The future of the filmmaker Auteur
(This story appeared originally on my blog focusing on Narratives in technology and spirituality shaping our future: Storygeist.)
Recently, Paul Shrader of the Taxi driver fame has spoken out what he thinks about the state of film. More specifically, he pointed out that Film as a storytelling medium is no longer culturally relevant. What Paul means by Film is the iconoclastic cinema made in the US in the 70s or the tradition of the intellectual European cinema. Simply put, Cinema as a work of Art.
I would like to take a closer look at the impact the social media has had on the movie going public, the entropy of the intellectual cinema due to the market forces and the perpetual problem of monetization of a work of art that cinema should be.
And where is the story/cinema auteur in all of this? I think there will alwayas be a public for sensitive cinema made as an art-experience, as there will always exist a public for fine literature.
But I also see the emergence of a few trends which might change the way we make movies in the coming decade. And I believe this coming 10-15 years will bring forth new ways to tell stories, unlike anything we’ve seen before, and it will be more accessible than it has ever been before. All of this will have a major impact on the Auteur Filmmaker/Storyteller. In the most profound way.
“True social interaction in Virtual Reality can be created in two ways: A. multiplayer interactions connecting live users synchronously, and B. through true AI actors that interact and respond naturally based on the user’s nuanced interactions and cues. (I’m referring to pure, deep AI in this case, not the simple AI of playing against the game itself, which is quite common today).” – Jacob Mullins – “VR + AI: the very real reality of virtual artificial intelligence”
The entropy of the experience of the story
I think what Paul Shrader is communicating is both provocative and most probably highly unpopular.
Mr. Shrader makes a point that net’s all encompassing nature has given us access to the whole world’s catalog of films. All of this with barely a flick of the finger. How many thousands of hours of beating can our conscious/subconscious mind take before it screams from nausea and begs us to stop? Is the media overload unavoidable in our times? How many Narcos, House of Cards, The killings, can our brain assimilate? All of them amazing mini-series in their own rights, but when the occasional binge becomes a full-tme habit, what then? Are we destined to become media junkies without any harder fix around the corner?
It’s not only the sense that we’ve seen everything. Every possible configuration of the story.
But it’s also the social media’s immediacy, the constant interaction, around the clock availability, and general amount of noise which it generates. This is so intense, that I believe our patience has deteriorated into a five year olds kiddo. And this kid has no idea what good manners are. Being plugged into the matrix, 24/7, is not only giving us our fix, but it’s also rewiring our brain, psychology, perception of reality, and what goes with it, our behaviour.
As the tempo of our lives is accelerated, so are our expectations of the next short snippet of story or anything that will amuse us, frighten us or just jerk us into tears. Unfortunately, this bombardement of our senses and emotions also leads to numbing down of our sensitivity.
We not only demand more, but we become full-baked connoisseurs of the cinema. And when that doesn’t work, we throw fits, and unload our fury all over Facebook why the latest movie didn’t give us the instant gratification we expected from it.
So where do we go from here? How can the artist hope to flourish and satiate the insatiable audience? Are there any alternatives in the near-future?
The emergence of the new Auteurs
I believe that no matter how you look at it, film will always be prohibitive because of the costs involved. I should know, I am a filmmaker, and after many short films, I am now preparing my feature film debut, an indie film on a small scale budget.
No matter how you look at it, all of the production costs add up very quickly, and unless you are aiming for a low quality, b-movie type of thing, you need professional and skilled actors who understand and feel the psychology of your story’s characters.
You need a small team of trusty people around you, and for them to be consistent, and dependable, they need to be paid so they don’t have to worry about paying their bills for a month, or even two.
Taking into account all of this, film means investement, and often also involves high risk. With no firm guarantees for succces, ciritical or financial success.
But I believe that how we make movies will potentially change in the nearest decade. They will not be done as live action, but rather fully digitally. With the help of highly sophisticated A.I. agents to generate these new kind of stories, they will be amazingly visual, they will represent uncanny worlds, and will be done only by a handful of people, if not even a single person.
