The Future of Film Creation: Storytelling in Surround

In this very moment the film industry is coming into one of its favorite times to release major film projects, the Christmas movie season. Screens all over the world will be showing the exact same thing with big music scores, big budgets and big name actors, all hoping for the lion’s share of the big box office numbers. As fun and exciting movies are, in the end it is a business, and business is changing.

Not many would dispute that the landscape of the film industry will be different in a few decades, but the changes are coming faster now. Already, studios have seen drops in their DVD sales domestically and internationally in the United States (Wallenstein, 2016). With each new big budget film, new technologies and advancement in how that film is created are incorporated into the production of movies. Most recently, Disney’s 2016 The Jungle Book used previously used technologies to create a whole new world of talking, and acting animals with select 360 degree interactive shorts (Disney, 2016). Coming to theaters this holiday season, is Rogue One. Who knows what wonderment the Star Wars franchise, a franchise that started many of the basics we now expect from our movies, will bring us this lovely December (Rogers, 2015).

Still, the consumers eat it up no matter how fast or slow it begins. Once it catches fire it burns hot. IMAX, a decade ago a novelty, now houses curved screens in almost every major movieplex presented in full THX audio. Classic franchises revived repeatedly such as Star Wars, Rocky, Alice in Wonderland, the Jungle Book, and the list goes on, are presented in brand new ways inspiring new emotional ties to the same characters. Where has the creativity and invention of new and exciting stories go? Currently, they are plugging into the movie making machine that has always been Hollywood.

The Hollywood system of getting a film made has not changed much even through these technological advancements. The process is still heavily reliant on the development of a script that a producer loves and feels passion for. That producer then has to find others passionate about the same subject, validating the toils and hoops that they will eventually need to traverse to see the project to completion. According to one director I know, the result of this relationship are the pockets of true believers in the creation of artistic films and storytelling, and their frustrating relationship with the business marketing side, determining if it is sellable. There is a disconnect between innovation, creation and what the marketing departments are prepared to release. This connection is going to change dramatically over the course of the next few years as technology pushes the envelope beyond the speed of what the system can currently handle.

The film industry has always considered itself cutting edge. From the invention of the moving picture in the late 1880’s, the idea of using moving pictures to tell a story has captured the minds and imaginations of people around the world. Technology took hold of film in the 1930’s with the combination of sound and film (History, 2014). This invention catapulted the creativity of the industry in what had become by then the hub, known now only as Hollywood. The need for longer scripts and ways to tell stories pushed the need for creating creative content for paying customers.

Hollywood continued to push the envelope by incorporating new technologies into the production of films. In the 50’s it was the introduction of the epic film, telling a truly moving story. The 60’s saw the rise of star and director “Power” (History, 2014). Ratings in the 70’s would forever influence content, making way for artistic influence, with larger budgets. This also launched the marked the monumental break though Blockbuster of Star Wars that used special effects to change what and how people see the universe. The influence of this film is still seen through the combination of technology, artistry, storytelling and acting in todays’ blockbuster films.

From the Star Wars phenomenon of the 70’s, Tron introduced technology and computer graphics in to the mainstream of film combined with sound technology such as THX in the 80’s. The 90’s saw increases in quality and usage of special effects, including the use of digital imagery. The new millennium has brought in numerous technologies that are influencing film creation such as IMAX, the RED camera, Digital editing software, CGI and iPhones, to name only a few, each with their positives and negatives. The invention of the internet has lead to industry disruptors like Netflix and YouTube that have pushed the industry to adapt as well as redefine what it means to be a creator of content for the film industry. So what is next on the horizon?

It is entirely likely that the film industry will never be the same, if it even goes by the same name in the digital age. Over the past 100 years, it has gone from silent, short, grainy, stuttered clips into new worlds with endless, flowing digital media, amazing sounds, stories, and actors while interacting with imaginary characters. Steven Spielberg was quoted, “I think we’re moving into a dangerous medium with virtual reality… The only reason I say it is dangerous is because it gives the viewer a lot of latitude not to take direction from the storytellers but make their own choices of where to look” (Child, 2016). This perceived loss of control to the viewer is exactly what the consumer is going to be looking for next. The opportunity to look in multiple directions also creates a multitude of varieties for the film makers to create new experiences for the viewers.

I have 3 young sons, the two youngest are completely connected to their phones and games. It sometimes takes a literal truck to get their attention. This immersive type of interaction with media that this generation of kids is the type of experience they will be craving as adults with purchasing power to go with it. The content they will interact with becomes very important along with the ability to sort and multitask a multitude of information. How the film industry adapts to this future will be very important to the longevity of the medium as we have come to know it.

