Welcome to Humanity-land: Hollywood’s Exciting New Frontier
“Old ways won’t open new doors.”
Recently I was listening to author Peter Diamandis on brilliant entrepreneur Tim Ferris’ podcast and my curiosity was peaked when he started talking about operating systems and how they are very relevant to our lives. He was referring to the fact that everything we learn is like an app one would download on their iphone. Whether it’s learning algebra, studying environmental issues, learning a language, or becoming an architect all of these skills are basically downloading an app on to each of our own operating systems. His point in saying this was we all are interested in learning, discovering, and acquiring knowledge however very few of us look inside. We don’t think about how our own operating system is built and what it’s purpose is. Some of us do obviously, but this doesn’t happen enough these days. He goes on to propose ways we can get more in tune with our own OS. One he didn’t mention which is a personal favorite of mine is Meditation. I talked about it in a recent column I wrote “The 4 Pillars of Futuristic Thinking”. But going beyond that it got me thinking about the bigger picture. About not just my own humanity, but everyone’s as a whole. And I suddenly made a parallel between everything that is going on in the silicon valley / tech world right now and the hustle and bustle of modern Hollywood.
Cue Humanity-land. See, I have this suspicion. I believe a new modern version of our beloved movie business is about to step into the lights. Yes, roll out the red carpet. Recently I was struck when I read a quote from one of the great directors in modern history Martin Scorsese in which he proclaimed “Cinema is gone.” In my opinion far from it. Actually the train to Hollywood’s brand new era can be heard in the distance. That’s right. Hollywood is about to make a comeback. In a BIG way. Fact of the matter is, our current Hollywood is getting a bit dated. I’m on various film and television sets several days a week. I see the sound stages (they’re very old), the roads, the breakdowns, and rehashed stories of actors trying to “make it” and it all just seems a bit stale. We need an upgrade. I believe the key to this comeback is centered in our roots.
What is going on ultimately in Los Angeles? What is all this “Acting” and these “movies” about? What is there purpose? Well, I’ll tell you in case anyone needs a reality check. It’s about humanity. Yes, our inner core. I have 3 core themes I like writing about. In fact, the three of these themes encapsulate me. Psychology, Futurism, and Humanity. I strongly feel the Entertainment business is relevant to all three. That’s why I’m an actor. Scripts for me were never about necessarily performing for someone as much as they were being part of a slice of humanity that I felt I connected with. That’s what it’s about at it’s inner core right? Humanity.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~ Socrates
Ironic that Elon Musk is discovering ways to further and expand humanity in a town where we passionate celebrate our wonderful species by creating artistic windows in our walls (as the great Roger Ebert referred to films). Musk also fears Artificial Intelligence and therefore is working on ways to make sure we make AI our best friend so as not to have a Terminator 2 situation.
But oh how the irony. At their inner core movies are about humanity. Not robots. And robots cannot replicate this. Someone tell Musk the answer is happening within the town he currently lives. When an actor or actress feels something in the moment onstage and an audience member at the very back of the theater feels their reaction, well AI can’t replace that. No way. I wrote a column several months ago titled “I’m Not An Actor. I’m A Vessel For Humanity” because I think we cannot tune into enough what we are really doing as artists. The lens was a little more focused a century ago however I feel we’re about to make another leap. It goes beyond “acting”. It’s about humanity. It’s in my roots. I’m a big dreamer. In fact, as a young child I use to be a hider. I would hide in places and dream. I came across these memories recently. I would take my magic tricks and hide all over the house. Under beds, in Mom and Dad’s closet, in the pantry, under the couch, and anywhere else I could find. One time I made my brother Scott get in the book cabinet with me and I put on a magic show for him. He would judge each trick. I wanted him to tell me which was best so I could show the trick to the neighborhood kids. I think he was more confused why I had to do the magic show in a book cabinet. Needed lights in there dangit! But, it was my far off land. Anyway, I digress. With the rise of AI and our look towards furthering the species by heading vertically, it’s important we recognize and celebrate our passion for what makes us a species unlike any other. Hollywood aka. Humanity-wood / Humanity-land is a celebration of that.
