How Intel & Toshiba Have Changed Film Production and Why it Matters
There was a time, maybe thirty years ago, when films were shot on celluloid, cut and spliced with scissors, and projected onto 35 mm in multiplexes across the globe. There was a time when we could easily distinguish between the medium of film and the medium of television. Film is traditionally defined as the first mass entertainment that encouraged collective spectatorship whereas television is traditionally defined as an educational technology that intruded upon the private space of the home to promote “proper” citizenship. Then the VCR emerged, and along with it, cable television and the remote control, and before we could press the pause button to figure out what to do with the new technology, we were watching our favorite movies on Netflix as they stream on our computer screens with our email accounts and Facebook pages open in separate windows.
Over the past decade, our conceptions of film, television, and the web have been challenged by the technological innovations of the new era. While it is commonly understood that media has converged (we watch television shows on our computers, read newspapers on our phones, view movies on television, etc.), it is less understood how this media fusion has altered the way films are made and the way they are seen.
As Anne Friedberg once predicted in 2000, “The differences between the media of movies, television, and computers are rapidly diminishing… The movie screen, the home television screen, and the computer screen retain their separate locations, yet the types of images you see on each of them are losing their medium-based specificity.” Two recent works of cinema demonstrate just how far this media fusion has gone, and how much has been altered in the process.
The films are Inside (2011) and The Beauty Inside (2012), and they are experimental works of digital cinema from Intel & Toshiba that cleverly use digital media to market their latest product. Intel & Toshiba did this by allowing digital users—you and me—to interact with the production process of the films via social media. What is most interesting about these “films,” however, is that they are digital at all stages of production. They were created on computers and were specifically designed to be viewed on the Internet, blurring the lines between traditional cinema and contemporary digital media.
As the press release for Inside demonstrates, this is the first time an audience is able to simultaneously watch and work on a film. For instance, individuals use social media to interact with the film’s main character Christina (Emmy Rossum) in weekly installments by tweeting to her or posting on her Facebook, and the editor then compiles the best interactions into a cohesive narrative that is released to the Internet a few weeks later. The director of the film, D.J. Caruso, had the unique task of directing both Rossum and the various viewers who interact with the production process from their home computers.
The production process of The Beauty Inside mirrors the model used for Inside, and the goal of the project is similar: to market a product to a mass audience. However, there are a few discernible differences between The Beauty Inside and Inside that are worth mentioning. For one, The Beauty Inside is led by a different creative team, with Drake Doremus directing and Sean Stiegemeier as cinematographer. In addition, The Beauty Inside allows audience members to use their webcams to “star” in the movie. Their appearances are worked into the narrative, as the story revolves around Alex, an individual who wakes up every morning in a different body. The marketing tie-in is also incorporated into the narrative, as the various Alex’s (the audience members who act into their webcams) use Intel & Toshiba’s Ultrabook as a virtual diary, lamenting their physical identity changes each morning. As with Inside, audience members interact with the production process each week, and the best results are then compiled into a coherent whole and released to the Internet a few weeks later.
This amount of audience interaction is unprecedented. Typically, interactive media refers to a video game or an experimental work of digital cinema, in which users choose which narrative paths to follow, even though each narrative path from which they can choose has been mapped out in advance by the work’s creators (see Berys Gaut’s A Philosophy of Cinematic Art for a useful definition of interactive media). Never before has a member of the audience been able to interact with the production of a film to the point that they become co-authors of the film they simultaneously watch unfold before their eyes.
Not only do these films challenge our traditional definitions of interactivity and cinematic authorship, as they give audiences more artistic agency than they ever had before, but they also, to put it simply, change how we watch movies. Gone is the experience of sitting in a darkened theater and letting a spectacle wash over us as we watch in astonishment. Cinema now must make us feel connected.
Numerous directors have turned to 3-D in order to make audiences feel as if they are more “connected” to the theatrical experience, if only to compete with the other technologies that have emerged since cinema’s conception in the late 1800s. As our attention spans diminish and we find the lure of the cyber-sphere more enticing than the cinema, experiments such as Inside and The Beauty Inside try to merge these interests. I wonder if, soon, the way these films are made and watched will change our current modes of exhibition, such as online streaming or video on demand. Maybe there will come a time when watching any moving image will not be enough if we cannot simultaneously do something else with it. In this age of digital communication and social media, can we ever disconnect and escape into a film the way we used to?
Although I was not aware of these films at the time of their production, as I watch the final products on the Internet, I am in awe of how good they are. The Beauty Inside, especially, is a beautiful story about identity and love, and it features surprisingly great performances from the various users who emoted into their webcams during the film’s production. A part of me laments the death of traditional cinema, and at times I wish I was born in an earlier age when I could have attended a drive-in movie or gone to a picture show, but I am curiously intrigued by the ways companies have capitalized on digital and social media to expand cinema as an art form and as a medium.
As of now, Intel & Toshiba have not announced a third production, and other filmmakers have not followed in their path. Cynics may suggest that this is because they do not have a new product to promote. Perhaps this is true, and perhaps we should be outraged that companies are using social media to market their brand. Nevertheless, if the end of traditional cinema is inevitable, then I would not be opposed to this new advancement in film production and audience interactivity. I’ve never contributed to the production of a mainstream film before, but if the opportunity exists and I can be involved from the comfort of my computer chair, I can’t imagine that I would ever turn it down.
Does this make me the only one, or do I have my finger on the pulse of a new generation who wants Hollywood to include them in the making of their films?
What do you think? Leave a comment.