Many of these technologies are just trends, on the fringe of being big, or need some help to get traction. The most popular visual technologies to impact content creation are Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). These visual technologies are revolutionary by the interactivity and visual stimulation that is experienced by the user. AR creates imagery into the visual field like a heads-up display in a fighter cockpit, while VR creates a whole new reality, that has 360-degree interactivity and visual planes once the user turns their head.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the development of smart computers that are designed to learn, adapt and compute things at a rate and level that humans simply cannot do. The fact that it never sleeps or stops learning only means that it can begin to learn communicate and create with some variance in the human form of expression with enough background information. The ability to postulate scenarios or variations on whatever data you input into these learning computer programs is virtually limitless.

Blockchain technology is a revolutionary process of online security and tracking of interactions. This has initially been developed as a financial innovation, but its impact and usages are not limited to simply finance. It allows an individual to track the origins of any interaction. Because of the nature of its structure, it claims to be virtually unhackable as it requires all computers working on the system to agree to a change in the Blockchain simultaneously in order to be changed. This means that millions of computers would need to be simultaneously hacked. History has proven however, that any system has weaknesses that can be attacked by those who want to do it.

Camera innovations will also greatly influence content creation in films. Femto-photography cameras are able to take 1 trillion picture frames per second. That is so fast it is able to capture the movement of a beam of light in slow motion. The development of 360-degree cameras capturing your environment by using multiple cameras synched together are also becoming readily available to the general public. More of these cameras are being developed with increasing levels of quality, portability (even wearable like sunglasses), availability and affordable to consumers.

With the invention of 3D printers, the ability to create anything into a reality has become interestingly marketable. Previously used primarily in industrial settings, 3D printing has now been redesigned to be available to the general public. The affordability of creating and printing into anything that you can design on a computer is now a reality.

Each of these innovations is going to effect the Film industry in a variety of ways. Following are a few scenarios that could be a possible future for the film industry. First, the film industry could continue as it always has, using special effect technologies in new and interesting ways to get people to continue to travel to movie theatres to interact with the medium provided. A second postulation could be that the technology and availability of these technologies rive each other to create new spaces, in a timely manner so that theatres are able to adjust and provide interactive experiences for consumers, the film industry is able to provide that media and capture the younger fan base where they want to be by being directive of the technology as well as the content.

A pessimist may say, that the film industry is not positioned properly to be able to react to the speed at which these technologies are readily available and that they will lose to the creation of new companies, using new mediums to interact with consumers. The theatre space as we know it will disappear, and in home theatrical experiences will become the norm. Further, one could surmise that with the invention and use of AR and VR, completely immersive worlds will nullify the need for the film industry all together. Individuals could create experiences through AI technology, thus becoming their own content creators.

And, finally there is the miraculous. Your company makes all if the right moves, hire the right directors to produce the correct scripts, using the perfect technology matching perfectly with the timing and availability of technology to the general public and you find yourself at the forefront of the next evolution in the industry of film. All of these scenarios are possible, so which one do you chose.

Furthermore, with President-elect Donald Trump preparing to take office soon, he has identified on his platform that he was going to change the educational system. This poses an interesting development for the future and what role film and technology play. The use of technology in classrooms has already increased from 61% to 76 % from 2014 to 2015 respectively in higher Education. The use of film as an educational medium has also translated to the k-12 classrooms which is at about 61% of classrooms currently (Enis, 2015). This would create an additional stream of income for production companies to create huge amounts of content specifically for educational purposes. This could range from documentaries, and behind the scenes to VR or AR created renderings. This trend has already been initiated by Disney with the Jungle Book and an online PDF of information for elementary use (Disney, 2016).

The best way to decide, is to position yourself at the top of the mountain, looking outward, redefining the next steps to be taken to arrive at the top. The AR and VR craze will not disappear and it will be the future of film and eventually they will not define how content is created. Already, I have heard from movie executives interested in hearing movie concepts that revolve around the use of AR, VR and even holograms. What do you do until it is officially here, and what will you do after? Creating conscious content with a purpose and utilizing the technology available is the key to this process. Amplified by knowing how these technologies will assist in getting to the top of the industry in the next 10 years will get you to the top, and keep you there.

The new age of film with be immersive and interactive. AI software will be used to help create variations and separate renditions of scripts and stories. Blockchain technology will be utilized, not only to track payments to vendors, but will be used to follow contracts, finances for film projects, it will allow audiences to follow the trail of their favorite experiences, and will be an online career finder to garner further work for individuals in the industry.

The use of 360-degree filming will move beyond extreme sports and into the industry as standard practice. Immersive films, placing you directly into the body of the main character of a film or subject through AR and VR experiences. Printing complete sets in 3D and then reusing the materials for new set designs will become common practice. Educational models will also utilize 360 degree filming for documentary and behind the scenes footage in a way never possible before allowing education and entertainment to combine.

The changing educational system will become the wild west to content creators, especially major production studios willing to combine documentary teams right into the fold of the production system. Through direct contact with the audience on social media platforms, audiences will nudge content creators in specific directions or character development. The necessary spark for all of this is a big company willing to make the first move towards connecting these three concepts into one.

