Once Upon a Time…

Paula LaBrot

My father, a world class story-teller, invented the 16mm Ampro projector. He never forgot the technologies he was developing were simply new platforms from which to practice an art as old as mankind: the art of the story.

Humans are programmed to communicate through stories

Even before writing was invented, there were oral stories, tales acted out around a fire and pictures drawn on cave walls. Until now, stories have been absorbed by our auditory and visual senses, and our experiences have usually been passive. Technologies of the future will challenge the way we tell stories. Cinematic storytelling will be more sensory, interactive and collaborative.

Immersion into a story is not a new concept. Remember those funny days of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” when the fully costumed, midnight audiences got in front of the screen and acted all the parts? Future movies are going to say, “Welcome in!”  

New 360-degree cameras allow a viewer to be right inside a seamless, visual world that has been created. You can strap a virtual reality device to your face and be “immersed” in David Attenborough’s “Great Barrier Reef” exploration. The creators of this experience even had to carefully stabilize the cameras so viewers would not become seasick.

With so much for the viewer to look at, a whole new cinematic “grammar” must be invented. Creators, as they will be called, instead of directors, will have to play with all kinds of tools—lighting, angles, sound design, etc.—to learn to direct and manipulate the viewer’s very distracted attention. Creators, including journalists, will immerse viewers into everything from fantasy worlds to the middle of refugee camps.

How did Aldous Huxley know? Remember “Brave New World?”

“Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” enquired the Assistant Predestinator. “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactual effects….”

The Star Trek Holodeck is here. Future viewers will have lots of interactive input into movies. They will be able to interact with characters, even as avatars, and determine choices the characters make, creating algorithmic-driven outcomes.

A mind-blowing new patent of Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold “can create a video or visual representation of any random selection of text,” according to Factor Magazine. Imagine reading a book, picking a section and having it come to audio-visual life at the command of a click! Wowie! If I don’t like Bill’s and Nathan’s visualization of Heathcliff, I could manipulate my own version. I could put G’s face on him!

When giving the viewers some interactive control over the story, virtual reality creator Oscar Raby says, “You have to think about the things that might happen, and then you give them a flow, so the journey of the user makes sense…. Your role is to create situations, not just a sequence of actions…and ultimately the audience is the one taking the hero’s journey…it’s the audience that goes through the experience and comes out changed.”

I love that new technologies in film are so democratizing. Anybody can publish their own movie online. People are making broadcast quality movies on cell phones and iPads. Amazon puts submitted scripts online and lets the crowd vote for its favorites. Casting to the People is giving opportunities to great talent that had no chance through traditional channels. New tools are constantly made available to the general public to make their own movies. You don’t need to go through the studio system. That stranglehold is over.  

Crowdsourcing is also opening up that closed system. Filmmakers can fund their projects with small donations adding up to millions as did Zack Braff, raising $3.1 million for Garden State from 46,520 donors. Over four years, film projects raised over $120 million on Kickstarter! Donors are often invited to give input on story and casting choices. They can get prizes, even a speaking part!  And, having lots of donors gives the projects legs on social media for marketing purposes.

There is a lot of disruption coming down the pike from future technologies. But even though one might be able to tap into virtual worlds from our own neural networks, even though, soon, we may be able to control stories with our thoughts, the basics of a story remain constant, no matter what platform it is told from. As I always taught my students, a good story is the paramount element. No matter what fancy devices one uses to tell a story, a pig in a prom dress is still a pig. In the future, I think truthful, auteur voices will still shine through and find their way into resonating hearts…even if the hearts themselves may be artificial. ☺

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace. plabrot@messengermountainnews.com

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