The Making of a Cross-border Interactive Documentary

The interactive documentary I Spy (With My Five Eyes) is an international co-production project supported by funding from the Canada–New Zealand Digital Media Fund.

The major issue most filmmakers face when they get back to their studio after shooting is not that they have too little footage, but rather simply too much. It’s an issue that a group of filmmakers and technologists in Canada and New Zealand decided to tackle in an interactive documentary project titled I Spy (With My Five Eyes).

“You leave a lot of really good bits out as you have to shorten [your documentary] for a certain length,” says Carthew Neal, a video producer with New Zealand’s Fumes, the production company behind the project.

“Was there a way for audiences who wanted more to be able to interact and get access to more information as they went in?”

New Zealand’s Fumes decided to partner up with Toronto’s Jam3, the award-winning design and experience studio behind Bear 71, to create I Spy (With My Five Eyes), an interactive documentary that showcases a multi-level experience.

Joining up with Jam3 from Toronto

The documentary explores the way five major English-speaking nations (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom) share online information with one another for international security purposes. It also explores how these countries are criticized for sharing too much of their citizens’ private information. I Spy does not take a side in the issue, but instead provides a thought piece on the subject.

After coming up with the idea for the documentary, the people at Fumes approached Jam3 to help build a website project to support the film.

“The story was very compelling from the beginning, very relevant and interesting,” says Jam3’s Heather Phenix. “[It was] really great working with them, having a healthy back-and-forth on the right ways to tell the story.”

Fumes travelled the globe for six months to capture all the footage it needed to tell the story. Then the editing challenge began. The aim was to tell the story through a series of short videos as well as to make more information, details, and insights available via interactive elements for those interested in a longer format. Both versions of the documentary had to be enriching and engrossing experiences on their own.

“It was a sort of mind gym, making sure all of the pieces of the puzzle worked, no matter which way you watched it,” says Neal.

Creating the website

Once shooting was finished, Fumes forwarded the footage to the Jam3 team in Toronto to create the website experience. An early mock-up was designed for desktop, mobile, and tablet experiences. Then, once the content came in, the team had to decide how it would put it all together.

“I think we were so impressed by the quality of the content that came in. That part was a really enjoyable phase for me personally,” says Phenix.

As both teams were on opposite sides of the globe, they coordinated with one another for hours on the phone and through limited in-person meetings. The teams took on larger roles at different stages of the project.


Watching the documentary itself is a different experience than simply watching it on YouTube or Netflix because the viewer is actively involved in the process. I Spy allows the audience to select which part of the story they want to see next; they have the choice of how deep into the story they want to go.

“It offers up different layers, almost like peeling back layers of an onion, where you can go deep or can just stay surface level, depending on how much you need or want,” says Phenix.

An engaging experience

Interaction is a key part of the I Spy experience. The viewer can interact with the material using an in-video tool to comment on specific story angles within the chapter itself.

The end result, according to Heather Phenix, is that people watching the documentary were more engaged in the process thanks to the interactive format.

As an independent project, Fumes and Jam3 worked on promoting and spreading the documentary to the world via social media and other sources. I Spy was very well received and was awarded Gold at the ADCC Awards in the Best Overall Website category and Silver in the Education and Information category. Jam3 also took home the Interactive Agency of the Year award.

Fuelling creativity with CMF and NZ On Air funding

The funding these teams received from the Canada Media Fund and NZ On Air gave them the ability to be more creative and enjoy more flexibility in terms of content and experience design.

“We have a lot more freedom to develop original ideas with partners who want to do the same, and the collaboration is a lot more passionate and interesting. Personally, [that’s] where my favourite types of projects come from,” says Phenix.

The team received $400K in total funding: $200K from the Canada Media Fund and $200K from NZ On Air.

More information on the Canada–New Zealand Digital Media Fund can be found here.

Julia Cook
Julia Cook is a freelance writer and marketing consultant from the East Coast of Canada. She worked for eight years with CBC in PEI and Newfoundland-Labrador as a broadcast journalist. During that time she tested her hand at radio, TV, and online news, as well as radio hosting, producing, and documentary making. Julia has spent years writing stories about the local arts communities and emerging technologies.
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