Finalised Project Proposal

Working Title: Are You Afraid?


Are You Afraid? is an immersive online documentary that combines research, an immersive user experience and user generated content to explore the age-old subject of fear. Users are intended to face or at least acknowledge their own fears whilst understanding what elements of their psyche and society drive them. There is a heavy user-generated-content element to the project, with viewers answering questions and submitting content to the documentary to enhance the experience. The project also relies on interviews with psychology professionals, academics and even those involved in the horro movie industry, in addition to a broad range of collated third-party content, ranging from tabloid headlines, to data on what people fear.



As fear is a decidedly universal phenomenon, I originally considered my audience to be as broad as the language and bandwidth demands would allow. However, as the information contained within the documentary is intended to be relatively sophisticated, in addition to my intention to inflict suspense and mild fear on my audience, this projection was reevaluated. I foresee my audience age-wise as being older than 15 but not too old to be unable to navigate the project easily. People with strong interests in psychology, people with an interest in fear-mongering in the media and of course horror-film buffs all belong to interest groups that are targeted by Are you Afraid?. As such, there are some confines on whom my audience is, but predominately this project acknowledges that fear is something everyone has experienced, and thus should on some level appeal to a great number of people.



The project has two main components: the question screens and the information hub. Users can explore the program in one or two ways:

  1. Follow the question paths and be led to certain pockets of information (e.g. answering ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Have you always been afraid’ will lead a user to the ‘Phobias’ information page.
  2. Head to the main menu and explore the various themed information pages at your own will.


The first of numerous question screen. Users type a response, the data of which is used throughout the work
The first of numerous question screen. Users type a response, the data of which is used throughout the work
A mockup of one of the numerous question screens. Capitalised words can be clicked on, prompting small information boxes
A mockup of one of the numerous question screens. Capitalised words can be clicked on, prompting small information boxes

Users can successfully navigate the program either way. In this way they can either choose to let their fears choose their fate, or directly find information by themselves. They can also backtrack and begin the questioning process for themselves. This will avoid frustration for people keen to seek out certain information, but also allow a rewarding exploratory element to the project.


Finalised wireframe of Are you Afraid?
Finalised wireframe of Are you Afraid?


Whilst the project in informative, it also aims to put its viewer on edge by engaging with graphic elements that are typically associated with fear. The colour scheme will comprise of dark shades to reinforce the common fear of the dark and the imagery will be gothic, mysterious and unnerving. The main menu screen will also feature a MRI scan of a brain. This reinforces the psychological element of fear, instilling the message that our fears are intrinsically linked to the neurological working of one’s mind.



The overall project will be backed by a non-descript atmospheric soundtrack, which will be periodically intercut by the audio of famous quotes and speeches about fear. The only exception to this is when the interviews play, at which point the soundtrack will be dramatically softened.



In this proposal and throughout this journal as a whole I have proposed a number of documentary features that would require extensive programming to function correctly. However admittedly I do not even know if these feature (e.g. linking user-input words to google searches) are even possible within the confines of time and student skill-level. I have deliberately under-researched the technical elements of what I am proposing as I have limited HMTL5, flash and broader web design experience. I do not envisage myself taking up many responsibilities in this area as my journalistic, filming and graphic design skills are more developed and are areas I would best focus on to be an efficient member of a group in Assessment 3. If this idea is to be pursued further, any impracticalities in terms of user-interaction would be quickly discussed and addressed.



The main implementation of user generated content will be in the collecting of metadata via viewers answering the question ‘What are you afraid of’. The most common words used in these responses will float around the salient brain image in the menu screen. They will disappear however when the mouse hovers over the buttons that link to the different sections of the site. Additionally, a user can visit a separate page where they see the full responses of other users and a range infographics created from the inputted data (e.g. how many users chose to ‘fight’ vs. how many chose to ‘flight’, the change in top users’ fears over time etc.).

