In the community of Media Industry Futurists, Thought Leaders and Sh!t Stirrers, John “Pliny” Eremic and Katie Hinsen are well-known for pulling punches and their cheeky rivalry.
Why I am wrong and Pliny is right: We’re all asleep over here in the film world.
I’ve spent the past couple of years talking about how the greatest disruption to the media industry of our generation is yet to come, at the point in which some great genius figures out how to crack non-linear storytelling.
We’ve been looking to theatre, productions such as Sleep No More, to explore and illuminate us with insights as to how this might be possible some day. What VR/AR or the immersive media of the future needs, in order to mature, is a solution to the conundrum of how to tell stories. That’s what I’ve been publicly saying, up until now.
Today I would like to admit for the record, that I’ve been an idiot in thinking this. I would also like to say something that I know is going to be painful… Pliny was right.
Not in his definition of disruption, nor his issues with 1152 raster. I’ll fight him to the death on those points. But his persistent attempts to introduce us all to Silicon Valley and the gaming world, it turns out is more than a subtle pimping of our own innovators to VCs. He’s on to something. Something that if we in the film world weren’t so dismissive of our nerdier counterparts, so elitist we are still looking back at theater for legitimacy in the creative arts, we might have seen that there’s no disruption in non-linear narrative storytelling, no Holy Grail to seek.
In as much as the colonists didn’t “discover” any new lands, nobody from Film School is ever going to discover how to tell stories in VR.
Disruption happens when a “known truth” is proven wrong, and a new truth emerges that changes everything. It’s not about proving a truth to be wrong, but about the new truth changing the landscape irreparably. Like the RED camera did, when it proved that “film” was not defined by its acquisition on celluloid, and that “digital acquisition” did not define a production as a “video”. But that’s why Pliny is wrong, not why he’s right.
VR will not be disruptive because it will not replace the current methods of media consumption, and will not bring forth the breakthrough that proves narratives can be told in a non-linear fashion. That’s because the gaming world has already proven that, years ago. It’s been a known truth for gamers and game writers for decades.
In fact, if my theory of the evolution of immersive media is to also be re-analyzed, I’m happy to adjust it to note that somewhere between 3D and early VR, gamers were writing complex narratives for first-person, communal experiences at a level we in the film industry are still tying ourselves in complex mental knots trying to figure out how “one day it might be possible”.
Alejandro González Iñárritu told an audience at Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017 that “The biggest mistake with VR is to interpret it as an extension of cinema, but it’s not cinema.” He was still however referring to VR as a “new medium”, where “nobody knows anything”. That “nobody” ignores the vast tech/gaming community, not to mention the intersectional (inclusive of creative and tech) AR/VR community who are largely dismissed by filmmakers, despite the fact that they have been creating content, exploring, failing-and-learning, and mastering the medium since the late 1980’s.
My new crusade as a screen industry futurist is to back up our buddy Pliny (on this topic, anyway). If we are to really keep moving forward in the new media landscape, we need to shift our focus and find new Heroes. The real pioneers and innovators, or at least the greatest clues to where our industry is moving, aren’t going to be found in the Fine Arts any more. Nor amongst any of the traditional “Arts”. We have moved out of that neighborhood, and that’s a thing we have to learn to embrace, like it or not. We’re the new kids in the tech community, and we need to do some research on our new family tree because, they’ve had this all figured out since before any of us ever dreamed of film school.
Want to see the future of storytelling in the VR/AR world? Go play a video game.