Story boundaries collapse in energy crisis tale

Tommy Pallotta’s Collapsus fuses genres and media to take the peak oil message to the “connected generation”

By Rosie Lavan


The activist vlogger Vera and, to the left, the interactive portion of the multi-panel Collapsus screen

SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: Set in the near future when the global energy crisis has forced the shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, Collapsus tackles complex geo-political issues by charting their impact on 10 young people around the globe who appear to be caught up in a conspiracy centring on the world’s dwindling oil reserves. Interactive elements put decision-making in the audience’s hands, but in Collapsus there are no easy answers.

FORMAT: 40’ web film in linear form comprising animation, fiction, documentary film and interactive elements

PRODUCTION COMPANIES: SubmarineChannel (Netherlands)

STATUS: Project completed

RELEASE DATES: 23 March 2010: initial Netherlands release to coincide with screening of Energy Risk TV documentary; main release 1 October 2010


Collapsus was commissioned by the Dutch broadcaster VPRO as a companion piece to Energy Risk, a television documentary which assessed the impending energy crisis and the move from fossil fuels to more sustainable alternatives. Conscious that the average documentary viewer is aged 55 or over and keen to take the message to a younger audience, VPRO approached SubmarineChannel, the cross-media production and distribution platform. Work was already underway when SubmarineChannel brought Tommy Pallotta on board as director. In just six months a team of around 50 or 60 people had completed the project, which combines documentary film, the rotoscope animation technique which Pallotta brought to Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly (2006), and the interactive elements which enable the user to explore and participate in the story and the complex issues it raises.

In the right-hand panel, viewers can explore the story with news reports, character blogs and extracts from Energy Risk, the real documentary


Collapsus was designed to fulfil a specific objective to engage audiences: to find an effective, compelling way to communicate the issues raised in Energy Risk to young people. Tommy Pallotta has termed this target audience “the connected generation”, and he adopted a cross-media approach to reach them.

Pallotta’s aim was to create an experience of “annotated narrative”, combining fiction, documentary and interactive elements. On the screen, this translates into a three-panel system: the centre panel carries the main fictional storyline, and as this plays the panels to either side light up at certain points, attracting the viewer’s attention. On the right, the documentary portion of the story offers (fictional) news reports, expert analysis and additional blogs and content from characters, as well as extracts from Energy Risk. The left-hand panel is the interactive domain, which allows viewers to enter the story via an interactive world map and take on challenges related to the central action, deciding for themselves how they would handle energy sourcing, research and budgets. Progress through Collapsus is measured on a timeline underneath the viewing panels marking significant events in the story.

In the Netherlands, Collapsus was launched to coincide with the airing of Energy Risk in March 2010. Pallotta and his team made some changes after that, and the project went live in October. While audience or engagement figures are not yet available, Collapsus is being promoted  on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and it is through these networks and via word-of-mouth.


Energy Risk




Collapsus trailer

Collapsus walkthrough with Tommy Pallotta

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