I just read a great article by David Denby of the New Yorker on the quickly shifting “end-user” experience in cinema. He bemoans the technology convergence that has squeezed the Hollywood blockbuster into his 2″ square video iPod screen.
Whereas he is uncomfortable with the physics (and optics) of viewing content from handheld devices, he sees the youngest generation of consumers as “platform agnostic,” willing to contort themselves into “pretzels… cuddling it under the covers after lights-out.”
He points out that the length of a 50’s pop single was “influenced by what would fit on a forty-five-r.p.m. seven-inch disk” and that “the length and the episodic structure of the Victorian novel—Dickens’s novels, especially—were at least partly created by writers and editors working on deadline for monthly periodicals. Television, for a variety of commercial and spatial reasons, developed the single-set or two-set sitcom. Format always affects form, and the exhibition space changes what’s exhibited.”
Now my question for you. What’s your perspective on format affecting form? Will you ever write for 2″x2″?
Yes, for two reasons.
The first is because I have absolutely no choice in the matter. Every movie and TV show created will eventually play on iPod and similar screens. And soon after, on virtual-screen
googles goggles, holographic projectors, and direct-input brain jacks. With the arrival of new technology, the past isn’t rewritten. It’s simply reformatted.
But the second reason I’ll write for the very small screen is less pessimistic. I think there’s an opportunity for a new kind of storytelling suited to the more-intimate experience of watching a screen 12 inches from your face. Just as television developed its own storytelling grammar–deliberate act breaks, season arcs, a reliance on close-ups–the iPod and mobile phone media will demand their own unique ways of telling a story.
Today’s teenagers are often slammed for having short attention spans, but I think the real change is that a generation weaned on the internet, DVD and TiVo isn’t willing to surrender control of entertainment.1 And while it’s unconscionable to text message in a movie theater,2 I admire how the mobile generation never disconnects from their tribe(s).
In the next few years, someone (maybe MTV) will develop the tiny-screen equivalent of Must See TV, something that is uniquely tailored to iPods and the generation who can’t imagine life before them. It will be interesting to witness not only how the format develops, but what impact it will have on big-screen movies. (Which, for the record, I believe will still exist 10, 20 and 50 years from now.)
- I’d call them “actively passive.” They want to watch, but they want to be doing something else at the same time. It’s impossible to read a novel while watching “Two a Days,” but a magazine like EW is a perfect fit. ↩
- Seriously, this is where I become Cranky Old Man. This is not your living room. Shut off your damn phone and watch the movie. ↩