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The Evolution of Compelling Storytelling in the Digital Age

How has the digital age affected, inspired and changed the way content is delivered and stories are told? At Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit on May 9 in New York City, such industry leaders as Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, film producer Michael De Luca (“The Social Network”), Steven L. Canepa, IBM general manager, global media & entertainment industry, and other business leaders will examine the subject from their unique perspectives.

Noah, for one, has closely studied the 24-hour news cycle’s effect on content since he took over for Jon Stewart in 2015. “You can’t deny that, a lot of the time, 24-hour news seeks to generate news that isn’t genuine,” he says. “It seeks to [deliver] all information as opposed to what’s pertinent — with opinions, invalidated sources and talking heads that shout at each other — so people don’t actually learn anything.”

The net effect is diluting the impact of the news. “It seems the banner of breaking news is constantly on your screen, so it no longer has the same meaning,” Noah says. “It inundates people to a point where they either feel like they don’t need to pay attention to anything, or there’s just too much to pay attention to.”

At the summit, Noah hopes to promote the idea of digital and online as opportunities for people to see more (non-news) content with fewer restrictions from studios, networks and content providers.

“Networks have started learning that getting the show to the viewer is as important as having the viewer know where to get it,” he says. “Viewers are so inundated that they’ve lost track of where shows are, so now networks have had to put their shows on platforms not directly tied to them, like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix. Then some viewers come to find the show on its native network.”

From his years heading production at New Line and DreamWorks to his three best picture Oscar noms, De Luca’s had a front-row seat to the digital revolution for well over two decades. “I feel it’s the Wild West now in terms of content, because if you have the wherewithal and the mind to do it, you can shoot a movie on an iPhone and have it at Sundance,” he says.

“And as a supplier, there are just so many models afoot for movies which once might have died on death’s door in terms of the ratio between negative cost and P&A. That’s not so much of an issue anymore.”

For serialized content, De Luca sees new viewing patterns as influencing narrative. “The whole idea of developing stories that can be appreciated on mobile devices or you know are going to be binge watched is inspiring innovation, because we’re changing from a three-part structure or a traditional episodic television model,” he says. “ ‘House of Cards’ was the first time I binge-watched something, and I’m kind of waiting for the feature or mobile device version of it.”

New technology is also helping filmmakers expand conventional features — including De Luca’s blockbuster “Fifty Shades of Grey” series — into new storytelling media.

“We shot a virtual reality trailer for ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ where you were a guest at a masquerade ball the characters went to in the movie, and we’re going to do another one for ‘Fifty Shades Freed,’” De Luca says. “I wanted to do a virtual reality experience at the Oscars [I co-produced this year] with a camera planted at a seat, but we just didn’t have time to get it done.”

Two of his development projects at Sony — the racing video-game adaptation “Gran Turismo” and the Darren Aronofsky-helmed Evel Knievel biopic — seem ripe to mine for innovative marketing and games that continue their films’ narratives.

As De Luca says: “The big studio model and marketing culture — though innovation happens within it — hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years. Everything is geared to that opening weekend, with some innovation on the side.”

As for the movement to shorten the window between theatrical and home video releases, De Luca feels “cautious change in this area is a good idea,” but he has a slightly different perspective on how to strengthen theatrical exhibition. “We need to take a more bespoke approach to people we’re not getting anyway,” he says. “Whenever I talk to anyone under 25, they say, ‘I’d love to go, but I can’t afford the movies.’ I think there has to be innovation in pricing and experience, so it’s pleasurable to to go to a theater.”

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