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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Hollywood Reporter on the future of entertainment

The Hollywood Reporter has a giant package on the future of entertainment, jammed with interviews with notables including Kevin Kelly, a founder of Wired; Jim Cameron, Chris Albrecht from HBO; George Lucas; Sony's Yair Landau; and Blair Westlake, Microsoft's point person in Tinseltown.

There are also brilliant pieces on by folks like futurist Bruce Stirling and yours truly.

My piece is called "Next level: Where will new digital tools take the art of cinema?"

Here's a taste, clipped from the middle of the story:

    Closer collaboration between live and computerized co-stars is only one avenue being explored by a forward guard of innovators whose aim is to change the way movies are made, distributed and experienced. Some of the forces motivating these technophiles have been at work since the beginning of cinema -- a desire to stretch the bounds of what's possible and the need to keep pace with changes in the way Americans consume their entertainment, for example. Other forces are new, such as the cheap tools that have made filmmaking more accessible to auteurs who lack studio backing and the relative ease of sharing movies over the Internet, legally or otherwise.

    "It feels like the cycles of new technology used to come in 20-year intervals in our industry," ThinkFilm head of theatrical distribution Mark Urman says. "Now, they seem to be coming in 20-month or 20-week intervals. It's accelerating so fast now that you almost need to be a science-fiction writer to imagine what the experience of the movies will be like in a few years."

    Some changes that might be around the corner seem to threaten the role of studios and movie theaters; others could revitalize them, helping high-quality movies get made for less money and finding interested audiences more efficiently.

    "Chaos, change and confusion can create opportunity," says Todd Wagner, CEO of 2929 Entertainment, which also owns the Landmark theater chain. "Viewed that way, this is a great time."

I interviewed a lot of really smart people for this piece - and couldn't fit everything in, for reasons of length. So I wanted to share here some additional comments from Ed Leonard, who is the chief technology officer at DreamWorks Animation, which didn't make it into the article.

    "The kinds of stuff we do today, at the highest ends, are going to become accessible and reachable at the lower ends. Which means we'll be reaching even higher.”

    “Look at something like `Toy Story' - what's easy to do now, was hard to do then.”

    "Moore's Law says that computing power will double [every two years]. We used to joke that we have Jeffrey's Law here. [He's referring to Jeffrey Katzenberg, the company's CEO.] Our demand for processing power will always exceed what's possible. Or, simply put, Jeffrey wants more than Moore. Our appetite has always gone just a bit beyond what's possible.”

    Leonard went on to talk about the high-end videoconferencing tools DreamWorks uses to knit together teams in Redwood City, California with those in Glendale and elsewhere around the world. “We do a lot of work, in collaboration with northern and southern California. We have a partnership with Aardman Studios in Bristol, England. We can sit in one virtualized space and edit the film across the ocean. These virtual collaboration technologies we've deployed here allow us to do things without airplanes.”