Mockup of main menu screen. Responses from users float around the main control panel (the brain)
Mockup of main menu screen. Responses from users float around the main control panel (the brain)



There are four main screens plus a home screen in the project. Each different screen will tackle a different aspect of fear (phobias, subjecting yourself to fear, understanding why we fear and overcoming fear). On each page there will be various bits of information (e.g. lists, statistics, quotes, news headlines) as well as clips from an interview with a person associated with a certain area (i.e. Mark Hartley for the horror film section).



Experimenting with Structure

So I finally had a go at mapping out my online documentary. Currently I am tossing up between two different structures. They are described and wireframed below.


The first is based around the five different types of fear. Users first answer a multiple choice question (what do you fear most?) with the answer corresponding to a different section of the site. Users can then go up or down in the hierarchy of fears (ego death is top, extinction is bottom) or head to a home screen where they can navigate to any one of the other pages.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 6.33.12 pm

I like this structure because it is simple and would allow me to strongly theme each page. It is basic, but would ensure easy navigation.


The second idea strongly utilized the ‘questions about fear’ idea I had earlier. Users answer a number of yes or no questions, their response guiding them to different collections of information. Whilst this form may cause frustration as it is a little ambiguous to navigate, it really aligns with my vision for an ‘immersive’ experience. It’s like you are letting your own fear guide your exploration of the content. 

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User Generated Content

So I’m still not 100% sure how I’ll utilize content gathered from my users in this project, but I’ve had quite a lot of ideas. Not sure how possible to achieve they all are (both within the skillset of my group and within the broad capabilities of HTML5), but some of them could really help add to the immersive experience I am aiming for.



I have two main ideas about how a user’s webcam could be utilized to create content for this project:

  1. People type in what they are afraid of. Shortly after, the screen flashes with an image that is derived from searching that answer in Google Images and using the top hit.
  2. People could use their webcams to film a short ‘confession’ about what they are afraid of. Users could view these films and share them.

The main concern with these ideas is getting users’ permission to use their webcam as well as publish the recorded images/videos on the website. Kinda tricky, but perhaps beforehand I could have a quick ‘terms of engagement’ to ensure all users are comfortable with this feature. Overall however, this would limit the amount of content gathered, diminishing the effectiveness of this feature, not to mention the fact few users actually have webcams.



I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘questions about fear’ idea I spoke about a little earlier. It would be great to have a The Test Tube inspired feature where people are asked what their greatest fear is. This data could be collected from users and displayed in various sections of the project. It could also work if I asked a similar question, ‘Who are you afraid of?’ Also, if I used the question ‘Fight or Flight’, I could provide statistics on how many users took either option.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 4.58.22 pm
The Test Tube: Users are initially asked to type a response
The Test Tube: Various viewers of the documentary appear on screen whilst a film interview plays
The Test Tube: Users’ names then appear on the screen whilst a filmed interview plays
The Test Tube: After the interview, users can then explore what other viewers submitted
The Test Tube: After the interview, users can then explore what other viewers submitted


I could compile a list of common fears and get users to vote on which one they are most afraid of. The list would be volatile and provide some great opportunities for infographics etc..

Further Documentary Content

I’ve been doing a little more research, finding a lot of random material, but material that I would like to include somewhere in the documentary. The following is a collection of various articles, information and data that might be useful throughout my project. Don’t know how they’ll fit in within the interviews etc. but it might be useful information to scatter about the project when I go into production.



I’m really keen on including a lot of interactivity into this project and so one idea I had was to ask the viewer several questions. The answers of the questions could then be collected and used throughout the project. For yes/no questions, each answer could lead to a different area of the site. Not sure how this will fit in with my interviews etc. but just an idea. Some potential questions are listed below.

–       What are you afraid of?

–       Why are you afraid?

–       What is fear?

–       Were you always afraid?

–       What do you do when you feel fear?

–       Are you a fighter or flighter?

–       Do you have a phobia?

–       Would you like to face your fear?



One idea for the soundtrack to a certain section of the documentary was to create an aural collage of famous quotes about fear made by politicians, scholars and celebrities. The only soundbite I definitely know is available at this stage is President Roosevelt’s famous speech in the great depression, but I’m sure with further research and searching in various achieves I’ll be able to find more.


