Travel and tourism videos tend to highlight the friendliest, cleanest, and all around best aspects of a place. Ask any three random people on the street to describe it, however, and you’ll likely get three different responses, not all of them positive. That was the inspiration for 3 Words for Paris, a short concept film and interactive experience by French filmmaking team Cokau.
Cokau (a portmanteau of the last names of its members, Achille Coquerel and Thomas Kauffmann) has won numerous awards and is known for its experimental work. For 3 Words for Paris, the pair sought to create something truly unique. So unique, in fact, that the video essentially never plays the same way twice.
To watch the video, viewers are prompted to enter three keywords that describe their idea of Paris. At the press of a button, a fifteen-second video is edited on the fly from over 4,500 source clips.
In an interview with Little Black Book, Cokau describes the complicated, technical process of making the project, and what goes on behind the scenes of the website to bring it all together. The filmmakers asked dozens of people to describe Paris, resulting in a compilation of over 40,000 descriptive words. The words were translated into English to increase the international appeal of the project. The keywords were then linked to the video clips, with each clip having multiple words attached to it.
Cokau then contracted Paris design studio Hello Hikimori to develop an algorithm that could edit a video based on just three keywords. Even when repeatedly entering the same three words, the system will generate a completely different video each time — but one that still fits the theme.
In filming the thousands of clips, Cokau left very little out. While not every word is represented, the results differ drastically depending on the words used. Entering “music,” “happy,” and “food” yields a predictably easy-to-watch video. Typing “dirty,” “trash,” and “poor” shows a side of the city that many might prefer would go unseen. There is even an option to pick three random words, with new versions of Paris unfolding before your eyes at the click of a button, like parallel universes springing into existence for fifteen seconds at a time.
As one explores the project more deeply, it starts feeling less touristy and more like an observational documentary. It is strikingly honest, and that’s what makes it so surprisingly addictive. (It’s also worth noting that out of the millions of possible combinations, some are NSFW.)