And since this will be done with a much smaller team than even a low budget movie, they will become accessible to many more budding creators. And thus might also become a very personal experience. Just like books have been, and will always be, a one man’s vision.
How is this possible? Let’s take a closer look.
“Film is a medium where someone can share the story of an experience, whereas Virtual Reality is a medium where you can give someone an experience that they can generate their own stories from.” – Eric Darnell – Baobab Studio
Building and inhabiting the Virtual World
I come from a professional 3D animation background where we used 3D software Maya to design the world, the character’s, the textures and finally the animation. It was all done in a highly painstaking manner, designed, modelled, skinned and animated by a number of people to output the first norwegian 3D animated TV series (1998-2000). It’s been almost twenty years since we did that series, but the process hasn’t changed dramatically since then.
Of course there is better software, higher quality renders, real time tools like Unreal Engine which are going the VR route now. But for the most part, the approach and design philosophy is still the same. And what goes with it, the incredible amount of time it takes to arrive at the finished product. High-quality 3D animation.
Take a tool like Unreal Engine, where you, after importing the models, have to painstakingly specify all the interactive rules of the world. Although quite accessible, even to a non-programmer, it’s still an arduous process, to specify all the what ifs, and don’ts of this world.
But I belive this is about to change. With the advent of A.I., and a “What You See is What You Get” WYSIWYG approach, a small team, or even a single person, will be able to create worlds unlike anything we’ve seen before.
I believe that these tools will evolve, into high-level, easily accessible and intutive front-ends. And this will make it possible to build enourmous worlds without an army of highly specialised people.
Take a look at the evolution of HTML design. WordPress is one example where the focus, and necessity of coding, has been lifted away by such front-ends as the Visual Composer or Divi Builder. Both of them allow a WYSIWYG approach to HTML-design. This allows a speedy process, without any guesswork, of the design for the website. And if you want complexity, you can at any time dig deeper into the code, in any of the modules of these front-ends.
One can argue that the process of designing a 3D world, building the models with artistic integrity and texturing them with flare, rigging and skinning the models for animation, is so much more complex of a process. And yes, it certainly is, but this is where Artificial Intelligence algorithms will do the heavy lifting in the very near future.
These agents, which will be under the hood of every sophisticated software, will make possible a new form of communciation between the storyteller, and the tools creating the world.
Imagine the real world, now. A dialog between the production designer and the Film Director on their next project. The Film Director brings to the table the characters, the story, and how to tell it visually. While the Production Designer does everything possible to support this story, and the characters’ psychology, through the space they inhabit. Both of them have a back and forth dialog, where often the Production Designer, brings some moodboards, sketches and inspirations. Ideally the Film Director will give feedback to the Production Designer, what works, what doesn’t, and why. When they have homed in on the final design, the Production Designer will manage a team of people to realise that vision.
And now replace the Production Designer with an Artificial Intelligence agent, akin to Apple’s Siri, but inherently way more sophisticated. This agent will take propositions from the Director, or suggest something of its own accord. And then it will adjust the models, the textures and the 3d characters, all in real time, based on the Director’s input. Fine level control will always be possible, but I think the tools will get there, that it will be lightning fast, to change the physique of the characters and the appearance of the surroundings.
Change the character’s skin color, make her just a little bit older, give her more freckles on that side of the face, give her a summer dress and a hat. Now take this character and put her in this scene of where she been in a mild car crash. Rip up her clothes, give her scars, here and there, and so on and on. All of this done in real time, in a conversational manner, in VR space.
Ultimately, I am not saying that the modeler, the texturer and all these noble, and highly specialized jobs will become superfluous. Far from it, but with the use of these highly evolved A.I. agents, the coarse part of the job might be both greatly simplified, and accelerated.
