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Understanding Screenlife: Unconventional Storytelling in Filmmaking

Photo by Mason Kimbarovsky / Unsplash

Directors entering the world of screenlife movies use the screen as a canvas for storytelling, where characters live, love, and deal with life through what's happening on their screens.

For viewers, screenlife offers a chance to get even more involved in the characters' lives. But what exactly is screenlife? Let's find out below.

What is screenlife?

Screenlife is a form of storytelling that showcases how characters live their lives through various digital interfaces such as laptops, smartphones, social media platforms, or video chats. The narrative unfolds in real-time, and the audience sees the story from the perspective of the characters' digital devices.

Screenlife movies became popular in the 2010s and are often associated with movies like "Unfriended" (2014) and "Searching" (2018). But since then, even more movies made with this technique appeared; some of them even got movies festivals nominations and awards.

Through screenlife, filmmakers typically explore contemporary themes, such as the impact of technology on communication, relationships, and privacy. But what other, more conventional movie formats typically can't give is immersive viewing experience, making the audience feel like they are directly engaging with the characters' digital lives.

Sometimes, screenlife films may have interactive elements, allowing audiences to click on links, make choices, or influence the story's direction.

Screenlife might be technically challenging, despite its putative simplicity

Screenlife films often have lower production costs compared to traditional films, as they may not require extensive sets, locations, or physical props, which is advantageous for independent filmmakers or those working with limited budgets.

Yet, the format involves unique technical aspects that set it apart from traditional filmmaking. Screen recording is a fundamental technique in screenlife filmmaking, as it involves capturing the content displayed on computer screens or digital devices, including web browsers, messaging apps, and other applications.

The challenge is to make the screen recordings appear realistic and seamless, so what directors and production designers should focus on is creating realistic digital content, such as websites, social media profiles, and messages, because without them, there's no authenticity. In addition to capturing on-screen visuals, filmmakers must consider ambient sounds that accompany digital interactions, such as typing, mouse clicks, and notification sounds.

See also: How sound enhances the immersive experience in video games. 

Is screenlife even an individual genre?

It was generally considered more of a storytelling technique or tool rather than a distinct genre since it unfolds entirely on digital screens, allowing filmmakers to explore narratives through the lens of technology and online communication. This format has been applied to various genres, including horror, thriller, drama, comedy, and more, so, the narratives themselves within the screenlife format can belong to different genres, and the use of this technique doesn't necessarily dictate the genre of the story.

Filmmakers have employed screenlife to tell suspenseful stories, depict relationships, explore social issues, and engage with contemporary themes, so now, it's a versatile tool that can be adapted to different storytelling needs.

While screenlife films share common elements in terms of their visual and narrative approach, the diversity of genres they cover suggests that screenlife is more of a technique, style, or tool for storytelling rather than a genre in itself.

Which genres can be depicted through screenlife?

The screenlife format is versatile and can be applied to a wide range of themes and stories, as we pointed out above, but certain themes and narratives are more well-suited for this format due to the unique aspects of storytelling through digital interfaces.

Thrillers and suspense, horror movies, relationship dramas, social commentary, mystery and investigation, comedy and satire, sci-fi and technological dystopias are a few to name. Take a look.

Screenlife movies examples you definitely should check out

"Searching" (2018)

After his teenage daughter goes missing, a desperate father uses her laptop to search for clues. As he delves into her online life, he uncovers secrets and realizes he may not have known his daughter as well as he thought.

"Profile" (2018)

Based on real events, "Profile" follows an investigative journalist who creates a fake Facebook profile to befriend an ISIS recruiter online. As she engages in conversations, the line between journalist and subject becomes dangerously blurred.

"Host" (2020)

Shot entirely during the COVID-19 lockdown, "Host" is a horror film that unfolds in a series of Zoom calls. A group of friends decides to conduct a virtual séance, unleashing unexpected and terrifying consequences.

"Unfriended: Dark Web" (2018)

In this sequel to "Unfriended," a young man discovers a hidden folder on his new laptop containing disturbing videos. As he and his friends delve deeper, they find themselves entangled in the dark web, facing deadly consequences.

"R#J" (2021):

A modern retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," "R#J" unfolds through screens, text messages, and social media. The timeless tragedy is reimagined in the context of contemporary digital communication and online relationships.

To uncover more screenlife movies, visit the IMDb's screenlife selection