship/history with “the user. I’ve not directed any video games but what was essential for the rehearsal process for me was getting comfortable with the POV and breaking the fourth wall, which I imagine would be similar in the video game pre-production process. As an actor, you’re not taught to look directly down the barrel of the lens, and so it was important to bring our DP Carolina into rehearsals so that the actors could develop their relationship with her and the camera. In a way, we all had to retrain our brains to ensure we constantly kept the camera (which was acting as the user), involved and engaged within the conversation and scene unfolding.
DEADLINE: It’s intriguing stuff. What’s next? Is there a push at tinder to pursue another series? And what would you say is the great upside of this new approach?
EVANS: I’ll let the team at tinder answer that. But in my opinion, the upside to this interactive storytelling approach is pushing the boundaries for the constant exploration to deeper connections with audiences.