Hollywood Considers ‘Watershed Moment’

Apollo 11 moonCourtesy of CNN Films/NEON


Now a traditional hallmark of NAB Show’s opening weekend, this year’s Future of Cinema Conference (FoCC) features 10 sessions that offer a showcase of experts detailing the myriad technological and social changes affecting cinema and how it will be produced, distributed and increasingly personalized for the consumer. Artificial intelligence, cloud processing and 5G are some of the key emerging technologies under the microscope at the April 6–7 FoCC, themed “Now, Next and Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.”

Todd Miller

Todd Miller

In partnership with the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE), the NAB Show conference opens Saturday morning with keynoter Todd Douglas Miller, the filmmaker behind “Apollo 11,” which critics have called an eye-popping documentary showcasing unprocessed, previously unseen 65mm footage recently discovered in the U.S. National Archives.

“Our intention with ‘Apollo 11’ was to make an art film out of all of the archival materials we had available, and in the end, we created a direct fly-on-the-wall cinema experience,” said Miller. “Both the art and science of working with images and sound were critical throughout this project.”

Yves Bergquist, CEO of Corto and program director of AI and Media/Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California, will participate both in Saturday morning’s session “Skynet or Bust: How Machine Learning Can Serve Filmmaking” and Sunday morning’s session “The State of Global Media.” He said “procedural generation” — an emerging process of creating data algorithmically — is starting to having its impact globally as it gradually infuses current video gaming tools into motion picture production.

video game controller

According to Yves Bergquist, some graphics for video games are “being generated semi-autonomously by computing functions.”
Photo: Getty Images/scyther5

“Video games have become so complex and expansive that producers have been generating graphics procedurally — meaning instead of every mesh or texture being hardcoded into the application, it’s being generated semi-autonomously by computing functions to render visuals. Procedural generation is also used to generate sound and music,” Bergquist said.

As for artificial intelligence entering the cinema realm, Bergquist said we’re still in the very early stages, mainly because of the scale and complexity of AI production. However, he added, “Industry consolidation like the Disney-FOX deal and the emergence of massively dominant players will definitely accelerate the trend [toward AI].”

SMPTE Education Vice President Sara Kudrle said the FoCC’s focus over recent years has become more about the future — increasingly investigating the outer limits of cinema and providing inspiration for a new generation of filmmakers. “The technologies and features being showcased focus on the latest emerging technologies we use to expand storytelling capabilities. Hopefully, at the end of the conference, attendees will be energized by the new possibilities within the art and science of moviemaking,” she said.

Michael Collins NASA

Michael Collins getting help with his suit.
Photo courtesy of CNN Films/NEON

Cinematographer and cross-platforms consultant Andrew Shulkind, a panelist at Sunday morning’s session “What Comes After Movies — Is That All There Is?”, believes with emerging media currently roiling the theatrical market — necessitating some form of transition for cinema, traditional television and advertising — we can expect a shakeup of stakeholders. “With content, the opportunity for a loyal consumer base is so lucrative that players like Amazon, Google, Walmart, AT&T and Verizon have stepped into the ring. Those players have different interests that are largely out of pace with telling great stories or even monetizing content,” Shulkind said. “They have other goals like selling ad space, fostering higher data usage, moving more product, garnering more subscribers and collecting monetizable user data.”

This “watershed moment,” he said, presents two potential polar-opposite outcomes: “Either content literally becomes filler, or we seize a fabulous opportunity to weave the converging verticals of media into a new transmedia hybrid that delivers value and creativity — modeling the next generation of storytelling for a sustainable future.”

As for the future of traditional exhibiting of movies in brick-and-mortar theaters, 30 Ninjas CEO Julina Tatlock, who chairs the FoCC Program Committee, believes “humans will always need, and want to, come together [socially] for stories. Death of media is historically overrated. Theater still exists; radio hasn’t died. But both those entertainment industries have changed dramatically in order to survive. Cinema will need to do the same thing.”