International Business Festival 2018




Ian Hughes
30 April 2019

Stop. Rewind. Let’s go again. If only life was that easy. If only you could see the consequences of your actions beforehand and opt to take a different path, before reaching the point of no return. 

Trylife might just be the next best thing. Tackling life-destroying issues that face the world today, the Newcastle based company make innovative, high-quality, multiple choice movies to help young people live better lives.

One of many 2018 International Business success stories, we caught up with Trylife director and creator, Paul Irwin to discover how our festival helped his company to further break the US market,

Discover how Liverpool City Region’s flagship business event enabled Trylife to attract the attention of Sir Ridley Scott’s production company and deliver innovative new ways to consume media for streaming giant, Netflix.  Like most things in life, it’s all about making the right choice.


Paul Irwin, Creator and Director of Trylife

(Paul Irwin, Creator and Director of Trylife)

I meet Paul in his busy office. Camera equipment, stacks of scripts and lots of phone calls create a hectic but productive atmosphere. Between essential calls, I ask him to tell me his ‘elevator pitch’ and the idea behind ‘Trylife’.

“You only need to pick up a paper and read the news. Suicide, poverty, crime, drugs, mental health issues, physical, sexual and mental abuse. Young people face life-altering decisions every day and the place they turn to for advice is online. But traditional films are limited in their scope and they don’t always reach young people or connect with them in an impactful way.

“Trylife is completely different. A standard script is 90 pages, our scripts are up to 455. This gives us the room to take stories in different directions. Viewers are in control and make decisions on behalf of the characters, giving them a safe environment to see the consequences of their choices and better understand the issues without putting themselves in danger.

“You make the choices, you are the director. To create a single episode, we work with more than 30 professionals, people with a deep knowledge of the subject being covered.  Social services, the police, charities and victims. This deep dive into the issues from all perspectives makes sure our films are 100 per cent authentic.”



Trylife - Jacob's story

(Trylife - Jacob's story)

Paul encourages me to logon to the Trylife website and put myself in Jacob’s shoes, navigating hard-hitting issues including drug use and mental health, whilst controlling the destiny of the central character. I’m struck by the high-quality but true-to-life production values and the authenticity of the performances, which makes me genuinely care for the characters.  

“That’s really important to our audience. It’s got to look and feel genuine but still be entertaining. It’s got to be something that you want to watch, something that’s engaging and directed with style and creativity because the reality is that we’re competing for attention with big-budget film and TV shows and video games. There’s so much content out there.  

“The only way to achieve Trylife’s real-world feeling is to work as closely with young people as we do. We have to know the issue in-and-out. The scripts, the story, the actors, the direction it all comes from young people and it’s that connection that helps Trylife breakthrough on the scale that we do. Young people can tell if something’s false. They can tell if it’s dramatized or if the writer or director has an agenda and that wouldn’t work at all for our films.




(Behind the scenes filming of a Trylife film)

(Behind the scenes filming of a Trylife film)

Paul takes me to a nearby screening room to give me a preview of Trylife’s next film, centred around one of the most critical issues facing young people today - knife-crime. I ask Paul about his background and how he came to develop the idea behind Trylife.

“I was working for Barnardo's teenage pregnancy team, dealing with a whole range of gut-wrenching issues, on a day-to-day basis. After the global financial crisis of 2008, charities were forced to operate with substantially reduced budgets. Our team went from 30 people to ten, seemingly overnight.

“I had real concerns about the impact this would have on young people and I began to think about ways we could reach more people with fewer resources. That’s why I set up TryLife in 2011 and released our first interactive film in 2012. The entertainment aspect was crucial. If you can’t grab people’s attention and hold onto it, you can’t really reach them.”

“We coined the term ‘branching narrative’ to describe our films. Decisions and outcomes taking you in different directions, but everything is linked and can be traced back to the root. Players can take 109 different routes through each film and every decision has a consequence, a knock-on effect.”



Paul Irwin promoting the Trylife ethos

(Paul Irwin promoting the thinking behind the Trylife ethos)

After the screening, Paul and I put the kettle on and chat to some crew members, each person demonstrating an easy-going, open nature that I imagine is a prerequisite when working with young people. Paul tells me about the challenges that have faced his company and how they have evolved.  

“Initially, the biggest challenge was getting people, especially older people to understand that the internet could be used as a force for good. That’s really turned a corner now, with people of all ages now starting to engage with Facebook and become more open to new media.

“It’s fair to say that we were ahead of our time and that came with real challenges. It took a while for the NHS to catch up with what we were doing, but their view has really changed towards the power of digital media to reach people and change their lives for the better.

“Now it’s about really driving home and accelerating that awareness among young people. A fundamental part of our strategy now is getting big organisations to work with and promote us. I’m proud to now be working closely with the NHS to develop new episodes on broader health issues and it’s fantastic to have a partner with the reach and authority that they have.