“This is a sophisticated audience that processes multiple streams of information faster than ever before, and craves a deeper connection to the content that can be shared across social profiles. The virtual experience is the new theatrical experience, whereby the 21st century viewer is unable to distract themselves with the second (and third, and fourth) screen. Here exists an outlet to control and capture their undivided attention. A new means for escapism.” – David Beard
Redefining the narrative
I’ve looked at the visual side of this potential narrative. And although this represents a huge challenge, I believe that the biggest hurdles are the narrative itself, and the characters’ psychology populating this story. How openy or closed do we tell the story? How much control do we give over to the person experiencing this dramatic narrative?
Just to get this out of the way first. There will be countless approaches to the narrative itself in VR. But what I am interested, and will propose, is sometimes labeled as “The Participant Active” experience.
What this means is that the person enjoying this story exists in this world as a character, and influences her own story, as well as the world around her. Yet this is done in a framework of a story’s structure. For convenience sake, just let’s use the classic 3-act structure which has an inciting incident, several psychologically crucial turning points, and an ending.
Let’s talk about the structure. This will be created by the dramatic spine of the story, a 3-act structure. Even though an A.I. agent will steer the characters and the turning points in this story, it will become an artform in itself, to predefine this story. A deep understanding of storytelling and its careful planning will be just as important as ever.
In other words, what kind of characters and their traits, do I need to accomplish a certain kind of story?
For example, let’s take a look at a thriller narrative and its structure. This type of genre is driven by the antagonist with the main protagonist mostly doing the reacting. Actually the whole structure of this kind of story is the master plan of the antagonist.
So for this purpose, I need an antagonist which will drive this thriller narrative in such a way, that he will always extort, pressure, and use whatever means to get what he wants, with predefined methods. And at each major turning point he will drive our main character into even more intense dramatic action. Until it will climax in a final stand-off, where the protagonist will either win or not.
The creation process of this story would be done again in a coversational manner with an A.I. agent who would represent the characters itself. It would be a learning process. And just as within the movie “Her”, a woman A.I. springs to life and grows, so would each of the storyteller’s characters evolve into mature A.I. beings, who would then interact with the human participant in the narrative itself.
Growing the appropriate characters for this story, or any other kind of story, will become a crucial part of the development process.
And just as important as predefining this story correctly, so will be finetuning it.
I imagine the author/VR director would playtest out his story many times and would look at the different outcomes generated by the character interactions. He would lock down on some predefined dramatic spines, and tweak the characters and the story points, until he arrives at a certain amount of possible story ednings. The main point being is that the turning points and the possible, and finite outcomes would be wholly controlled by the human Auteur. This is to keep the artistic integrity of this work as personal and pure as possible.
The future reinvented
And to come back full circle to the current state of film. Especially the social media, and how it is evaporating the attention span and the filmmaker’s potential public.
I think as technology progresses, the public will demand much more than a passive experience. It goes without saying that Facebook’s success is based on humans’ need for mutual interaction. For the millenial generation who is always hooked up, active and interacting with each other, I believe that passive mediums which require focus, reflection, will become a thinbg of the past. Surely there will be the ones uniquely interested, but they will be a minority.
Eventually it will come down to two sorts of storytelling experiences, one inhabited by human players who interact, and share an experience, or a story. And the second one where they will interact with intelligent, emotional A.I.’s specifically constructed to drive forward a certain narrative, preferably predefined and created by a skilled human storyteller.
And when this will be solved in a believable and natural way, it will create new forms of narratives, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Just imagine an Amazon Kindle format, available for the masses, just as readily as Amazon`s book format is, but in VR and populated by intelligent, quirky, fascinating characters, and incredible flexible, real-time processed narratives, with visuals just as stunning as the latest Valerian or Marvel Comic cinema behemoth. But all of this done with unique personal integrity, and sensitivity of current filmmakers of the art-house cinema or the beatiful european cinema of the 70s.
“Suddenly one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart… and make a beautiful film with her father’s little camera-recorder, and for once this whole professionalism about movies will be destroyed forever and it will become an art form.” – Francis Ford Coppola
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