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Community and presentation: boiled down, those two aspects can determine the future of moviegoing. Netflix can tell you what to watch, but do you trust or favor it over a theater programmer? IMAX and 3D propose added value in viewing a film, but are they a veil of distraction under innovation?
Ted Schilowitz has spent his entire career determining that interplay in various forms. A founding member of RED Camera Company, he helped usher in a newly accessible world of digital filmmaking; since then he’s moved to 20th Century Fox Studios as their resident Futurist, and also over to global tech company Barco as Chief Creative Officer. All are titles that promise a soothsayer’s flair, but he’s the first to emphasize their terrifying and exciting qualities.
“Almost on a regular basis for the last 10 years, my life has been traveling so far out on the ledge that you freeze and go, ‘Shit,’ Schilowitz tells The Creators Project. “But then you have to say, ‘Let’s keep going.’ You’re exploring the edges of what’s possible, and you have to convince people to come along for the ride.”
Photo Credit: Danny Batista
Schilowitz has invited me to a Cinemark XD theater in Los Angeles to view his latest bid for cinematic possibility: Barco Escape, a three-screen panoramic presentation designed for a new kind of audience engagement. He describes it as a 3D experience without the glasses, or “bricks and mortar VR” (another area that Schilowitz is actively developing with Fox).
First deployed on a test run last year with the YA film adaptation of The Maze Runner, Barco Escape has returned one year later with more confidence in format. The sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials has been augmented in the first 22 minutes and a commissioned travelogue short by YouTube creator Devin Supertramp will premiere before each screening.
Photo Credit: Danny Batista
As trapezoidal angle view of nearly 200 degrees, the three screens allow for a variety of approaches, as shown in the five clips from different projects that Schilowitz screened. Most conventionally, The Scorch Trials utilizes atmospheric visual effects and CG screen extensions to hone the eye in on the center frame: dust, flashes of light, skylines, etc. However, two works—the Devin Supertramp short and a Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett concert film being released later this year—feature a triptych style that follow separate angles and scenes operating in unison.
Remarkably, the eye tracks the action with little strain, and one can imagine the narrative uses that someone like Khalil Joseph, who recently directed the format-jumping Arcade Fire doc, The Reflektor Tapes, or James Cameron could capture using Escape.
Schilowitz imagines it, too. Barco Escape is already working with Jerry Bruckheimer to develop several projects, and he’s also spoken of involvement with “two of the biggest action directors currently in Hollywood”—one possibly mentioned beforehand in this article.
It’s arguable whether these collaborations will ever return cinema attendance to its soaring highs, but Schilowitz and others in the film and tech industries are nonetheless dedicated to the pursuit. The process begins with a number of complex questions, including those that might cancel the traditional cinema experience out entirely.
“Do you actually need and demand interactivity? Is the answer in a simulation world, in a headset, a theater?” Schilowitz asks. “We don’t know the answers to all that yet, but you can’t just assume that you can’t do it. What you can assume is that if someone will monkey with the idea long enough, they’ll figure out a way that makes sense. And that’s what I’m currently seeing.”
For a complete list of theaters worldwide where The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials with Barco Escape is screening click here.