Let’s look at a bit of history. When the movie star came around in the early 20th century people thought that was a bunch of hooey. Broken craft. Theater folk were not too pleased. Here we are 100 years later with talk of branding, social media, Netflix, Virtual / Augmented reality, iPhones, Amazon Prime, Gizmo’s, Apps that light you’re hair on fire, Electronic Toasters, Electric cars, and a host of other elements that are changing the way we we consume content. Not in the way you might expect. 1920 was an exciting year. People had never seen a “Movie Star”. A movie star? What does that mean? One of those people on the screen? Seems fake. Doesn’t do the craft justice. Well…that didn’t turn out how they expected now did it? Here we are a century later and people are hooting and hollering over youtube, tweets, Periscope, and all the other forms of content Silicon Valley is sending our way. But we need to understand something. Silicon Valley is not trying to cramp our style. Silicon Valley is actually, moving us into the next phase. And guess what? With change comes…discomfort. People don’t like change. But who’s to say that this movement is disrespecting the art of film or the craft of the actor? Nobody is. That’s all in your head. That very change could be the biggest humanity discovery we’ve come across yet.
So please be aware the performers are not changing. The craft is not changing. But the lens from which we see consume is expanding and coming more into focus. Hollywood and Silicon Valley both exist, however the bridge needs to be seen in a positive light. There’s a lot of talk about cinema is dying or “gone”. Cinema is not dying. It’s just moving forward. People don’t like change. They think that with change we suffer loss. Sometimes. Sometimes not. So let’s stop talking about old ways “dying” and start talking more about new ways to see those old approaches and methods. Theater still exists with Films now having been around for a century. So wherever we go from here, lets start being more optimistic about the future while respecting the past. All that being said, I want to look at a few ways the landscape is changing.
- Social Media and Storytelling
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
~Joan Didion, Author
How relevant is Joan’s brilliant quote to the social media craze? Whew. There’s a profound power to social media in that it expands human connection. At the end of the day connection and bonding is an evolutionary need inside all of us. That’s why I feel it’s not so much about “performing” as it is “connecting” when it comes to acting. With the invention of all these different Networks we are all connecting on levels we haven’t before. But the big question is how much of social media is just a renewed version of Storytelling. I believe Instagram and now Facebook Stories, Snapchat, Twitter Moments, and recently Medium Series are starting to take a look at this. One of my favorite websites Future of Storytelling (FoST) is all over this. Take a second and watch their intro video:
Storytelling is evolving. I felt this was groundbreaking because while other platforms have the social media element of life, Medium’s Series is the first glance at bridging this to literature. Where is this headed? We aren’t totally sure yet. But newer technology and expanded thinking are starting to reveal footprints to the next frontier for how stories are told.
2. Virtual Reality + Augmented Reality
“Football games are on TV, and it doesn’t affect stadium attendance at all. It’s the same with movies. People who really love movies and like to go out on a Saturday night will go to the movie theater.”
~George Lucas, Filmmaker
We’re getting loud these days. A lot of loud action movies that blast us with Visual Effects and other forms of sense dampening catastrophes. We’re rebooting superhero movies that we’ve now seen 10,000 times. The act is getting old. That’s not storytelling. Storytelling comes from a quieter extraordinary place. It’s rooted in our thoughts, dreams, secrets, goals, loves, and most importantly how we connect with each other. I find virtual reality particularly compelling. Please note just because VR is around, that doesn’t mean we will not go to a movie theater.
In “Want to Know What Virtual Reality Might Become? Look to the Past.” author Steven Johnson writes:
In an age when action movies have acclimated our eyes to multiple cuts per second, and in which video games bombard us with nonstop carnage, there turns out to a surprisingly meditative quality to the world we inhabit with V.R. goggles on. This could well turn out to be the most magical trick of all: harnessing all this advanced technology to slow us down and make us wonder again.
“Make us wonder again.” Hmm. Remember the magic of movies in the early 20th century? Nope. Most of us weren’t around. But they made people wonder. There was a magic to the movies. A mystique. Big stardom, money, and power isn’t what it’s about. We’ve fallen a bit off track. The secret? This magic was rooted in storytelling. I’m not quite sure how storytelling and Virtual Reality link nor where they are headed. But we are making big strides all the time towards something bigger.