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Here’s a couple of interesting chunks of data I’ve found. Don’t know how I will incorporate them as of yet, but I’m especially interested in how these fears change over time and what influence the mainstream media has had (e.g. in exacerbating the fear of terrorism post 9/11)



American Fears 1998 vs. 2001

Bruskin fears 1973 bar chart
American Fears 1973



There have been a number of experiments that have explored whether fear is learnt of inbred. Some are contentious in their questionable treatment of the experiment’s subjects, but they all have interesting results. Most interesting however is this constant desire to discover how fear is created. What is the intention behind these scientists? Did they believe understanding fear would help them control it and thus control a population?

 WATSON: Little Albert & rat experiment: Could someone learn to be afraid of something? Watsons wanted to show that people could be conditioned to have certain emotional reactions (i.e. fear).

ERIC ERICSON: Lifelong development fear theory. Trust vs. mistrust, If you don’t gain the sense of trust in your world, then you’ll resolve that on the continuum of mistrust. Looked for genetic patterns in fear.

SKINNER: Pigeons put in skinner box, punishment + rewarding “Each pigeon had superstitiously done something, accidentally been rewarded and carried on doing it.”



Neurological response to fear is managed by two sites in the brain, Hypothalamus and Amygala. Interesting article about how these were discovered below:


PHOBIAS LIST provides a comprehensive list of almost all phobias that have been documented in reference books. Some are absurd and most are arcane, but perhaps these definitions could be utilized in some way throughout the project?


Might be interesting to explore how fear is pacified/exacerbated by the media. Below is a compilation of some interesting fear mongering headlines from tabloid newspapers.

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Prospective Sources

As elsewhere discussed, I am keen to conduct a number of film interviews to make up a significant portion of the online documentary’s content. I want to tackle this project with a strong journalistic approach and rigour. This said, there is little point in me actually conducting said interviews at this point in time because:

  1. To secure high quality sources I will probably need to promise publication, which might never happen if this proposal does not get produced
  2. Even if this project is put into production, there is a great chance the overall direction will change, meaning interviews would have to be reshot which would be difficult if sources did not have any more time to spare.

So, in lieu of actual interviews, I have sought out a number of ‘potential’ sources that might be contacting if this project goes ahead. Thus far, I want to interview sources in three main categories. These categories and the respective potential candidates are listed below.




As an associate professor at the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychology, Professor Carnney would make an excellent source to speak to about the neurological reactions that are activated by fear-based interactions. She has also been involved in a number of research projects that look at the different types of fear e.g. learned fear, conditioned fear and fear memory. She would provide a thorough academic perspective on fear, giving insight into how these processes work inside the human body.


As another member of the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychology, Professor McNally would also be a potential good source to gain that ‘academic perspective’. He has also been involved in many research article and studies at both a behavioral level as well as at a neural level.

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As an Australian director recently responsible for the remake of the Australian horror class Patrick, Hartley could give a profound insight into why Australia and other countries have enjoyed such prolific horror-film industries. What drives people to want to inflict an unpleasant emotion upon themselves? How do you make a film that targets these fears? How have horror movies changed through history and does this reflect a change in society? He has also currently filming this third documentary into genre films, giving him a strong understanding of the broader trends in the Australian film industry.

Poster for Mark Hartley's latest film, the remake of Australian horror classic 'Patrick'
Poster for Mark Hartley’s latest film, the remake of Australian horror classic ‘Patrick’


Whilst like Hartley, Bertram has film-industry credentials that would help to answer the suggested questions I listed above, his main drawing-card as a source is that he is the co-founder and current director of A Night of Horror, International Film Festival. Given this role, he could speak about organizing a festival specifically targeted towards people who actively engage with their fears.



PYSCHOLOGIST: I’d also like to interview a psychologist to find out about the processes involved in overcoming fears. What therapies are available? How have therapies changes throughout history? Is fear inherent in all humans?

SERIAL PHOBIC: It would be fantastic if I could find a case-study who suffers from many phobias or has a particularly interesting fear. This could add a more personal element to my documentary.