Visit the Trylife website

(Selection of stills from various Trylife episodes)

During our conversation, I tell Paul a little about my role and this leads to a broader conversation about digital marketing. Paul tells me about the substantial online success Trylife has experienced and the important role awards recognition plays in his industry.

“We knew there was a huge market, we knew that the content would connect with people all over the world, but we couldn’t believe the numbers. We reach 188 million people some weeks, that’s nearly 4% of the global population.

“We’ve had 22 million people engage with our page in a week, reach 144 million people in the USA with 500 million social media impression a month. And that’s all with no marketing spend, just organic reach on Facebook. Not bad for a team of two people using two mobile phones to run all the social media from! We scale up to around 70 people for a film production but essentially TryLife is ran by me and my business partner, Nicky Kaur.

“Since attending the 2018 Festival we’ve won numerous film awards and even took home two ‘[email protected]’ awards last year, in the overall and people’s choice categories, which was a real honour. This success has been incredibly reassuring and has made us even more ambitious for the company. Attending the festival was a turning point for us and it’s took us in a whole new direction.



HRH The Duke of York presents Trylife with two Pitch@Palace awards.

(HRH The Duke of York presents Trylife with two [email protected] awards)

Now we’re getting to the reason for my visit. The ‘case study’ success story tip-off that caught my attention. Paul calls over his business partner Nicky Kaur who met with British Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP, at the 2018 International Business Festival.

Nicky tells me more about the impact of the 2018 business festival on Trylife’s profile: “As exhibitors at the festival, we were introduced to Liam Fox. He spent a couple of minutes talking to other companies, but he spent about 20 minutes talking to us. He was really interested in the concept and he got it right away. He instantly saw the potential and he’s become a real advocate for us.

“The Festival gave us fantastic exposure. We were featured in press releases and we were profiled on the website, social media, newsletters. We also were able to engage with other festival partners online, giving us greater support and visibility. But it’s really all about the personal face-to-face connections that made the event such an effective platform for us.

“From this encounter, Trylife went on to become one of the businesses featured in Liam’s annual statement, which put our business alongside some of the most innovative new companies across the UK. We were invited to exhibit and talk at other major events and put forward for numerous awards. This exposure had a snowball effect on our profile, which is fantastic not just for us but because it helps us to reach more young people, which is ultimately what it’s all about.”



Trylife's future looks fantastic

(Snapshot montage of future Trylife  projects and opportunities)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Liam Fox isn’t exciting, but my ears prick up a lot more when Paul casually mentions working with Sir Ridley Scott’s production company, RSA on a project for TV steaming behemoth Netflix. I ask Paul to tell me more and explain how this development came about.

“Our profile at the Festival also brought us to the attention of the 22-time Emmy award-winning journalist and news anchor Carlos Amezcua, who’s adapting our branching narrative format into other forms of media, including the news, which is really exciting.

“We’ve attended several really productive meetings with Carlos over in L.A and filmed a segment for his morning show. We’ve also just filmed the first segment for the new ‘Carlos and Lisa’ show on BEONDTV’s digital platform,  Can you imagine how much more engaging a news broadcast will be when you can interact with and have control over the content?

“I’m also really excited about a new interactive film and behind the scenes series we have just filmed on gang violence. We’ve managed to get unprecedented access to 50 founding members of the notorious Los Angeles gangs, the Blood, Crips & Mexican Mafia.

“I can’t say too much, it’s quite different to anything we’ve done before or anything most people will have seen before, but it could potentially help thousands of people and we’re producing this in collaboration with Sir Ridley Scott’s RSA which is beyond exciting.

“The film will be presented to Netflix next month. We’re working with the director of Blade Runner and we’re hoping to bring in the narrative director from the video game ‘Grand Theft Auto 5’. We couldn’t have done it without all the support we’ve had over the years. The British embassy and DIT have been instrumental in supporting our work over in the US.


As I come to the end of my visit, I ask Paul about his ambition for the company. What other opportunities does branching narrative present? “We’ll be launching our latest Trylife film this summer, which examines issues around child sex exploitation and grooming. Following that we’ll be covering mental health, isolation, cyber- bullying and knife crime.

“We’re also looking into ways to expand the interactivity of our films and we’re currently working with a number of academics and institutions on a huge study into behaviour change and utilising branching narrative in relation to health promotion. Interactive content is the future and can be delivered on a scale that’s just not possible with traditional formats of media.    

“The festival has opened so many doors for us. These big business events are important because they bring businesses together, mix up sectors and business locations to present opportunities that simply would not exist under normal circumstances.  

“I’m so glad we attended the festival and took advantage of all the things it presents. It’s re-launched our business, helped Trylife to gain traction in the USA and made us so much more ambitious for the company. Attending the event was definitely one of my better choices!”



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