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High-Tech Entertainment Promotes Guns

Immersive pics influence audience behavior, sometimes inadvertently

“We will have to change,” President Obama told the nation in Sunday night’s memorial service for the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.

Judging by the cancelled “Django Unchained” and “Jack Reacher” premieres and the scramble to adjust TV programming, industryites are at least somewhat aware the president was talking to them, not just to the gun lobby.

I suspect one day we’ll discover that repeated exposure to violent content is toxic to the mind just as cigarette smoking is toxic to the lungs, but that remains unproven. For today, let me ponder a link between entertainment tech and violent content.

I’ve often written about tools for creating “immersive” content: computer-generated imagery, 3D, giant screens, high frame rates, high-end sound systems and the like. Why does the industry care so much about immersiveness? Because the more immersive content is, the better it is at influencing audience behavior.

At the most basic level, that means convincing them to watch a TV show or buy a movie ticket or a videogame. But follow the money and it’s clear the entertainment business relies on the assumption that content influences audiences in other ways, and that immersive content influences them more. Networks sell commercial time on the premise that ads influence viewers, so it’s hard to deny that the programming between the ads does the same. Product placement deals bring in millions because companies believe putting beverages and cars on the screen, and having stars use them, boosts sales of those goods. The movies that inspire mass sales of merchandise are usually those made with the most advanced immersive tech.

How many hours of high-tech action stories, most of which feature stars firing guns, has an average American seen? Hundreds? Thousands? No wonder Americans buy so many firearms. Firearm sales are promoted (presumably inadvertently) in the same manner as soft drinks and sports cars. There may not be licensed “Django Unchained” or “Jack Reacher” guns at Walmart, but with all the promotion guns receive on entertainment screens, there might as well be.

Let’s remember there’s an active campaign against smoking in movies, because when smoking is glamorized onscreen, that is thought to encourage smoking by auds, especially among impressionable young people. Guns are glamorized onscreen far more.

I think that glamorization of gunplay in entertainment probably encourages people to use guns. Again, that is unproven, but let me vent about an action cliche I think is especially pernicious.

Decades ago, the U.S. military determined that the best predictor of enemy casualties is the number of bullets fired, so when it standardized on the M16 rifle, it traded some accuracy at a distance for rapid fire. In other words, the Armed Forces decided that for efficient killing, a so-so marksman firing a lot of bullets fast is preferable to a great marksman firing a few bullets slowly. (The Bushmaster AR-15 carried by the Newtown killer is a civilian version of the M16, by the way.)

But on the screen, the opposite is true. The hero seems immune from gunfire. Bad guys can’t hit him even with automatic weapons. In scene after scene we’ve seen the hero outrun automatic rifle fire as a row of squibs goes off at his feet, then nail a bad guy with a single pistol shot from 50 yards away. The character we identify with is improbably safe, the character we hate is improbably killed, and everyone else is improbably safe from stray bullets.

Consider this: Every man sees himself as the hero of his own story. When a man picks up a gun and imagines what will happen next, a lifetime of media images tells him heroes solve their problems with guns, don’t get shot, don’t hurt innocents by accident and are rewarded with a beautiful girl at the end. And the whole experience will be thrilling and fun.

Action movies aren’t going away, and they aren’t going to get less immersive. There’s too much money at stake. So here’s a modest proposal: Stop showing heroes dodging spurts of assault-weapon rounds. Stop making the bad guys bad shots, and stop making heroes magically bulletproof. Stop cheating on that. Just stop.

Does that mean action sequences would be harder to imagine and shoot? That action might be less exciting? And if that happens, might the bottom line might be dinged?

Well, as the president said, we’re going to have to change.

By the way, I can think of one top action director who has been pushing the envelope of high-tech “immersiveness” for decades, whose movies inspire and influence millions, but rarely seems to fall back on the “bulletproof hero” cheat: James Cameron.

And his movies do pretty well.

Bits & Bytes:

The Visual Effects Society has renewed the contract of executive director Eric Roth. Roth has been VES topper since 2004, and under his leadership the org has grown from 900 to 2,700 members in 28 countries.

