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Infinity Fest 2021: From Concept to Distribution: How Immersive Content Is Changing the Entertainment Industry

November 16, 2021
6 min read time

With the rapid acceleration of technology, what does the future of entertainment look like? In a way, content creators have asked themselves this same question for a century, from the introduction of sound and color in film to the advent of computer-generated imagery. And yet, the question looms larger than ever, thanks to growing audiences and multiplying revenue streams. With so much opportunity and just as much competition, are there new, more exciting ways for creators to engage an audience? 

On November 3 and 4, Cast & Crew and Final Draft participated in a panel discussion to break down that very issue. Embracing the theme “Story Enabled by Technology,” the team at Final Draft moderated a panel discussion about the creation and utilization of immersive content during this year’s Infinity Festival Hollywood, a multi-day event that unites storytellers with cutting edge technology. Moderated by Joe Jarvis, SVP of Final Draft, the panelists included thought leaders Evette Vargas (writer, producer, director, and founder of Digital Reign), Matt Celia (CEO of Light Sail VR), and Ramy Katrib (CEO of DigitalFilm Tree). 

According to this group, it’s impossible to discuss the future of entertainment without focusing on immersive content. Put simply, the numbers are just too big to ignore. So ... what is itAccording to Matt Celia, an immersive experience exists by, “taking away your physical environment and being somewhere else.” That might have seemed like science fiction a few years ago, but with rapidly evolving technology making opportunities more accessible and increasingly attractive, the current market is valued at $6.1 billion. And with compound growth predicted to be about 5—7% each year over the next five years, that could be $21 billion by 2025. 

The allure of this new form of storytelling, which embraces virtual technology to draw audiences in, is its endless possibilities. Evette Vargas shared her perspective as a writer to ponder how an immersive experience changes the very nature of storytelling, demanding a layered scenario with a 360-degree viewpoint. Celia agreed, tying this era of immersive storytelling to a person’s childhood, when just about everything seems immersive. But how does one go about creating powerful, captivating experiences? 

Writing an immersive script, or rendering a script to be immersive, is a lot of work, because absolutely everything must be represented in words—from a character’s point of view to their physical location in a 3D environment. Scripts must be meticulously detailed for the reader to properly visualize the content, helping storytellers translate their story to a 360-degree environment rather than a standard flat screen. 

And it’s not just stories that will benefit from new technology, but storytelling as well. From a technical standpoint, immersive technology will be able to help crews and creators behind the scenes. Visualization is key to creating proper immersive content, and Ramy Katrib detailed how immersive planning was used to organize and shoot key soccer scenes in Ted Lasso. According to Katrib, the process expedited the filming of complex sequences by emulating multiple camera positions. In the realm of animation, immersive technology will be used to improve animatics, acting as a helpful tool that makes existing workflows more efficient (don’t worry—no one believes this new tech will cancel out existing positions). And despite these helpful tools’ ability to expedite the creative process, the panel notes that they have not yet been adopted by 90% of mainstream productions because much of the community doesn’t know what the technology is (or they simply can’t afford to explore its possibilities). 

So where does immersive content stand in the public consciousness? It’s a bit complicated, as the panel will admit. When Virtual Reality first arrived on the scene some years back, a lot of money was spent by studios desperate to transform 2D content into 3D. Some things worked, many didn’t, and this led to plummeting interest around 2018, when companies took a step back from that kind of content creation. Practical concerns arose, such as the necessity of wearing a cumbersome headset for an extended period, which incidentally led to the common perception that immersive content must be short form by nature. Our panel strongly disagreed with that limited sentiment, arguing that storytellers can’t simply put a feature film in a pair of VR goggles and call it immersive content. This is a new medium, and it requires a fresh approach based on trial and error, but a good story properly told will always engage an audience. 

The future of entertainment, it turns out, is still unwritten. While the panel can’t presume to know for certain that immersive storytelling will revolutionize films, television, and gaming, there are some signs that the format might have better luck changing things than 3D’s many lackluster attempts. Already, the gaming industry has surpassed film in terms of revenue, and modern audiences are becoming more accustomed to interacting with their stories, rather than simply acting as passive bystanders. Netflix’s 2018 film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch introduced a potentially disruptive type of storytelling, allowing viewers to guide the narrative with binary choices. In what might be Bandersnatch’s greatest success, the film opened the door to many people who might now be interested in the possibilities with immersive content, and a demand was created for more.  

Our panel was hopeful that interactive films like Bandersnatch will now go beyond the binary “A/B” touchpoints in order to engage with audiences in a more organic way. Immersive content is being distributed right now with the creation of hybridized experiences and games based on popular TV shows. Look no further than Netflix’s recent addition of a mobile gaming feature to their streaming subscription application. Going forward, the panel believes that adoption and expansion depends on four things: the widespread availability of the technology to those who want it, moving the technology away from cell phones and into new spaces, convincing more and more people to embrace this form of storytelling, and lastly, the creation of content with a story-driven approach that justifies the format. Content must benefit from being immersive, and with the best storytellers in the world learning the new format, it almost certainly will be. 

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