There are many tech companies that are making moves in all of these areas. Nokia, GoPro, Facebook and the Google Jump all have professional grade 360 cameras released now or coming in 2017. Eventually, when femto-photography is incorporated into these cameras editing software will allow amazing footage never possible previously. With the current market for wearable 360 cameras to the public, eventually professional level wearable cameras will change how images are captured for entertainment.

In the world of AR, the Halolens and Meta 2 are making great strides towards streamlining this technology to the public. It is maybe, half a decade away before AR wearable phones become part of daily experience for the general public. Automatic visual correction and the inclusion of visual stimuli will revolutionize the opportunities for experiences created by the entertainment industry.

In the world of VR, the players are Oculus, Valve and the Acer StarVR, who has just recently made a deal with IMAX to begin working together to create a new type of movie experience to launch in 2017 (Dawson, 2016). Developing the content for these experiential movies will be at a premium as this partnership develops. It will be an experience that will transform theatres into a new type of immersive experience. This will also be shaped through the further development of 360 VR camera’s making live action VR films a new genre of experience.

Five years ago, while shooting crooked Arrows, we released a behind the scenes trailer on social media. The buzz on one of the scenes released during rehearsals was immediate and intense. During shooting, that now iconic scene, was almost cut due to time constraints. Knowing the social media buzz, I encouraged the Director and rest of the production crew to reinsert that scene into the shooting list for that day. Shot in the pouring rain, it remains as one of the most commented action sequences of the entire movie. This would not have been possible without the input from social media and the incorporation of audience reaction.

The interactivity between AI and social media will revolutionize how content is created. AI engines can create multiple variations or clips of a particular film. These variations can be created through VR, allowing the audience to vote through social media and comment about their favorite parts of the sequence. Companies such as Screen-Bridge are already doing this for reality TV shows. The next evolution is to transfer that to the film and entertainment industry.

Right now, some limitations include cost, these technologies not yet being mass produced and enough forward thinking content creators and big companies to bankroll these movie projects. Currently AR and VR are limited by availability to the public and the sometimes immersive or intrusive technology is something people will need to get used to. That being said, I believe these two technologies will dominate the movie industry in the next 7 years. AR and VR theatre experiences will be as ordinary as the current movieplex, which will need to be reconfigured or rebuilt. The devices will also need to become readily available to the public, mass production of these units is not there, all of which are costly.

Ethical concerns over content creation using these technologies is not minimal. In regards to the wearable 360 cameras, filming people at all times of the day and night can be intrusive. AR and VR can not only be immersive, but intrusive to the daily experience of life and dependence on these technologies could become an issue. Tracking every interaction of a person through Blockchain could take away what little privacy celebrities currently enjoy and some wonder what role AI created content will look like and if its ethical to take away the creativity of people. As for the educational impact, a potential connection between the film entertainment industry and educational industry will be very important in how it is distributed to the general public.

In short, the future is fun, interactive, immersive and most likely the lines between film, reality, experience and education will be blurred. The creative who can think in 360 interactive ways will be the ones who are creating the content along with the companies who support those technologies. Variance will be a primary guide for this created content, with input from audience members about particular areas or characters. All of these, will be combined with educational media and behind the scenes information allowing consumers a truly insiders experience to their favorite stories and experiences. The film industry may or may not keep “film” in the name, but in the digital media world, the value will be in the experience with technology.

References
History Cooperative, (2014, November 12). The history of the Hollywood Movie Industry. Retrieved from: http://historycooperative.org/the-history-of-the-hollywood-movie-industry/
Wallenstein, H. (2016, January,6). Why 2015 Home Entertainment Figures Should Worry Studios. Retrieved from: http://variety.com/2016/digital/news/home-entertainment-spending-2015-studios-1201673329/
Disney Movie Trailers. (2016, March 28). Through Mowgli’s eyes Pt. 1 “Kaa’s jungle” 360 Experience — Disney’s The Jungle Book. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1cVbfyFdf0
Rogers, V. (2015, December 17). How SATAR WARS Changed HOLLYWOOD. Retrieved from: http://www.newsarama.com/27237-how-star-wars-changed-hollywood.html
Child, B. (2016, may 19). Steven Spielberg Warns VR Technology Could Be ‘Dangerous’ For Film-making. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/may/19/steven-spielberg-warns-vr-technology-dangerous-for-film-making
Enis, M. (2015, October 22). Streaming Technology is Revitalizing Video as an Educational Tool in Academia, But There Are Challenges for Libraries. Library Journal. Retrieved from: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/10/academic-libraries/on-demand-academic-media/#_
Disney.com (2016) The Jungle Book Educators Guide. Retrieved from: http://cdnvideo.dolimg.com/cdn_assets/f6f64c12abc238ce909f82db3129e833a4d4ce7c.pdf
Dawson, T. (2016, August 31). Acer and Starbreese Partner with IMAX, Ship StarVR Headsets. Retrieved from: ://www.androidheadlines.com/2016/08/acer-starbreeze-partner-imax-ship-starvr-headsets.html