Hollywood is a living organism. To survive in our world, it is constantly evolving to keep up with new trends and technology. This was never more apparent then at the Digital Hollywood Conference held at the Skirball Center from May 3-6th. This four day conference was filled with panels and guest speakers that covered everything from innovative transmedia to virtual reality and how VR will play a huge part in the future of Hollywood. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend a few of the sessions but every panel I did attend gave me new insight and a new appreciation for the future of the entertainment industry.
Two aspects of the industry that were especially interesting to me were financing/distribution and virtual reality (VR). The panel I attended on financing and distribution was completely fascinating and opened my eyes to a side of the industry I don’t usually see. The panelists started off by discussing the rapid increase of box office revenue (due to the international market) as well as the current gaps in the market. Interestingly, the gaps are especially prominent in the over 50 crowd. This audience, referred to in the discussion as “movies for your mom” is a very under-served part of the marketplace that is looking for stories with sophistication and depth. I know what you’re thinking, shouldn’t all films have sophistication and depth? Well, think about the last film that you saw that made you immediately call your mom and sing its’ praises. Right? Under-served market.
I also learned about the difference in securing funding for feature films. A few main types of funding were discussed including first money from a bank versus first money from the filmmaker. This first money is usually from what is called the “equity investor” but this role has changed over time. Banks still occasionally invest in films, but they depend heavily on pre-sales especially in an international market (basically, they want to see the proof in the numbers). The more common type of financing, especially in the Indie Film arena, is focused on the Writer/Director. This Director focused financing often relies heavily on talent tied to the project for a key part of the capital. This was especially interesting to learn as an actor, because it verified why films always want name talent. Even Indie Films need that attachment for financing and distribution.
The second half of my learning experience focused on Virtual Reality. VR is changing every aspect of the entertainment industry. On the most basic level, it is changing the visual aspects of consuming media by allowing the viewer to be immersed into the experience. This immersion can be used in two ways. By creating an extension of existing environments, i.e. an interactive Hogwarts experience, or by developing entire stories that the viewer becomes a first-hand participant in. This viewer immersion was discussed at length in relation to the responsibility of modern media creators. Creators utilizing VR are responsible for creating experiences that can be magical or terrifying. Because multiple senses are being triggered, memories in VR last longer and are more ingrained in the brain. Basically, these content creators are responsible for the memories and psyche of their viewers.
The other aspect of the VR industry that is changing is the nature of storytelling itself. Many writers and directors discussed how virtual reality is changing their creative process. Instead of starting with the story, they’re starting with an emotion and creating a story that will invoke that emotion. They are developing environments that will directly create those emotions and memories. In this way, the user becomes an extension of the creators’ brain and environment. They say in television the story is king, but in virtual reality the emotion is the center of the universe. Virtual reality is definitely still a new medium, but I now see how it will engulf our industry and create new experiences for moviegoers.
This Digital Hollywood Conference was one of the most fascinating few days of my life in LA. I became excited again about the future of media and how filmmakers are creating new spaces for the audience. People talk about how Hollywood and theater-going is becoming stagnant, but after the Digital Hollywood conference I must disagree. As creators and filmmakers embrace these new changes the playground becomes bigger and more colorful. I can’t wait to play.