Francis Ford Coppola’s idea of a future where we’re editor as well as viewer is full of possibilities.
At the recent Produced by Conference event, legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (of Apocalypse Now and suggesting Jedi become a religion fame) put forward the idea that, following on from the digital revolution, the next big thing in film would be live cinema, where audiences could custom edit the movie they were watching to put their own distinctive gloss on it. Variety’s Steve Chagollan quoted him as saying, “the cinema can be composed for the audience while they’re seeing it. Movies no longer have to be set in stone and can be interpreted for an audience”. He went on to add that “live cinema could be like live theatre. Streaming will be broadcasting”.
Potential for a new type of filmmaking was huge – audiences were going to be able to put their own interpretation on a film
Russ Fischer at Slashfilm has written of a recent Coppola production, Twixt, which stars Val Kilmer as a writer of second-rate horror novels. With the premiere of the film, the audience was shown how custom edits could be put together using an iPad, ensuring that a different experience was presented every time. In this case, the demonstration involved various, reworked versions of the main trailer, each one presenting a new angle on how it was presented. The potential for a new type of filmmaking seemed to be huge. As Mr Coppola noted, audiences were going to be able to put their own interpretation on a film.
Yet, in a sense, what Coppola’s talking about goes a lot farther than simply sliding frames around on an iPad. Discussing the idea in depth, Mr Coppola put forward the idea that, in the future, only 30% or so of a film would be pre-recorded, with the rest being created in front of the audience. I have to confess that I’m not entirely sure what that means – even going back to his reference about theatre, the idea is still a little confusing. After all, plays are rehearsed and acted out long before the cast gather on the stage to show us the finished product. In addition, they might throw in a little improv, as do actors in films, but for the most part they stick to their lines and the stage directions.
Even if this idea proves to be a little too visionary, and we are left with nothing more than the ability to swap out scenes on a computer, that would still be an extraordinary development, which would, hopefully, give a lot more freedom to filmmakers when it comes to showing the more unpalatable aspects of human nature. What I mean by this is that, when you look at a lot of popular modern films, they’re family-friendly, with adult films – or films that have adult themes and come with good old 18 ratings as a result – quite hard to find. Yet if we, the audience, can edit our films with an iPad or computer, then we make them as mushy or as gory as we like.
This would be a boon not just to families where the parents might want to watch something a little more adult than their regular, keep-the-kids-happy fare, but also to couples who might end up having to compromise a little too much on what they watch every time they’re cuddled up together on the sofa. So she can keep her violent scenes to one side for later on when her boyfriend’s not in the room, and he can do the same with his mushy stuff. My point is you would be able to tailor a film to meet your tastes. You could reinsert the deleted scenes – you could delete the scenes that make no sense to you, or the ones that seem to slow the movie down.
If we, the audience, can edit our films with an iPad or computer, then we can make them as mushy or as gory as we like
You could keep your loved ones from seeing those scenes where you exclaim, “wow, this is great cinema – a really bold vision from the director”, but which might have everyone else looking at you like you’ve just admitted to being an obsessive fan of hentai porn. You would become your own auteur, making, or at least editing the film to match your vision of what it should be. At the same time, it could serve as a very useful Trojan horse for allowing ideas to sneak into countries where freedom or democracy are just bad words.
World events over the last few years have shown that there are peoples seeking to engage more with the modern world and less with the conservative notions of their rulers. This new form of editing could allow them to do that, with scenes that would be banned by the censors cleverly tucked away to be watched in the secret of their own homes. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part – I don’t see Hollywood doing anything to endanger themselves in important markets like China, but hopefully this technology will have a greater use than simply allowing Western audiences to put their own interpretations of a film on the screen. We can only hope.
Read more: Where is our new cinema renaissance?
Featured image: 20th Century Fox
Inset image: Pathe