Back in May, I hosted a panel entitled Storytelling in the Digital Age. The Academy posted clips of my discussion with the makers of Zero Dark Thirty and Star Trek Into Darkness, but I also wanted to share my introduction to the event.
And then I forgot. And then I got really busy. So here, now, is how it started.
My presentation began with a video, followed by some observations before I introduced my guests.
Tonight, we’re going to talk about technology. Usually when I come to see a panel about technology at The Academy, we’re discussing innovations like digital cameras and high frame rates and visual effects — we’re focussed on how we put images on the big screen.
But tonight I want to talk about how technology affects storytelling in movies. And this clip package is an example.
Twenty years ago, if you wanted to get a bunch of people stranded in the woods, it was pretty easy. Now these characters would almost certainly have cell phones, and as a screenwriter you have to address that. The last scene you saw there was from a movie I directed, and what Ryan Reynolds says is probably true: It’s going to keep happening. Technology is going to keep advancing, and our movies are going to have to change to reflect that.
It’s not just characters talking on cell phones. If I’m being honest, I don’t talk on the phone all that much. If I want to tell someone something, I text or email. And that’s really uncinematic.
We haven’t quite figured out a good way to show texting. Sometimes we’ll do a closeup on the screen of the phone, or we’ll superimpose what’s being texted on screen, like they do in the BBC version of Sherlock.
It’s not ideal. No one comes to movies to read.
We come to movies to see characters interacting with each other, doing things. And one of the things they’re often doing is trying to find out information. In a thriller, they’re trying to uncover the facts, and you send them into dark and mysterious basements. In a romantic comedy, they’re trying to find out about someone they have a crush on and wackiness ensues.
That becomes harder to do in an age of Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. We don’t want characters Googling things, but sometimes, that’s what they would realistically do.
Technology has changed things, and movies have had to change to reflect that.
But it’s not all bad news. Not at all.
To me, this clip package is an example what’s great. It was cut together by Zig, an editor at the Academy, inspired by a terrific 2009 supercut by Rich Juzwiak.
A supercut is an amazing thing that could really only exist in a digital age. What he’s doing is going through hundreds of movies and snipping out just the parts where people’s cell phones fail them. As writers and as an audience, we might subconsciously know that characters’ cell phones get taken out of commission a lot in movies, but when you put them all together like this, it becomes blindingly obvious.
That’s one of my themes tonight. Storytelling in the digital age is about making the invisible, visible.