Tippett Studios did the animation of Seth MacFarlane’s CG-animated bear “Ted” for “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

Two visual effects companies, Santa Monica-based Spatial Harmonics Group and Beijing-based Eclipse VFX have merged to form Eclipse VFX, Los Angeles. The California location will be Eclipse’s hub for Hollywood clients. Wayne England is exectutive producer and Will Shepherd is operations director for the Santa Monica office. Eclipse took best visual effects kudos from the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards for Tsui Hark’s 3D/Imax pic “Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.”

Luma Pictures of Santa Monica has added creative director and vfx supervisor Simon Mowbray. … Santa Monica-based post house West Post Digital has tapped Tamara Gagarin as business development executive.

Corporate innovation expert Soren Kaplan is the keynote speaker for Createasphere’s Digital Asset Management Conference, Feb. 27 in BevHills. … Will Wright, game designer and CEO of Maxis, and Erin McPherson, Yahoo VP and head of video, will be keynote speakers at the TransVergence Summit skedded for March 19-20 at the W hotel in Hollywood. … The FMX Conference and the ITFS fest have set their seventh Animation Production Day for April 25-26 at the Haus der Witschaft in Stuttgart, Germany.

3Net, the 3D TV network from Sony, Discovery Communications and Imax, has launched on Service Electric Cablevision in Pennsylvania. … AT&T has launched three authenticated Play services for Starz: Starz Play, Encore Play and Movieplex Play, for U-verse subscribers to those networks.

Kodak has introduced a daylight-balanced Super 8 film stock, Vision3 50D Color Negative Film 7203, aimed at filmmakers shooting on location.

Technicolor has struck a strategic alliance with Village Roadshow. Under the deal, Technicolor will provide DVD and Blu-ray manufacturing and distribution; digital encoding and other digital media services; and d-cinema distribution service support.

Avid has named Melrose Mac an “Elite Partner” to sell and service Avid gear. … SMPTE has been honored by the FCC with the Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Accessibility. Award is for the new Timed Text standard that makes content more accessible to people with disabilities. … SMPTE and the Video Services Forum have set new standards for high-bitrate IP video transport.

Moving Picture Co. delivered more than 110 visual effects shots for “Life of Pi” in native stereoscopic 3D, primarily for the pic’s two storm sequences. Guillaume Rocheron was vfx supervisor for MPC; Genevieve Weast was vfx producer. … yU+co did the stereo main and end titles for the pic. … Sony ColorWorks provided post for the animated short “Fresh Guacamole.”

LED lighting company Litepanels has been accepted into the Con Edison Commericial and Industrial Energy Efficiency Program Market Partner Network.

The Qube Cinema XP-I digital cinema server and Xi 4K Integrated Media Block have been certified DCI compliant. Qube provided the high frame rate 3D IMBs for the premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in London and Wellington. … Barco’s DP2K-10S digital cinema projector has been selected by China’s Hunan Fayoo Film Culture Industry Investment Management Co. for its new cinema in Taojiang, Hunan Province, China. It’s the first deployment of an S2K projector for commercial movie projection in China.

Assimilate’s online store is offering pay-as-you-use rental options for Scratch and ScratchLab software. … RenderLife is offering an online market for stock 3D CGI models and images.

Siren Digital of Hollywood has installed a Digital Vision Nucoda color grading system at their new facility. … Visual Data Media Services will open its Burbank facility on Jan. 2. … Sample Digital, provider of production workflow and media asset management tools for film and TV production, has rebranded as DAX, adopting the name of the company’s flagship product.

Cinegy has partnered with Grape Media to offer broadcast and media solutions in South Korea. … Russia’s Channel 5 has modernized its news production operation with Orad graphics solutions. …

Non-profit Fractured Atlas has introduced an online tool to help independent filmmakers find and rent space for shooting and screenings. The tool is part of Spaces, the org’s online network of marketplaces.

Want to comment or suggest a column topic?

Email david.cohen@variety.com

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