Case Studies

To get a greater idea about what type of documentary I want to produce, I have been researching a few other online documentaries that are similar in either subject matter or form. Below just a few notes I jotted down whilst viewing these works:



–       Focuses on overpopulation, but has interesting use of viewer metadata

–       Each person is asked ‘If you had an extra minute, what would you do’? à these results are compiled at the end of the documentary

–       Users can explore how each individual person answers à could be used for the question ‘What do you fear’

–       Twitter handles representing viewers increasingly fill the screen à demonstrate the ills of overpopulation

–       Data is compiled by key words, but full responses can be explored at a viewer’s digression.


Users' responses are gathered and then can be explored in a variety of fashions
Users’ responses are gathered and then can be explored in a variety of fashions


–       Stand alone short film, but covers some interesting aspects of fear à try to take themes discussed in this and add more interactive element

–       Fear: program that infects rationale though

–       Is fear an innate quality in all humans à adaptive quality of fear

–       “We needed to be afraid of certain things to survive.”

–       Fear as a valuable psychological device

–       Superstitious habits vs. superstitious responses

–       “What we needed to be afraid of to survive.”

–       Functional fears vs. irrational fears

–       Religion is something people find comforting à fear of death pacified by religious devotion.

–       Religion, a societal way of coping with anxieties???

–       Physiological response to fear à increased heart beat, enhancement of the senses,

–       News media preferentially feeds us negative stories, what we are most likely to pay attention to. “If it bleeds it leads”

–       In groups and out groups

–       Substituting our fears for something else



–       Uses available metadata and presents it in an interactive an engaging manner

–       Size of icons increase depending on how many phrase/words are said

–       How can I use existing or collect my own metadata to create an interesting project?

–       Politalk puts data on a chronological continuum. Could I map society’s changing fears over time? Is this data available?

–       Data can be viewed in different forms and is presented in different ways, although it is mostly based on the same data.



–       Viewers can organize a time to speak to other insomnia –sufferers at which point they are connected by webcam. Could people with similar fears be connected so they can discuss their shared terror?

–       User interaction is the predominate feature of this documentary, minimal interviews and other information

–       The effect is powerful, a more immersive experience then being told/informed

‘Cheers for Fears’

So after much consideration, I’ve decided to reconsider my ‘Green Spaces of Sydney’ project. I guess there was nothing inherently wrong with the idea, however at the end of the day the parklands of Sydney isn’t the most exciting of subjects. So, in lieu of that project, I have come up with a new idea.



Fear is one of the most powerful and most unpleasant of all our emotions. Everyone has experienced fear, but not everyone understands why they are afraid and why certain animals, experiences and people scare them. I propose to create a website that combines the information of journalistic investigation, an immersive experience for its user and input by the user themselves. It would explore fear through these three elements. There would be heavy focus on design and user generated content, but also interviews with academics and psychologists about this common emotion.


The details and specifics are by far undetermined as of yet, but I endeavour in the next week or so to do as much research as I can.

In the mean time, here is a hierarchal diagram (and accompanying description) of the five types of fear. As I understand it, any rational, irrational, spontaneous or chronic fear can be sorted into one of these five categories.



Extinction: Fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist. This is a more fundamental way to express it than just calling it the “fear of death”. The idea of no longer being arouses a primary existential anxiety in all normal humans. Consider that panicky feeling you get when you look over the edge of a high building.

Mutilation: Fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function. For example, anxiety about animals, such as bugs, spiders, snakes, and other creepy things arises from fear of mutilation.

Loss of Autonomy: Fear of being immobilized, paralyzed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or controlled by circumstances. In a physical form, it’s sometimes known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to social interactions and relationships.

Separation: Fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness – of becoming a non-person – not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. The “silent treatment,” when imposed by a group, can have a devastating psychological effect on the targeted person.

Ego-death: fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.


** Currently I am considering structuring my documentary in this fashion. Each type of fear could have its own section with accompanying interviews and content. ***

Initial Idea Feedback

Just a quick entry, thought I would just record what my tutor thought of my ‘Sydney Green Spaces’ project idea. Her feedback is summarized below:


FOCUS: All green spaces in Sydney is an awfully broad topic, especially if I am combining a historical element to the work. Choose maybe one park (The Domain), and focus on that whilst exploring the broader issues that affect these spaces.

