Filmmaking (and Viewing) in a New Creative Age


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3D, 4D, and Multi-Screens, oh my!

Now, this may not be new news to some of you, but it’s mind boggling for someone who doesn’t reside in one of the bigger film cities, so bear with me. Recently I found out that movie theaters with screens on the side walls exist. A friend of mine attended a concert documentary at such a theater in Los Angeles (CGV Cinemas in Koreatown), one with a wrap-around type screen (one in the middle and one on each side), really immersing the audience into the experience of the movie. She described it as if enjoying the concert live, seeing the stage in front of her with a full stadium of fans all around her.

When I heard this, I thought wow. From IMAX to 3D to 4D and now wrap around screens! Are filmmakers trying to express themselves through more and more creative means, or is this a ploy by theater owners trying anything to make money and bring back audiences? Perhaps a little bit of both, as doors are being opened on both sides of the movie business. Either way, could this be the next big thing in changing movies and how they are made?

When 3D came around, some filmmakers saw this as an artistic opportunity to put more detail into movies, but it’s not always worth it. The technique has come a long way, but a lot of movies are still filmed normally and then 3D effects are added later, which make the 3D layer unnecessary and unsatisfactory. But if a movie is filmed to be in 3D, with more prominent 3D scenes rather than just something jumping out once in awhile, the intricate detail does make for an overall enjoyable experience.

Is it really worth it though? With technological progress comes labor, as new creative outlets don’t just pop out of thin air. Filming for 3D is already a tiresome and difficult process—regular filmmaking equipment is heavy, and shooting the same thing over and over again normally takes time, but 3D is even more time, weight, and work. Beyond that, the cinematographer must work closely with the stereographer to ensure movement, angles, etc won’t strain moviegoer eyes. That’s even more work and time and paying attention to tiny, tiny details. No wonder the scope of amazing 3D movies is limited.

With all the effort that goes into those, I’m surprised that anyone decided to go a step further and introduce 4D (a marketing term—no time-space dimension blurring just yet). I have heard and imagine that this innovative movie technology is comparable to an amusement park ride. This is where you have special effects going off in the movie theater: from motion chairs to environmental effects. Motion chairs in the theater vibrate, move up, down, left, right, forward, and back. This creates the possibility of mimicking a wide range of actions such as driving and flying. Other effects include smells, bubbles, lightning, water, wind, etc. These are all synched with the action in the movie, of course, creating the feeling of being in the movie itself.

Seems like something you might have encountered at Universal Studios, aye? I can see the entertainment appeal in this. This makes movie-watching even more of an experience, but how seriously can such a form be taken? When we think amusement park, we think of a fun ride that you forget about in a few days, not Oscar-winning highbrow film. With only three locations in the US housing the 4DX theaters (New York, Los Angeles, and Illinois), I think this question has a long way to go before it can be truly answered. Still, it does make one wonder…

4D attractions do come with their own set of problems. They tend to drawn in mostly a younger, more affluent fanbase, charging more money per ticket (pro for the theater making dough, con for the people that can’t afford it). Also, 4D tends to be conservative with the use of effects, only 20 to 25% of the movie having motion with long stretches of no effects at all. Don’t the filmmakers plan this out?! It sounds like 3D movies not being made for 3D, throwing in a handful of extra dimensional moments here and there just for the sake of having an attractive gimmick.

And then we have the aforementioned three-screen theater. One thing that the multi-screen tool is doing right over the other two types of “attraction cinema” is that there are no long moments of nothing. When something does not take up three screens, there are multiple visual effects seen in the peripheral of the viewer. This can be ash falling, blurs, blowing sand, something to keep the viewer reminded that it’s there. There is concern that this feature could also seem like a gimmick, and that it is not used appropriately and purposefully, but the results of a movie being filmed particularly for three screens do sound pretty great, even without the real-life special effects.

One very real negative of the three screen tool is not being able to see and take in everything at once. You must choose what you want to see, and there will be parts you simply cannot see no matter how much you try to turn your head from one screen to the other (unless maybe you watch the movie multiple times and make sure to look in a different direction every time, but who knows how much that will cost you!). To me, this con sounds like a fair tradeoff though for the creative visual and movie-going experience it otherwise provides.

Overall, it seems like filmmakers and movie theater owners are working together to explore their options and use all of the tools in their creative toolboxes to bring a new type of cinema to life. Each of these styles have their pros and cons, and depending on which you can live with, you might want to start saving your pennies now for a ticket. If you’re not in LA or NY, by the time one of these new theaters comes to you, you might have enough in your bank to actually be able to attend. But regardless of which format you’re looking at and rooting for, you can’t deny these exciting new outputs of creativity coming from the movie realm. Who knows, maybe one of them will grow large enough to usher in yet a new era of filmmaking!