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New Technology to put the audience in control

3D.jpgTwo stories caught my eye yesterday about how technology is going to change the way we watch films, or rather there's technology being tested that groups hope will change the way we watch films but as we know with 3D and vibrating chairs that doesn't necessarily mean that the audience will accept them.

One sounds very fascinating and that's the ability to monitor the audience's reactions to film and change the story to match, and the other is to provide dual screen interaction with viewings.

The first is the most interesting and the most radical and comes from a company based in UK called Many Worlds. They have created a system to monitor audience members and then allow their film to be altered according to the reactions of the audience. Of course the film itself has to have been created with branching points, sort of like a choose your own adventure where you aren't aware you're making the decisions, your body does it for you.

Using four audience members the technology uses various devices to measure ones brain waves, another's perspiration levels, another's heart rate and the final volunteer has their muscle reactions measured. All this is fed back to a central computer that decides how the audience are reacting to key points in the film and then decides which part of the film to show during a branching point.

The article in the BBC tells us that the creator, Alexis Kirke, has already created a short film to test this out and is now ready to use it on a real life audience in an upcoming film festival, you can read more about this on the official site. The idea is that the audience become immersed in the plot and the film can alter to illicit the best reactions from them. The way they describe it is that the audience reactions are editing the film in real time, although the multiple paths are already chosen and filmed.

Of course there are limitations, as always the audience won't necessarily react as one and some people will be more immersed than others, also the audience are represented and therefore the film led by the four volunteers, not the audience as a whole - this is something that the company hope to improve upon in the future creating a solution that measures the whole audience unobtrusively.

The biggest issue is creating the branching options, this would lead to increased costs and time required for a film to be developed and of course filmed. It would also require a lot more audience testing before release as well as the potential for reshoots.

I'm not sure that this would really excite a mainstream studio that much considering how much additional costs and time could be required for the film development as well as the requirement for additional equipment in the actual theatre itself.

One thing that the creators do believe it could help in is studio test screenings themselves, something that does make sense. The studio often screen multiple endings or different versions of the film and this system could help to understand the differences in reactions to the film across different audiences rather than relying on the audience's words to describe their interpretation of their feelings after the film. Here they could see exactly what is affecting their emotional state and exactly where.

The other technology is something that doesn't sound as intrusive or as big a leap, and that's a system called JumpView Entertainment which is based around using a second screen while viewing a film.

The idea behind this technology, according to the creators talking through Variety, is that the viewer can sit with a second screen be it a laptop, tablet or smartphone and control the film itself allowing them to move between characters and timelines.

Again this sounds similar to choose your own adventure but with film and electronic devices, and the makers believe that it is going to appeal to fourteen to twenty-five year olds who are "experts at multi-tasking". Apparently my age group are decrepit and cannot handle electronic devices while doing anything else - it's a wonder I'm walking and breathing at the same time, never mind holding down a job. Patronising and ageist I would suggest.

However for those much younger people who can understand technology, they believe this is going to be a great addition to watching films. Although the article doesn't describe the technology in detail it seems as though the audience can choose the next segment of the film they wish to see and how they wish to see it, the creators Michael Simon and Kenneth Waddell say:

"It's in the construction of the individual episodes. We made them cliff hangers to drive the viewer to the next one. We'll keep pushing you forward and you'll want to keep clicking."

So it's like the old Buck Rogers serialised Saturday shows they once delivered in cinemas but with you selecting where to go after the end of the last one? On the JumpView site the introduction video explains it using an episode of Lost where, once you've watched it, you can select any character and scroll through the timeline of the film watching their individual scenes or watching all of them one after the other to show their story and their story alone. Now that sounds interesting.

They have a test film on the go already called Campus Life which makes the most of the technology however I'm again seeing the additional cost of writing, development, filming, editing and screening. On their site they offer versions of Rashomon and Twin Peaks and more. All interesting choices for watching the story from just the scenes of a single character.

What I see this technology doing best, and it's something that is already out there but not widely used or on enough platforms, is the ability to deliver additional content side by side with the film. I can't remember what the system is called but I've used it on some Blu-rays and DVDs already where you can either watch information displayed on screen or on your laptop.

Ideally you would be sitting with your laptop, tablet or smartphone and start the film, pulling up an application or webpage which then pauses the film and pops-up information and video to supplement the film as you go, this could either be additional scenes to add more to the story or information in the form of text, audio and video about the film itself.

Now I can see that working more attractively than making a film with multiple branches and endings and allowing the viewer to control it, after all doing so suddenly takes you out of the film viewing process and you become more detached from the emotional engagement.

One other thing that both these technologies do is detach the film from the film-makers, the audience become more in control and the writer and director less. Although they create all of the segments the final viewing experience is out of their hands, although they will have created every single branch and designed them all to work with each other I'm not sure how many writers and directors will take to this over conventional film.

Would you welcome either of these technologies in your viewing experience?



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