CONTACT: If I want the type of interviews/original content I aspire for, I need to start making arrangements now. Send out emails, make a few phone calls and see what interviews might be possible.

RESEARCH: Libraries, archives and other databases hold a treasure trove of information. The end result will be ultimately improved if I can access primary and secondary sources from these places. Maps, documents, photographs etc.

Greenspaces in Sydney Idea

So I had a little inspiration over the weekend. I went to the Sydney Botanic Gardens and was really taken aback at how the Carhill Expressway divided the whole precinct in half. So it got me thinking about urban green spaces, how they change over time and how often (as in this case) they are comprised for the sake of urban development. A couple of ideas I’ve had are listed below:

  • How the government’s idea of green spaces has changed over time. Once they were purely perceived as a recreation space, but now there is increasing demand for these places to turn a profit ( Should parks be commercial enterprises, or should they remain free for the public and without financial obligation?
  • How does an urban green space change after the sun has set à look at Hyde Park, a place where many drink and hang out into the early hours of the morning
  • Can I map green spaces in Sydney over time? I would love to access the library archives to find maps of Sydney, then transpose them to a time-shifting map/image that could be hosted on my documentary.
  • How do carefully manicured greenspaces (e.g. The Royal Botanic Gardens) differ from native bushland? Look at parks (e.g. Prince Alfred Park, Surry Hills) that have a significant section devoted to natural flora.
  • Has the clientele of parks changed over time? If so, what has driven this change?
  • Changes in fencing of green space: most turn-of-the-century-built parks had tall, pointed fences around their perimeter, but increasingly these are being removed. Why do we no longer fence in these green ‘sanctuaries’.
  • Map of Botanic Gardens

First Ideas

This post signifies the first of many informal discussions about the development of my proposal for an online interactive documentary. The following space will be used as a soundboard (or perhaps more like a smorgasbord) for all my ideas, thoughts, research and reflection. After having just submitted the first Online Documentary assignment, I now want to spend a bit of time thinking about what type of project I want to undertake. Below I have brainstormed ideas pertaining to the different areas of the assignment.



–       Social justice and politics

–       City planning, architecture and development

–       Environmentalism

–       Theatre and literature



Fort McMoney (2013)

I studied this documentary for Assessment 1. Its ingenious use of viewer participation + its dynamic subject matter made for an inspiring project.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)

Stand alone film, although I have included it in this list because I am fascinated by the idea of a documentarian actually undertaking a task/challenge as part of the project. It would be an amazing experience (and hopefully amazing result) if I/my group undertook some personal investigative endeavour for this assignment.

Pine Point (2011)

The highly personalized element of this project was very intriguing and I enjoyed how they effectively the work digitalized a common nostalgic pastime (scrapbooking). It postulates a straightforward structure, but does so without being boring.

Dys4ia (2012)

A serious game about gender dysphoria. Whilst the documentary is presented and hosted in game-like fashion, it tells a compelling story through its structure. Much thought was put into how players control their characters in each minigame, plus it has a beautiful aesthetic.



USER GENERATED CONTENT: In the digital age, there are numerous possibilities surrounding the implementation of UGC. That said, I often see it done poorly. Using social media and users’ participation will be a key goal in my project.

INVESTIGATION: As a journalism student, there is nothing I like more than sniffing out a good story, tracking down sources and asking the hard questions. I hope whatever project I pursue there will be opportunity to use my well-exercised journalism skills.

SERIOUS GAMES: I think it’s a very novel concept. Can’t say I have too much experience playing (or designing) then, but it would be an avenue I would consider pursuing

MINIMUM TEXT: For this type of project, it is my belief that the less text you have the better. People switch off and there are so many other modes of content delivery that work much better in the online world.


In this early stage I also found some interesting resources that might help me later down the track.



Also this website has some great tips on HMTL5–net-13520