If you haven’t watched the entirety of Netflix’s first season of Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, do yourself a favor and get caught up before you venture any further here. If you don’t, not only would you be missing out on an original, entertaining, and very different sort of superhero show, but you’d be spoiling some storytelling surprises that factor into the series’ interactive episode, Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout. This awesome addition to the show directly follows the events of Season 1, but it packs way more story into its runtime than your average special thanks to Netflix’s interactive ability that lets you choose the path!
To find out just what it takes to develop an interactive tale like The Breakout, I spoke with series executive producer/director Victor Cook and show/comic book writers Kevin Burke and Chris “Doc” Wyatt for behind-the-scenes details on this innovative and original episode. If you’re curious as to where the story of The Breakout fits into the overall narrative, whether it’s canon or not, and just how many storytelling options there are, this is a can’t-miss interview. However, this is also your last spoiler warning if you aren’t caught up yet!
With Stretch Armstrong‘s interactive episode, “The Breakout”… is this canon to the series itself or is it a one-off adventure?
Victor Cook: Yes, this is canon, it is not a one-off. The interactive episode is part of the overall story that starts in Season 1 and continues to Season 2.
Are ALL the possible story options also canon or is there one “right” one? Do they contradict each other at all?
Cook: All option outcomes are canon. There are two different fates for one of the characters depending what you choose, but the aftermath of either still connects to Season 2.
How many possible story paths are there?
Cook: Over 40.
How much actual footage is there in the overall piece?
Cook: We used three episodes worth of footage, 66 minutes to produce the interactive episode, but the longest story path is 44 minutes. We needed the extra footage to create the alternate choices.
“The Breakout” has so many options and outcomes that it feels like a mini-season instead of a special episode. What was different about making this one vs the regular season episodes?
Cook: From a directing point of view, this was quite a production challenge to piece it all together. Because some of the paths had similar parts, it felt like working on the movie Groundhog Day. Figuring out who was going to storyboard and animate which section was like figuring out how to get a Rubik’s Cube’s colors to line up!
Basically, myself and each sequence director, Kevin Altieri, Alan Caldwell, and Frank Paur handled an environment and villain. For example, one would oversee all the Smoke Stack disco scenes, another all the Circuit Stream arcade scenes, another the Rook Tower scenes, another the Multifarious construction site scenes etc. We also assigned the storyboard artists similarly, this helped each sequence hook up.
The music score had to be done a little bit differently for the interactive than a regular episode. We couldn’t start music right at the start of a sequence and it could not go completely to the end of a sequence. Our composers, The Outfit, did it in a way that sounded great!
Usually, a normal episode allows me the freedom to spot the color schemes in at least a couple varying times: day, sunset, evening etc. so I can direct a visual progression of mood. In a regular episode, a script might describe a sequence as day, but sometimes I will go off script and direct the city to be sunset or evening. The interactive had to take place all in one day, and I really needed to stay on script for this. I decided to make it overcast to reflect the gloominess of The Flex Fighters’ situation. Only two of the endings made sense for me to direct the city to be sunset and night. So to create mood through out the rest of the episode, we focused on how each interior environment would be lit and colored; those were implemented so well thanks to Art Director Joey Mason and Background Painters Tristan Roesch and Kelly Chan.
The interactive was a bit of a challenge to record because it wasn’t as sequential as a regular episode and couldn’t be done in one day. Voice Director Collette Sunderman did an amazing job tracking the needs of each sequence while guiding the actors. Scott Menville, Ogie Banks, Steven Yeun, Nazneen Contractor, Kate Mulgrew, Keith David, Wil Wheaton and the other actors were up for the challenge and delivered stellar performances.
There were technical aspects with the choice points we never had on a regular episode that Netflix worked closely with us to make work.
Another thing different from a regular episode is we decided to not start the interactive with the main title sequence. It felt too upbeat considering how season one ended. But we did create an extra long END credit sequence. We actually start the END credits with our main title sequence that features an important visual cast change-up. The rest of the end credits feature multiple images of a lot of new cool art from the show with a medley of many of the show’s music themes. I encourage everyone to watch the end credits.
The script, of course, was super long. Kudos to Doc Wyatt and Kevin Burke for writing this! They had strings on the wall connecting all the option paths to make sure each worked from a story point of view and each would connect from season one to season two, no matter what path was chosen, no matter which ending they led to.