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TH6 Panel Information

Transforming Hollywood 6: Alternative Realities, World Building and Immersive Entertainment
May 8, 2015

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Panel One – 9:10 – 11:00 a.m.
Prototype the Planet: How and Why Expansive and Immersive Worlds Are Taking Over Our Collective Imagination

Moderated by Henry Jenkins, USC

Panel Two – 11:10 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Brand New Vistas: VR & AR Create New Frontiers in Art and Promotion

Moderated by Denise Mann, UCLA

Panel Three – 2:00 – 3:50 p.m.
Hip Deep in Knowledge: Virtual Museums, Immersive Journalism, and Scientific Vistas

Moderated by Robert Hernandez, USC

Panel Four – 4:00 – 5:50 p.m.
There’s Art all Around Us: The Aesthetics of Immersive Experiences

Moderated by Jeff Burke, UCLA

Special Event on Virtual Production – 6:15 – 7:30 p.m.
A Conversation with Academy® Award-winning Producer Jon Landau (Titanic, Avatar franchise), moderated by Tom Nunan, UCLA TFT Lecturer and Executive Producer of the Academy Award-winning film Crash

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View all TH6 panelists.

Transforming Hollywood 6 Announcement

Transforming Hollywood 6: Alternative Realities, World Building and Immersive Entertainment

Friday, May 8, 2015
James Bridges Theater
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

If you want up-to-the-minute information on what’s happening with the conference, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

New digital technologies come and go, but the public’s desire to engage with immersive storytelling worlds is here to stay. In 2014, Facebook and Google each entered the alternative realities game with a vengeance. Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire the latest virtual reality (VR) hardware company, Oculus Rift, invented by Palmer Luckey. Google countered by investing in augmented reality (AR) start-up Magic Leap, a firm that hyped its wares with a twenty-three second video clip of a lifelike elephant held aloft in a human hand. Soon after, Microsoft jumped on board with its own AR offering, HoloLens. Samsung used VR to stimulate sales of its latest Samsung Galaxy Note 4 by making its Gear VR Innovator Edition incompatible with all other smart phones and devices. Not to be outdone, Sony announced Project Morpheus, a VR system to enhance game play on its Playstation 4.

Each of these internet technology (IT) giants claims to have high-minded goals for their new platforms—as a means to enhance human capabilities in the worlds of education, science, medicine, and the fine arts. Most likely, each of these Silicon Valley industries is looking to Hollywood and Madison Avenue partners as part of a long-term monetization scheme. After all, both the content industries and the consumer brand industries are eager to whet millennial audiences’ appetites for the latest form of tech-fueled fun. At present, there’s a glut of VR and AR gadgets and not enough content. Therefore, cutting edge artists are stepping into the void, offering to experiment with these new immersive world-building tools, even if it means they must create an occasional Budweiser Margarita girl that morphs into a 4D hologram in order to pay the bill.

While dial-up modems created a generation that was addicted to email and search in the early days of the internet, once broadband internet infiltrated our homes, a generation of digital natives became addicted to making, streaming, and sharing content in the Web 2.0 era. What else does the future hold? Futurists, who spoke at the Mobile Media Summit in Barcelona in 2014, wondered out loud whether the “gigabit internet” will create a generation hooked on augmented reality, holograms, virtual reality headsets, and other “wearables” by 2025. Indeed, as pundits observed at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, brand marketers are placing bets not only on VR and AR, but also on our fascination with the “internet of things” – smart devices (including sensory-driven thermostats, data-driven sleep monitors, and self-driving cars) that communicate with us by means of our mobile phone. But what if “the internet of things” isn’t just another way to seed consumer desire for superfluous gadgets and services?

Some see these new technologies and new experiential worlds moving us closer to that highly anticipated, if dreaded, moment when artificial intelligence outpaces human intelligence. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if iPhone’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, like Spike Jone’s Samantha in Her, outgrow their humans? In 1992, Neal Stephenson’s seminal cyberpunk novel Snow Crash imagined a future-world in which all of us are part of a virtual shared space. Those who chose to stay connected to this Metaverse via portable goggles and other equipment were called “gargoyles” for their outlandish appearance. It looks as if Stephenson’s vision is more prescient than we originally thought. Gargoyles, get ready to step out of the CAVE, strap on your Oculus Rift, HoloLens, Samsung gear, or Morpheus goggles, for the future is now.

The tendency to discuss immersive entertainment in a breathlessly futuristic language, through metaphors of science fiction, masks the larger history of these techniques and practices across the 20th and even 19th century. Thus, a key strand of this year’s event involves bringing together the perspectives of technologists with those of historians who work on earlier moments of media change, a vantage point which can help us to qualify sweeping claims about the impacts of these still emerging (and often precarious) technologies by looking at how earlier generations sought to expand sensory perceptions, to map and explore complex worlds, to immerse themselves into multimedia presentations, or to create intense collective experiences that remove us from the constraints of the everyday. We are not the first generation of entertainers who wanted to create a sense of awe in spectators, of journalists who wanted to convey a more vivid sense of the world, of museums who wanted to bring their visitors into a more immediate relationship to remote corners of human knowledge, or artists who have sought to teach us new ways to see, touch, smell, taste, or hear the world around us.

Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future

In Fall 2011, Google announced plans to invest $100 million dollars to forge original content partnerships with a number of talented YouTube creators in order to enhance the production value of their work and their value to brands.

The result was a slate of channels from production companies, actors, athletes, comedians, musicians, self-help gurus. Many of the channels have stopped producing new content now that the Google money has run out, but for those that built an audience, the move was influential in strengthening two types of virtual entrepreneurs—web creators and the CEOs of multi-channel networks providing support to those very creators.

