1 December 02003

Digital cinema and changing film aesthetics

Thanks to planning my move of home/office, it's taken me over a week to collect my thoughts on a debate on the impact of digital technologies on the film industry, which was organised by Cass Creatives. Happily this delay has saved me time, since Interactive KnowHow has now posted a comprehensive eight page report on the event. Together with their background paper on the issues involved, these make very useful resources.

I've complained in the past about discussions of music and technology ignoring aesthetics, but happily this debate did address how digital techniques and formats are tied together with changes in the process and product of film-making, and in consumption. My notes concentrate only on these topics in the debate, and a few points not covered in the report.

How conservative is the film industry, and its market? Introducing the debate, Patrick von Sychowski said that, as a cultural product, mainstream films have been more or less unchanged since the days of D.W.Griffith: it remains a narrative construct of around 100 minutes.

In film production, digital technologies have streamlined the process without yet having a major impact on the product (special effects notwithstanding). Von Sychowski referred to a 'digital sandwich' with film being used for shooting, and for exhibition in cinemas, but almost all of the intervening processes now being carried out digitally.

To the extent that films themselves are changing, interactive gaming was seen as the major 'genre' with which films — some films — might be genetically spliced. Someone conjured a scenario where films are released in three formats:

  • standard analogue, as now;
  • a customisable DVD version (allowing you to change the ratings to remove shots not suitable for children, and make other basic customisations);
  • a version for playback over X-Box with integrated cgi and live action.

But not everyone was convinced by this. The recent Matrix films were cited as examples of the basic language of film qua film being compromised by the demands to integrate with other cross-platform products (see the report for more details on this).

The speakers speculated about the prospect of film-games hybrids being the early C21st equivalents of 'Europudding' film co-productions that, by trying to please too many audiences, end up pleasing none. Someone referred to George Lucas having pronounced over a decade ago that the future was in integrating film with the interactive possibilities of gaming, only to rescind this position more recently, declaring in Wired that he had made a mistake. I have searched unsuccessfully for any reference to this on the web, so if you know the details, please post a comment below.

No-one mentioned Peter Greenaway's cross-platform Tulse Luper Suitcases, which may offer a counter-example, though I haven't seen any of this material yet. As Greenaway critics and fans know, his films have often put playful intellectual puzzles ahead of conventional narrative development, so may lend themselves better to multiple formats.

On another tack, those of us with an interest in the role of cinemas also have to think about the possibilities that digital projection opens up for diversification in our offering to audiences. The live broadcast of a recent David Bowie gig to cinemas equipped with digital projectors gives a hint of what might be possible. Of course, there is industry politics here, particularly in terms of the historical ties between studios and distribution networks, and the tantalising if far-off prospect for cinemas to gain more independence in their programming.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Cinema, Music and Multimedia, Reviews on 1 December 02003 | TrackBack

thanking for your info, i just start studing film in cityvarsity in cape tonw, and i have got a problem with my literacy skills speaking and writting, of as well as scriptwritting in what you can give me advise.

Posted by: paulo azevedo on 9 May 02004 at 1:51 AM

I would like to to receive info on aesthetics of film. what are the basics? I am a research student in a university in South Western Nigeria.

I would also like to receive info on extant cinemas in your country. What are the info that ypou have esp with rights issue, etc.

Posted by: Izuu Nwankwo on 22 October 02004 at 5:39 PM

These are very big questions. I cannot answer them in this small space. I can only point you to other sources that you may find useful.

For film aesthetics, I would start with Bordwell and Thompson's great book Film Art: an Introduction.

Several directories of organisations in the film sector are published each year, and these often include general guidance on production, distribution and exhibition. Here is a good list of these directories and their sources.

Posted by: David Jennings on 22 October 02004 at 6:06 PM

hi I'm currently doing a coursework on the future of the UK film industry with regards to technology and was just wondering if you knew of any good text books on the subject. cheers

Posted by: Harley Hammond on 24 February 02005 at 12:04 AM

Harley, It's not a text book, but I think it would be worth looking at the Screen Digest Report on the Implications of Digital Technology for the Film Industry — and it's a free download. The Screen Digest web site is also a good source, though some of their reports are very pricey.

Posted by: David Jennings on 24 February 02005 at 12:17 AM

please give me more information on where to find your referances, the sites are nolonger working to them, and I am currently writing a report on how digital editing has affected films.

Posted by: joni on 31 March 02005 at 12:16 PM

Joni, I've updated the links in the main article - thanks for letting me know that the resources had moved. In case City Business School or Interactive KnowHow see this, please read the importance of being permanent.
(At the time of writing the link to the Screen Digest Report in my previous comment is also not working, but I think this is due to the Microsoft web server not working and is a 'temporary' fault.)

Posted by: David Jennings on 31 March 02005 at 2:27 PM

Hi, I would like to know the major differences and similarities between film and television aesthetics.
I am a student, currently studying film and tv
thank you


Posted by: Nishita on 22 December 02005 at 6:09 PM

Nish, that's an extremely broad and open-ended question, which is beyond the scope of this site (and my competence) to answer fully or directly. Sorry. There may be a chance that another visitor to this page will provide a response, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

Try reading some of the books referred to in Wikipedia's article on television: you may find that a valuable and rewarding learning experience.

Posted by: David Jennings on 22 December 02005 at 6:43 PM
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