Friday, December 13, 2013
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A PARTICIPATORY CULTURE DEBATE
I was at a wedding yesterday. There was no time to write in the midst of the joy and subtle family feuds that were going on around me.
Lucky I had a date. That song gets it right "...here I am, stuck in the middle with you."
In any case, it was fortuitous. I was going to write about something totally different this week, but the wedding presented an observation particularly worth sharing.
No, it's not that you should get married. I'm the last person who should give relationship advice to anyone. I'm a child of two divorces. I'm built for cynicism.
As I sat in the uncomfortable wooden church pew, adjusting my seating position in a regimented rotation to avoid damaging my tailbone, I was struck by how many photographers and videographers there were. I can understand a wedding photographer or two, but this was a personalised paparazzi service.
Not to mention the relatives snapping pictures and videoing on their phones.
It reminded me of every music concert I have been to in the last 3 or 4 years. When I first started going to concerts, a smattering of people would hold up their phones. Not to record anything, of course. The technology wasn't there yet.
They had someone on the phone. On a call to hear their favourite song via the now archaic magic of a phone call. Hilarious when you think of it in the modern context.
Today, everyone is an iVideographer (sorry Samsung people). Tweens shooting live video of their favourite bands and posting them to their private Youtube channels. No wonder MTV's ratings have been falling steadily.
But this wasn't a concert. This was a wedding.
And yet, there they were. Two photographers. A videographer operating two fixed cameras. A videographer with a camera on a small steadycam rig. A data wrangler on a Macbook, checking the feeds and reviewing footage on the go. There were so many AV people, in fact, that they actually obstructed the view of the proceedings somewhat.
My last documentary had a smaller team, and it screened in film festivals in Australia and overseas.
Oh well, at least the loving couple's memories will be captured with beauty and an abundance of detail.
Do people even watch their wedding video again?
The main point worth sharing, particularly for visual storytellers but also for audiences, is what this wave of participatory video means to us all.
Is the way that audiences expect to receive visual stories changing as the culture becomes more participatory and there is a video of everything? Or is a wave of cat videos and selfies unlikely to change the way audiences engage with the content they demand?
It's actually an ongoing discussion, for the global film and content industries, in which there are two clear schools of thought.
One, that new technology has ultimately changed everything, and visual stories going forward will need to have large elements of participation because audiences will demand it. They will not engage with stories in which they can have no input. Video games, transmedia and augmented reality will all overtake, and eventually make obsolete, traditional visual storytelling.
Or, two, that audiences will always respond to well told and engaging visual stories, told in a traditional screen/audience setting, to the point where they now 'binge' on them in ways never before seen. The breakaway success of 'Breaking Bad' and 'House of Cards' marathons will become the norm for great stories, regardless of whether audiences can be 'involved' in the actual telling of the story or not.
Both ideas have their merits. Both have far reaching implications for visual storytellers.
But which perspective is right?
Well, the bride and groom had just finished their first dance. The speeches had concluded too. Thank the gods, the speeches had concluded. Dessert was being served and women across the room were slipping off their heels in preparation for the dance floor.
Then suddenly, the lights dimmed. A screen unrolled on the far wall. A projector descended from the ceiling. The groom's face appeared. Nervously dressing for his wedding. The bride was getting her hair tousled.
It was a wedding highlight video, of the day that had just been.
The videographers had shot beautifully. From many angles, unsurprisingly. What was most interesting, however, was the room we were watching in.
It was silent. And still. A sea of rapt attention.
What had moments before been a roar of activity, chatter, and pre-dance stretching, was now a constellation of shining eyeballs. Glued to the screen.
They had all participated in the day. They had their iphone videos and photos. And yet, like statues, they watched the whole video on the traditional big screen as well.
It was the kind of attention that would make any filmmaker weep with jealousy. And, for any filmmaker looking for conclusions in the 'great participation debate', it actually left you with more questions than answers.
Because both perspectives appear to be right.
"Stop being Switzerland!", you say. Pick a side.
I would be lying if I did.
The only answer I have, if you're a filmmaker or visual storyteller, is that now is the time to be experimenting with all the different ways of engaging an audience. Create both participatory and traditional visual stories. Build your skills.
Do it now by the luxury of choice, rather than by the threat of necessity in the future. Your audience will likely thank you for the consideration.
Assuming they're not still hungover from the wedding, of course.
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