Those that rose to the top give us a glimpse at the ways in which the very idea of TV is being reinvented in keeping with advances in digital technology. The multi-channel network Fullscreen is one such company vying for a space in the new entertainment landscape, led by founder and CEO George Strompolos. “I think any time you have a major shift in technology or distribution, new companies are born, and they look a little different. And if they make it, they become quite valuable, and they help bring great ideas and great creativity to the world,” Strompolos said in a recent interview with TH5 co-director and UCLA associate professor Denise Mann.

It’s certainly true in the history of film and television, and as a generation raised on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat comes of age, it’s likely to be true of online video. It’s a generation that “can easily transition from consumer to creator,” as Strompolos says, so Fullscreen has “built a media company in partnership with tens of thousands of content providers from the connected generation. And the internet is our primary distribution source.”

It’s not just a younger generation raised with new technology that is creating content, however. Veteran writers, producers, comedians, and actors are thriving as they rewrite the rules for what constitutes television. Sheri Bryant—producer and co-founder of the successful Geek & Sundry YouTube channel—is one such creator. Not only has Geek & Sundry produced several hit series on YouTube, later this month they will release “Spooked,” a new series on Hulu.

“Spooked” is a co-production with Bad Hat Harry, Bryan Singer’s production company, a sign that Hollywood heavy hitters are paying attention to the corners of digital world beyond the next big Netflix series. “Spooked” also signals the ability of successful YouTube companies to chase other platforms like Hulu and Netflix, and even networks and studios. This doesn’t come at the expense of the YouTube content, as Bryant points out: “The YouTube platform is important to us in the overall growth of our company because so many of our fans live there and it’s a great place for growth.” Of course it also serves as a testing ground for new content that can grow a fan base and then be pitched to and developed for other platforms.

That relationship between new and old is exciting and provides new opportunities, but TH5 co-director and UCLA associate professor Denise Mann suggests there’s more than meets the eye. “By acquiring the big MCNs, the studios hope to access the millions of users and creators that have been amassed by these web networks. In doing so, Hollywood is letting the proverbial [digital] fox into the [analog] chicken-coop, inviting these surveillance-driven marketing strategies to co-exist with their aging, premium content business.”

Join us on April 4 as Denise and Sheri—as well as Larry Shapiro (Head of Talent, Fullscreen), Allen DeBevoise (chairman and CEO, Machinima, Inc.), and Amanda Lotz (associate professor, University of Michigan)—debate the viability of these new creative and business models, asking whether they represent a radical rethinking of entertainment that puts power back into the hands of creators or if they are transitional systems that will eventually be absorbed by Hollywood’s big media groups.

Discussion with Orlando Jones at TH5

Orlando Jones, who plays Captain Frank Irving on the cult Fox series, “Sleepy Hollow,” personifies the new relationship that exists between stars/producers and fans in the era of engagement-based television. He’s taken the trouble to master the practices, values and traditions of his fan community and he reaches out to them via social media every week, helping to forge strong group support around his program. In this wrap-up conversation, we talk with Jones about fandom and the future of television, asking him to reflect on the ways social media is changing the relations between creators and audiences and to share some of his perspectives as a television performer about the ways his medium is changing in response to digital and mobile technologies.

Since securing a role in the hit Fox series, Jones created his own Tumblr blog – The Orlando Jones Tumblr Experiment – and is very active on Twitter. Jones interacts and connects with his fans in a way that very few actors do. “My approach to fan engagement is born from a genuine appreciation for the evolving and essential relationship between fans and creators,” Jones explains. “I am truly a fan of our fans. The fact that I’m involved in a creative enterprise that stimulates the creativity of others and inspires them to create transformative works of their own through fan art, fan fiction and more is one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do.”

Geek Speaks: The Women Who Make Television

On April 3, the eve of Transforming Hollywood 5: The Future of Entertainment, an exciting event will take place across town at USC, home of TH5 co-director Henry Jenkins. Geek Speaks: The Women Who Make Television pays tribute to American Public Television’s 1973 series The Men Who Made the Movies by showcasing a range of highly creative women who are now working in the American television industry as creators, executive producers, head writers, and showrunners.

A look back on a year plus of developments which have transformed television as a medium, this conference stresses the need to push beyond its focus on masculine creativity by representing the role of women through a broad range of different forms of television programing, including sitcoms, dramas, and fantasy/science fiction programs, that have worked for both broadcast and cable networks.

The evening will consist of two sessions. The first, “Creative Process,” from 4-5:30, explores the panelists’ paths into the industry, their relationships to their mentors and creative partners, and the changing contexts in which television is produced, distributed, and viewed. Panelists include Kim Moses (Ghost Whisperer, Profiler), Alexa Junge (United States of Tara, The West Wing, Friends), Nell Scovell (Warehouse 13, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) Felicia Henderson (Fringe, Gossip Girl, Sister Sister), and Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Kyle XY). The panel will be moderated by Erin Reilly, Creative Director for Annenberg Innovation Lab and Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

The second, “Creative Products,” from 6-7:30, deals with the content of their programs, their relationship to their genres, issues of representation, and their perceptions of the audiences for their work. Panelists include Winnie Holzman (Huge, My So Called Life), Robin Schiff (Are You There Chelsea, Huge), Jenny Bicks (The Big C, Sex and the City), and Meg DeLoatch (Brothers, Eve, Family Matters). “Creative Products” will be moderated by Francesca Marie Smith, a doctoral student at USC where she focuses primarily on rhetorical representations of (dis)ability in mass media, situating her work at the intersection of rhetorical theory and criticism, cultural and fan studies, and media criticism.

Women still face an uphill struggle to gain entry into the television industry, yet these women have shattered through the glass ceiling and can now stand as role-models for the next generation of women and men who want to change what kinds of stories television tells and what kinds of audiences it addresses.

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