Thanks to planning my move of home/office, it’s taken me over a week to collect my thoughts on a debate on the impact of digital technologies on the film industry, which was organised by Cass Creatives. Happily this delay has saved me time, since Interactive KnowHow has now posted a comprehensive eight page report on the event. Together with their background paper on the issues involved, these make very useful resources.
I’ve complained in the past about discussions of music and technology ignoring aesthetics, but happily this debate did address how digital techniques and formats are tied together with changes in the process and product of film-making, and in consumption. My notes concentrate only on these topics in the debate, and a few points not covered in the report.
How conservative is the film industry, and its market? Introducing the debate, Patrick von Sychowski said that, as a cultural product, mainstream films have been more or less unchanged since the days of D.W.Griffith: it remains a narrative construct of around 100 minutes.
In film production, digital technologies have streamlined the process without yet having a major impact on the product (special effects notwithstanding). Von Sychowski referred to a ‘digital sandwich’ with film being used for shooting, and for exhibition in cinemas, but almost all of the intervening processes now being carried out digitally.
To the extent that films themselves are changing, interactive gaming was seen as the major ‘genre’ with which films — some films — might be genetically spliced. Someone conjured a scenario where films are released in three formats:
- standard analogue, as now;
- a customisable DVD version (allowing you to change the ratings to remove shots not suitable for children, and make other basic customisations);
- a version for playback over X-Box with integrated cgi and live action.
But not everyone was convinced by this. The recent Matrix films were cited as examples of the basic language of film qua film being compromised by the demands to integrate with other cross-platform products (see the report for more details on this).
The speakers speculated about the prospect of film-games hybrids being the early C21st equivalents of ‘Europudding’ film co-productions that, by trying to please too many audiences, end up pleasing none. Someone referred to George Lucas having pronounced over a decade ago that the future was in integrating film with the interactive possibilities of gaming, only to rescind this position more recently, declaring in Wired that he had made a mistake. I have searched unsuccessfully for any reference to this on the web, so if you know the details, please post a comment below.
No-one mentioned Peter Greenaway’s cross-platform Tulse Luper Suitcases, which may offer a counter-example, though I haven’t seen any of this material yet. As Greenaway critics and fans know, his films have often put playful intellectual puzzles ahead of conventional narrative development, so may lend themselves better to multiple formats.
On another tack, those of us with an interest in the role of cinemas also have to think about the possibilities that digital projection opens up for diversification in our offering to audiences. The live broadcast of a recent David Bowie gig to cinemas equipped with digital projectors gives a hint of what might be possible. Of course, there is industry politics here, particularly in terms of the historical ties between studios and distribution networks, and the tantalising if far-off prospect for cinemas to gain more independence in their programming.