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2010: A Year We Could Make Contact
by Patrick Storck

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Welcome to the future! We are in 2010, the year we make contact. Since we only have two years until the Mayan calendar runs out, and just a few years beyond that the robots will rise up on what's left of humanity, until we can finally live with the newly sentient artificial constructs of out own ego, we should really make sure to get things lined up. Let's get a nice perimeter around Io, Europa, heck the whole Jupiter system. That way the space baby in the monolith can do its thing and we can maybe make contact on more pleasant terms.

The future is here. We are in a new age of technology, and everything is changing.

Filming is changing. To use the word film is becoming less and less accurate. For a while some people would delineate between "film" and "movie" by the content and artistic merit. ARMAGEDDON would be a movie, while RUN LOLA RUN would be a film. Cinemaphile snobbery, really. Now we're seeing more and more artistic types use the benefits of digital equipment to make much more expressive, personal, and affordable works.

Shooting digital allows for quieter equipment. No heavy motors, no film cartridges, no sprockets churning along, no sound blankets. You don't need to worry about film getting up to speed, or running out of footage after a few minutes. One tape costs just a few dollars, there is no processing, no chemical color timing, and storage and back-ups are much simpler.

Effects are far easier to do now. Color correction used to be a long, complicated, and delicate process. You only had so much range on any given part of the color, even after all of that work. Now you can use colors, lights, and shadows as masks and filters, color correct one single element, one area, and stylize like crazy. You can incorporate fictional elements like CGI into a scene with broad camera movement with just the most basic preparations and the right motion tracking programs. Building digital models, adding texture, lighting them, and animating them now can be done to some degree in real time, final rendering taking months if not years less than it used to.

Now many of the effects used in video work aren't used for flash and fireworks. Beyond just car crashes and spaceships, you may be able to remove or replace signs with information you don't have the clearance to. Wires can be removed from props, skylines changed, window backgrounds replaced. If you remember to shoot above and to the sides of a "driving" car, you can layer on those elements later, shoot on a sound stage, and still get an incredibly convincing sequence. Blurs, composites, image stabilization, there's a program, plug in, or menu option for just about anything you might want to do. It's just the matter of buying and learning the program.

Audio recording, mixing, distortion, composing, exporting, and even splitting into Dolby surround sound can be done on a home computer. Again just a matter of learning and practicing. Of course, that means learning how to play multiple instruments, or at least the keyboard really well and in quite a few styles. It's a lot of work, and a whole lot of time, but also much cheaper than bringing in a full orchestra. That also doesn't account for writing the sheet music.

Presentation is also changing. The difference in picture quality between home viewing and theater is closing fast. In about ten years the resolution will be clear beyond the needs of the human eye. With streaming content through web services, home gaming systems, and on-demand databases the need to physically own or rent movies and serial programs diminishes. A new model will have to develop to best capitalize on distribution and revenue gathering. When networks can't sell ad space on content that can be found ad-free elsewhere, or the ads get skipped, and sales on physical media drop as people declutter collections into a single external drive that can be shared through their entire house, somebody will find a way to make some cash.

I think we will see subscription databases. Instead of services such as NetFlix being a catch-all for digital distribution, we may see the emergence of specialty channels. Like Showtime and HBO launched pay services within the cable television system, offering uncut films and eventually exclusive content and original programs. I don't think the major studios will be the ones to develop this system. They have revenue channels still, ones that are tested and viable for the time being.

I expect we will see smaller studios put their product out in catalog batches. $20 per year for unlimited downloads from Lionsgate, to pick a random indie label, would mean they get the cash for the full royalties of the service. They can then track what content is getting the most hits and develop more of the same. The more popular content, the more subscribers. Easy. Good studios with efficient servers and decent content make money. Perhaps they split content into channels. $5 for drama, $5 for comedy, $5 for action, $5 for horror, $5 for mature titles, $5 for family, or $20 for all of it bundled. Television style serialized content can be sold by episode or as season sets through subscription as new ones come out, and backlist titles added to a service such as this.

As home theaters get better, and the folks who act like they are at home when they go out get more prevalent, there seems to be less and less of a reason to go to the theater anymore. It's a shame, because some of us are still true-blue cinemaphiles. We like the cinema, the theater, the attentive crowd laughing and jumping in all of the right places. I am happy to go to see revivals, stuff I own and have seen a dozen times, on the big screen when the chance arises. I grew up on it, and will keep going for as long as it's an option.

Not everyone is like me, so the theaters are starting to try new things. The first and most obvious option is 3D. Now that we've dropped the headache inducing red and green standard, and the dual-projector polarized method that added to possible equipment failures or timing in starting the reels, 3D has become an easily presentable experience. Thanks to the massive leaps in recording and rendering that AVATAR has brought to the table, as well as some classic depth-loving horror fans, and the ability to add another camera angle to repurpose a computer animated family film, 3D screens are finding there's a waiting list ready to thrill the eager audiences. For now, the tech just doesn't work the same at home for a few technical reasons, but it's being worked on.

Finally, thanks to the high quality streaming mentioned way above, we can also now have live theater experiences on the big screen. Many cities are presenting live opera performances networked globally, simulcast presentations of things many might not have a chance of seeing without traveling hundreds of miles. Beyond opera there have been spoken word performances, small concerts, and even live RiffTrax tapings the old MST3K crew commenting live and on the spot. Sometimes there are glitches and blips, but it's coming along nicely as an option for events to sell more tickets.

Down the road we may see fusion of more of these technologies. U2 has mentioned eventually wanting to play a concert shot with 3D cameras, then simulcasting it live around the world. They play one show, everyone gets the live experience at easily one tenth the cost, the sound and temperature are more pure and regulated, everyone wins! Beyond that, it's just a matter of telling good stories, as it always has been. This the future. Don't be afraid of the changes.

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Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.

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