ByScott Wardell, writer at
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Scott Wardell

Filmmaking technology is advancing at an exponential rate, continually edging closer to indiscernibly lifelike graphics and near perfect sound quality — all aimed at improving our cinematic experience and bridging the gap between reality and fiction. While media companies are seeking to further immerse audiences in movies with new technology, we as viewers are also affecting new approaches to , radically changing the future landscape of film and TV as we know it.

New Film Mediums Mean New Approaches To Filmmaking

Netflix And Pill

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings dropped a rather quizzical bombshell on attendees at the 2016 Wall Street Journal WSJD conference when he highlighted what he believes to be the future of entertainment media. According to Hastings, the entertainment industry will move in a new direction, one where traditional forms of media like film and TV will be "substituted" for new forms of entertainment.

One such substitute, he claims, would be "pharmacological," seemingly suggesting that companies like could potentially offer a branded drug that would act as your "entertainment." Nothing worth watching on the streaming service? Just pop a Netflix pill and chill.

Chill Pills
Chill Pills

Now, while this is likely a passing comment meant to highlight the company's need to remain relevant as the industry changes (RIP Blockbuster), it's still a pretty revolutionary idea to consider. Taking the idea of consumable media to a literal level, this could see a new level of interaction between the traditional viewer (now, consumer) and media studios. Drugs as a form of entertainment is hardly a new concept, but the idea of a major company offering users a branded drug as a way to spend an evening is more reminiscent of a sci-fi dystopian nightmare than reality.

Moving away from augmenting our reality, some filmmakers are exploring the realm of virtual reality as a new medium for film.

The Virtual Reality (VR) Experience

Google filmmaker Jessica Brillhart has been an active participant in the VR revolution since 2009, speaking at tech conferences, creating her own VR videos and publishing her findings across multiple platforms. Brillhart has pioneered much of what we know about VR filmmaking. Speaking at the Google I/O conference in May 2016, Brillhart provided brilliant insight into what she believes to be the next step in filmmaking.

Virtual reality is changing the way we view film. The shift from a 2D world to a 3D world means that instead of composing a linear sequence of frames that tells a story (as in traditional cinema), filmmakers must craft entire "worlds," where the frame is all-encompassing the viewer. In this sense, narrative (or story) takes a back seat in this predominately visual medium.

VR places participants in an experiential world, effectively turning the viewer into a camera. However, unlike traditional cameras, which exist outside the scope of what's on screen, viewers are immersed in the scene as it becomes the interactive world around them.

'Suicide Squad' BTS [Credit: Samsung Mobile USA]
'Suicide Squad' BTS [Credit: Samsung Mobile USA]

What we're seeing is how new ways of experiencing film are changing the way that films are crafted. More specifically, traditional editing processes are forced to be reexamined to reflect this new viewing experience.

As Brillhart explains:

"Editing in VR can't be frame to frame. Instead of frame to frame, we think of it as world to world. And now [we] can see the potential for everything, where the frame is everywhere. Our jobs as creators are to guide visitors through a crafted universe."

The question here is: How can filmmakers transition from scene to scene (or, world to world) without interrupting the in-world experience for the viewer? Brillhart approaches this idea by identifying viewers as the camera and then creating large set pieces populated with what she calls POI — points of interest.

POI are moments or images in the virtual world that draw the attention of the viewer. These areas of focus are hugely important in VR because they become the gateways through which filmmakers can create transitions between worlds the way that we move from frame to frame in traditional cinema. By cutting between points of attention, filmmakers can align their crafted universes in a way that feels less jarring for the viewer.

Two aligned POI 'VR & Cinema' [Credit: Google Developers]
Two aligned POI 'VR & Cinema' [Credit: Google Developers]

Brillhart uses the following image to illustrate how POI can be used by filmmakers to move viewers between worlds:

Building worlds and aligning POI  'VR & Cinema' [Credit: Google Developers]
Building worlds and aligning POI 'VR & Cinema' [Credit: Google Developers]

In the illustration above, the instances where two dots align signifies a moment when jumping between virtual worlds is ideal. The challenge for VR filmmakers is predicting when and where you are likely to draw you attention within the virtual space in order to best facilitate this transition.

In essence, filmmakers are crafting their worlds by laying out these intricate moments within the visual chaos. One way that Brillhart cleverly achieves her goal of guiding the viewer through a journey is by placing POI in the corner of your field of vision, thus drawing your eyes (and attention) to another part of the world, and opening up a new area of focus for the viewer to explore.

The X-factor here is the human element. By relinquishing the power of the camera, VR filmmakers must consider the more active role of the audience in this new medium. Brillhart's findings reinforce the idea that the viewer now has a more active role in the filmmaking process, and the industry needs to redesign its approach around audiences' newfound sense of agency.

Audiences Are Also Changing

While its easier to see why technological advancements demand that filmmaking techniques adapt to work with emerging , there are more nuanced, organic factors that are also working to drive changes in the entertainment industry.

Our Attention Spans Are Getting Shorter

According to a study by Microsoft published in Spring 2015, the average human attention span has diminished to even worse than that of a goldfish.

The age-old expression has come true [Credit: Microsoft, Spring 2015]
The age-old expression has come true [Credit: Microsoft, Spring 2015]

In recent years, our increased consumption of social media, simultaneous exposure to multiple screens, and incessant digital stimuli appears to have depleted our ability to focus on singular tasks, especially in non-digital environments. Fortunately, these findings also suggest that while we may be losing focus, we are gaining greater information retention and an increased capacity for short bursts of intense concentration.

"Brains are being rewired — any shift in stimuli results in a rewiring...the techniques and mechanisms to engage in rapid-fire attention shifting will be extremely useful” — Microsoft Researcher Danah Boyd

Studios Respond By Tinkering With Their Marketing Strategies

As a result, media companies have changed their marketing strategies in order to more effectively cater to our evolving habits. Movie studios have begun distributing a staggering amount of promotional content for upcoming features just to keep audiences' attentions. Multiple trailers, countless TV spots, bonus featurettes, and more engaging media are designed to not only appeal to our shortened attention spans, but also create lasting impressions that are not-so-subtly driving audiences into cinemas.

'Captain America: Civil War' [Credit: Marvel Studios]
'Captain America: Civil War' [Credit: Marvel Studios]

Beginning over a year before its theatrical release, Captain American: Civil War released two domestic trailers, one international trailer, three promotional featurettes and no less than 56 TV spots — and that comprises only one facet of the studio's total marketing package. Website banner ads, promotional merchandise, billboard ads, and more are strategically placed in every part of our daily lives in hopes that we can be swayed into purchasing cinema tickets. And seeing as how Civil War grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, it appears that studios are only gaining a better understanding of how we consume media on a daily basis, and how to best package their products for future consumption.

Technology Is Changing, And So Are We

As filmmaking takes the next steps into the future, we as audiences can appreciate our growing role in the entertainment industry. We are slowly making the transition from the cinema seat to embodying the camera itself, bringing us one step closer to a more complete immersion into film. Not only are media companies altering their strategies to meet our changing demands, but we are influencing the very technology that entertains us.


Which new film medium would you participate in?

(Sources: MIT Technology Review, Microsoft Advertising (PDF Link), Samsung Mobile USA (YT Link))


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