I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Bernie Su, who’s currently the Showrunner on Twitch’s first scripted series, Artificial. The show, now in the middle of it’s third season, is breaking new ground in the way interactive storytelling is produced. The series focuses on Matt Lin, who built the android Sophie, and started a Twitch stream to help Sophie learn about the world around her and become more human.
We talked about everything from the inception of the series, to robot uprisings, to how they’ve modified the show to shoot remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read our full interview with Bernie Su below and check back for more about Artificial on Twitch.
An Interview With Bernie Su on Emmy Winning Series, Artificial
*Editor’s Note: this interview has been edited for clarity*
The Illuminerdi: I don’t know how I didn’t find out about this show sooner. I just recently started binging through the series and I’m all in now. Like, I watched the first two or three episodes and I was like, alright, now I have to watch the next one. . . and now the next one, and the next one. So, the series is amazing, it’s really innovative and I am a little mad that this wasn’t my idea. It’s just great.
Bernie Su: *Laughs*
How did you come up with the concept for Artificial?
Bernie Su: Yeah, so I’ve been in interactive storytelling for, you know, almost a decade now. So then we identified Twitch over the last few years as a platform that was kind of untapped in this interactive storytelling space with innovation and technology. Where they have a lot of the pieces that were further along innovation-wise than a lot of the other platforms that do similar thing. And I recently wanted to work with them to do a series there.
And so this concept was originated with my co-creator, the story of this show, Evan Mandri, who like want to work with me, and I said, “Hey, if you did this AI, kind of Pinocchio-esque comp, and you built it on Twitch interactive, it’d be something like you’ve never seen before.”
And here we are. So, it really was about the challenge and could you do it? Can you do this on a streaming platform, and we’re trying to prove it,
I had went to school for film theory and criticism and have a little bit of a screenwriting in there in there too. And a few years ago, a couple of friends and I were trying to figure out if we could do like a Choose Your Own Adventure type thing on YouTube. But we couldn’t figure out how to do it on that platform, just because the technology just isn’t there. People would either have access to the entire list and it would almost be like reading a book where you could just go and read any part that you want.
But now you have what you’re doing on Twitch with having people vote on how things are going and having the actors interact with them in character. It’s a really fascinating concept to me. I’ve talked to a few of the actors now, but as the producer and the showrunner, how hard is it for you to kind of get them into that mode, where they have to be in character, but at the same time, interact with people because it, it feels like it’s like a step above where improv is.
Bernie Su: Yeah, I want to give them a credit. The actors are the ones performing it. I’m just trying to give them the guide of how to do it. So, they’ve been incredible. I mean, you see the show. They’re the ones delivering. They’re the ones who are who are taking the interactive elements and the things you throw in on the fly and the character.
So, what I kind of frame it to is that it’s like a conversation. It’s, you know, when you when you’re asking, not an actor, but like, when you have all the lines in front of you kind of know where it’s all going. And then a conversation. You may know what kind of the queen of the company is going to go, but you don’t know exactly. And you don’t know who’s gonna ask the question.
And so, I find I kind of reframe it for them to say like, “Hey, it’s a bit of a conversation you and your character. To encompass the character. Know who your character is. I will give you as much canonical data as possible in background, but from there you have kind of a bit of a free form of how you respond because the character’s yours as well. As much as ours and the writers.” So it is a team effort there for sure.
So with everything that’s happening now and you guys going into season three with this new remote aspect of it. When this whole lockdown thing happened, did you immediately know, “Okay, this is it. This is how we’re going to do season three. We can do this easily.” Were you thinking about waiting so you could go back to the way you were doing it before? How did this new format come about?
Bernie Su: So, it was definitely, obviously because of the pandemic. So, we were already in, like, you know, negotiating or talks with Twitch about how we’re going to do the show and then the pandemic hit. And then they said, they wanted us to do it as a remote, if it was possible, or we could wait. And I’m a guy who’s like, “I love challenges.” I just looked at this like, sure, I wish the pandemic didn’t happen. Like how bad it’s been for the world. But it had happened, you don’t get to undo that, right? And so, I roll with that and incorporate that into the storytelling.
I actually do think the show is far more dynamic in this format than it than it would have been in the traditional format because it’s just, it’s almost crazier. And so the challenge of doing it remote with you know, everybody calling in, or zooming in, or whatever you want to say and but still Building interactivity so making excited by still making it look really slick and not like a you know, a zoom call like right was really fun and it’s been very invigorating to do that can do that.