The Film Viewing Experience: Evolved

Screen Theory - So The Theory Goes - Viewing Experience
In recent years the methods by which we watch content has changed in a number of ways. Cinemas are no longer the only place for film viewing that they once were, having to compete with the expansion of Video on Demand (VOD), online streaming and mobile devices.

In order to combat this, cinemas have tinkered with technology and attempted to bring more to the regular viewing experience. One method is using 3D, though this is often regarded as a gimmick and comes with a number of problems. Avatar was one of the first ‘true’ 3D films whereby 3D was used to accompany the visuals and bring the audience into the world that James Cameron had created. The main issue with this method is the expense as each shot requires filming through the use of two cameras, a process that was replicated by Peter Jackson for The Hobbit trilogy.

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Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Because of this, many companies went down the route of adding 3D in post-production. This can lead to shots appearing out of focus or making characters look like cut-outs. The glasses also darken the screen and positioning within a cinema can ruin the experience entirely. Although some films still get released in 3D, this addition has seen a huge decline with electronic companies also no longer making new 3D compatible TV’s. Instead audiences can now experience 3D through the use of VR headsets, watching any 3D Blu-Rays on consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and viewing it with the PSVR or through the Oculus Go.

IMAX has been working with the format for many years. Unlike more conventional cinema, IMAX screens are much larger and use a specially made screen and glasses to create an immersive 3D effect.

When filming on IMAX, directors such as Christopher Nolan use 70mm in comparison to the usual 35mm which helps capture more detail and helps create a clearer image so that applying 3D doesn’t massively reduce quality.

Another method of enticing viewers is through the development of sound systems. The most prominent figure in cinematic sound production is Dolby. Following from surround sound such as 5:1 or 7:1, Dolby created Dolby Atmos which can combine a large number of speakers to encompass the audience fully. However, this technology is only available in selected cinemas, but has become more prominent on Blu-Ray releases through digital enhancements to allow audiences to experience better audio quality at home.

However, cinemas are having to compete with a multitude of growing streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime which can offer audiences a quick and easy way to access the content they want to watch. Many people are now ‘cable-cutting’: leaving more conventional viewing platforms and moving onto pay per month streaming services.

Screen Theory - So The Theory Goes - Viewing Experience

Netflix is currently the market leader and a platform that has grown rapidly in the last 10 years. They, along with Amazon, now produce their own content to entice new members, as well as buying existing shows and bringing them to other territories where they may not have got cinema releases. Other large companies such as Apple and Disney have also been investing money in streaming services.

Often the budgets for new content is much greater than previous TV productions and many filmmakers are drawn to making content that is immediately accessible to audiences without the restrictions that come with large-scale film making. Directors such as Alfonso Cuarón, Duncan Jones, Alex Garland, Andy Serkis, Guillermo Del Toro and others, have all made content for Netflix, with some making episodic content in order to tell a story over a number of episodes.

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Credit: Netflix

Amazon Prime have also been creating new shows that have allowed, not only directors, but writers and creatives to realise projects that have faced difficulty when previously attempting to bring them to screens. An example being the upcoming adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Good Omens’, which has been discussed for screen for a number of years. However, through creating episodic content, the creators are able to include far more detail and character development and in turn, audiences become more involved with the stories.

The other benefit of these methods of consumption is that they can be accessed on a number of devices and therefore audiences have the freedom to watch what they want, when they want.

While films once used to be shown in cinema and then released on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray at a much later date, the turnaround time has mostly been reduced due to films being released digitally first on iTunes, Google Play/Youtube and Amazon etc.

With cinema ticket prices being equal to, if not more, than buying/renting a digital copy of the latest film, most people will purchase them digitally and watch on the go, including on mobile phones. However, some filmmakers still very much want you to see their films on the big screen to fully experience their creations, such as David Lynch and Jacques Audiard.

There are now a variety of providers for content that is specific to audiences’ tastes making it increasingly difficult for production companies to want to finance new ideas for release in cinemas. Even Amazon offers the opportunity to subscribe to specialist channels such as the BFI Player, Sundance Now and genre specific selections such as Shudder. Instead cinemas are largely showing franchise-based films that companies such as Disney and Paramount can guarantee a profit.

Undoubtedly the way in which we consume media will continue to change in the future and this can already be seen with shows that have added audience interactivity. This, as well as more affordable home cinema options, mean cinemas will need to continue investigating ways in which to draw in audiences.

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