Choose Your Own Documentary – The Boy in the Book online experience

Choose YOUR Own Documentary

An absorbing combination of film, illustration, music and the intriguing lives of real people, The Boy in the Book is an adventure story, directed, from the very start, by the viewer.

Originally a multi award-winning documentary film presented in over 100 mass-participation live theatre shows, then an accompanying book, The Boy in the Book has now stepped into a new genre entirely – a digital experience in which the viewer is invited to shape the path of a documentary.

The experience is the result of the obsessive nature of one of its creators, writer and performer Nathan Penlington, and his lifelong love of the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, which became a publishing phenomenon in the 1980s. Created by writer Edward Packard, the series, beginning with The Cave of Time (1979) and ending with Mayday! (1998), sold over 250 million copies. Each title contained hundreds of possible routes to multiple endings.

How did it come about?

Some years ago, Nathan bought a collection of the paperback books on eBay; inside one, he found the stashed pages of a childhood diary, which contained the intriguing, moving and potentially disturbing secret thoughts of a young boy. Nathan’s natural curiosity led him on a journey to find the boy and shed light on the mystery of the messages.

As an avowed Choose Your Own Adventure uber-fan, Nathan chose to pursue the adventures in the style of the original books, considering all the options, wondering about the paths less trodden and the consequences of decisions. The result is a gripping tale, encompassing humour, sadness, obsession, love, teenage (and beyond) awkwardness, pursuit, self-discovery and the immense power and consequences of the many life choices and decisions we make.

The Boy in the Book is produced, directed, and written by the four-strong creative team of CYOD Ltd. (Fernando Gutierrez de Jesus, Nathan Penlington, Sam Smaïl, and Nick Watson), supported by digital agency Joi Polloi, and the story contains over 100 films, thirty characters, 100 original illustrations and hundreds of routes to multiple possible endings. In an age of device obsession and altered attention spans, it may point to a possible future for documentaries and storytelling.

At the heart of The Boy in the Book are the emotionally-loaded words of Terence Prendergast, a boy with a love of Choose Your Own Adventure but a mind seemingly troubled by weighty thoughts. From the very start, viewers are given the responsibility of affecting the story, their decisions setting in train the events that will unfold along the way to an as-yet-undetermined conclusion.

Choose Your Own Documentary - The Boy in the Book
Choose Your Own Documentary – The Boy in the Book

Originally commissioned by Southbank Centre, Choose Your Own Documentary premiered in full at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where it went on to win the prestigious Scotsman Fringe First Award for outstanding new writing and innovation. It received its first full London run with a two-week sell-out residency at the Soho Theatre and was an official selection at Tribeca Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest, receiving nominations for the Storyscapes Transmedia Award and Sheffield Innovation Award respectively.

About this artist

CYOD Ltd, is a multi-discipline creative team comprised of writer and performer, Nathan Penlington, and filmmakers Fernando Gutierrez de Jesus, Sam Smaïl, and Nick Watson. Together they conceived and created the original incarnation of the Boy in the Book story with the live interactive show, Choose Your Own Documentary, which combined intimate spoken word and documentary film, with an audience armed with remote controls who directed the action.