The year ahead in production

Why advertisers are better than movie-makers at using storytelling tools

I have just finished casting my votes for Bafta, the awards that are sometimes referred to (though not by Brits) as the British version of the Oscars. This year it struck me more acutely than ever before that, in the movies, great storytelling and great spectacle rarely seem able to coexist. Granted, I am not the right demographic for the ubiquitous superhero franchise, but several of my family members who are kept asking me, "What happened to good storytelling?"

Advertisers and production companies are, of course, interested in a different form of franchise than one populated by costumed characters with death-defying superpowers. They are interested in building loyalty around brands and, by and large, I’d say that production companies and directors, in fact everyone involved in producing advertising content, are doing a much better job than their movie counterparts in combining great storytelling and great spectacle.

In our world, the effect of too many effects is thankfully kept in check by the need for narrative and the need to earn consumer attention with the likes of Somesuch & Company using technology both in a way that helps drive the story as with their Honda #TypeR interactive film.

Rearing its head in 2015 is the buzzword of new technology, virtual reality (VR): born out of gaming devices and flight simulators but becoming accessible to all partly thanks to the availability of low-cost VR headsets (the Oculus Rift device, for example) but, more importantly, due to the might of, among others, Facebook, Google and Samsung.


The virtual-reality headset and other technology through which we’ll be able to experience imagined reality – perhaps, most excitingly of all, through our smartphones – has the potential to become a powerful new tool for storytelling that production companies and directors are already adapting to help create strong storytelling and narrative with VR. All of us are looking at new tools and techniques that will need to be developed, from how directors actually see the 360 content while they are on set to imagining and realizing their finished vision; 2015 will see a lot of exploration and experimentation.

In contrast to the entertainment business (remember the wearying fad of 3D?), the advertising sector is refreshingly cautious about jumping head first into new tech trends for fear that the medium might overpower the message.

The fact that companies like Facebook and Google are investing to create platforms and processes that we can use to help brands tell different types of stories (strong on narrative, I hope, rather than pure novelty) is exciting. Read, for example, what Google’s Advanced Technology and Products Group, ATAP, is up to in this area by Googling "Spotlight Stories."

In common with many other companies, we spent the latter part of 2014 working on a number of these new "immersive" projects. A few are complete; several others are in progress. Normally, we’re not given to gushing on about new technology unless it can serve great storytelling but virtual reality looks like it could be in that, dare I say it, award-winning category of innovation for 2015.

Robin Shenfield is CEO and co-founder of The Mill VFX studio.


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