Director Chris Milk is making some progress on this front. In an interview with Redcode Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon discusses what’s happening on the virtual reality landscape and what exactly Chris Milk is up to. He says:
Essentially, his take on VR is that it’s an ideal means to build empathy by putting yourself subjectively in the point of view of the protagonist. For a good example of his work, look for “Clouds Over Sidra,” a VR experience from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. You really and meaningfully visit her displaced existence. It is very cool and powerful.
Chris Milk’s Ted Talk:
Although Milk’s concept of incorporating empathy is interesting and provocative, above author Steven Johnson doesn’t think of it as the answer. I strongly agree. Virtual Reality puts you the viewer behind the eyes of one of the characters (sometimes the protagonist and sometimes not). In all my experience as an actor, and observing actors I’ve learned that you have to see that person to feel something. Make sense? If I’m suddenly a part of them virtually, I lose the human connection. The universal motto of humanity is bonding with one another. If I’m going to bond with a character I don’t want to become that character as an audience member. I want to connect with them from my seat and be moved. Why? Because connection spurs dreams, knowledge, hopes, and wisdom about our own lives. That’s why we go to the movies, watch theater, and read books. We observe others and “connect” it to ourselves. Believe it or not, we learn deep things from storytelling. But it’s much more powerful and even a bit mysterious as to why as an audience member we like to observe than to be the person within the story. This is also a bit peculiar is it not? Why is watching so influential? Johnson emphasizes more of a renaissance. A look to the past. That history repeats itself in new forms. This is what I believe too. Johnson references legendary author Charles Dickens discussing Robert Barker’s Panorama of the late 18th Century. Dickens was once quoted saying:
Again, there’s that reference to human bonding. By learning and bonding we stimulate growth. Before “Moving” pictures there was the panorama. So what comes after moving pictures? There’s the rub. Johnson writes:
But think of all those countless thousands of spectators who thrilled to the “natural magic” of Barker’s Panorama, standing in silent contemplation, traveling to a distant place for a few minutes before venturing back out into the chaos and smog of the great city.
Very curious indeed. The next step is on the horizon. Silicon Valley and Hollywood are giving each other valuable clues as to where we are headed.
3. Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality + Social Media
So how do virtual and augmented reality connect with the social media craze. I think the answer to that is complicated. There’s many people hypothesizing theories however I’m not sure we’ve found the genuine answer. But I believe it will manifest and I think the two things to focus on are:
- Acquire knowledge
- Human Connection
Empathy definitely connects people however by hopping into a character or person’s shoes as an audience member we are suddenly a part of their psyche instead of a reflection of ourselves in another person. Follow? I’m not sure empathy is the complete answer. So what is the answer? We just need to keep doing the two things above. That’s all there is to it. Those two things will bring everything to the forefront. These “Stories” we see in social media (especially Medium’s Series) are a clue but they’re not the ultimate answer. They’re a piece to a bigger puzzle. They’re starting to bring clarity to the negative that’s developing our next platform of creative connection.
“For me, the way VR could overlap with social is very exciting. If you could create an experience that was flexible but could relate to peoples’ social participation online, that would be transcendent.” ~ Seth Gordon, Filmmaker
One final note I’d like to make is the current pop culture obsession with celebrity. I think this lens has become severely distorted over the years from what it once was. We need to explore the notion that it’s not so much about celebrity that draws us to see something as it is about that person’s humanity. That is the word that keeps showing up again and again in all of this. And rightly so. Fame is an illusion. It’s not as much about content as people being obsessed with stardom. That’s a false narrative. There’s a great power to the movie stars of the past. We’ve lost some of that magic. To get it back change has to occur. We need to be careful that this doesn’t pull our attention from the point which is that ultimately it’s about humanity. The train to Humanity-land and the new frontier of storytelling is fast approaching but we need to be more aware of the fact that loud movies and epic star-driven tentpole projects to wield dollar signs isn’t the answer. The train to the future will arrive when we connect with each other in a way nobody has seen before.