Does Screen Size Matter?

For years the motion picture industry has pushed the limits of movie production. We have are seeing the end of film as we know it and the digital age is ushering in new more efficient ways to produce content and new methods of distribution. For years film makers and producers struggled with standards in film stock, film size, and film speeds. Original silent movies were shot and projected with hand cranked cameras, which did not establish or uphold a standard speed. The frame rate standards were ushered in with the advent of the sound film. Sound required a constant recording and play back speed.

Mechanization of the camera and technological advancements in sound recording allowed for innovations such as Synch sound, constant frame rates, innovative camera design, noise reduction, film stock advancements, and advancements in lens technologies and design.

Today, we are seeing a similar progression in motion picture technology as the digital age is making what was once an industry of big dollars and expensive productions, a world that is accessible to almost anyone. The cost of production, editing, sound design and distribution have decreased at an exponential rate. The once powerful and dominant Goliath of the Studio system has been challenged by the new digital Indie-producer system. Technological advances has moved film making from the back lot to the desk top, and has pushed distribution from the once great movie house or mega-plex movie theatre to the Uber-plex of the Internet. “In Hollywood terms, a low budget film is anything under $10 million; The Blair Witch Project cost a mere $60,000 to produce, and grossed $248,639,099.” [1]

Technology has not only helped the smaller, low budget producer, it has also allowed mainstream, big budget studios such as Lucas Arts to shoot entirely in a digital format. Digital technology allows film makers like George Lucas, and Stephen Spielberg to pre-visualize every shot of a project in a live motion format before ever actually shooting a scene. The digital medium has allowed film makers to build a scene out as a live action, digital story board creating enormous efficiencies and lowering costs an expenses incurred shooting on location. Additionally, digital formats are ushering in whole new distribution methods for major motion pictures as well as small Internet videos. Digital theatres are being set up primarily in large market cities. These theaters are capable for downloading titles with out any degradation of quality over the life of the films showing.

The next great step in distribution of media is the Internet and the On Demand systems of consumption. Today, YouTube estimates that it has over 100 million video streams per day. “In January 2008 alone, nearly 79 million users had made over 3 billion video views. [2] In 2008, the motion picture industry has seen a decline in ticket sales of levels reported in 2000, though revenues are up. The increase in revenue despite a drop in tickets sales in due to increase in the cost per ticket sold.

So, with DVD rentals, peer-to-peer file sharing, television and computer based On-Demand services, and sites such as YouTube, IMDB, etc… the small screen has become much more important than ever before. So what does this mean to the film maker and producer?

It allows for more individuals to become film makers and producers. But it also drastically changes the dynamics of film production and the techniques used for production, and the stylistic methods used to display the narrative. One of the hallmarks of digital media is its platform friendly nature. Digital media can be produced for one display medium and distributed across many others. Today, the majority of video shot for television, music videos, and motion pictures are re-purposed across viewing platforms. An epic film such as “Lawrence of Arabia,” will be viewed by most people today on either a television, or some smaller media device such as an iPod, or a laptop. This 70 mm masterpiece that is hallmarked by its wide shots, bright color, and incredible composition, is viewed at resolutions of 320 X 200, or 1024 X 768; a far stretch, or an incredible shrinkage from the 40 foot theatrical screens the film was intended to be viewed on.

Today many critics of the film industry see this emergence of the small screen market place as one of the most detrimental to the film industry and the creative norms associated with it. Wheeler Wiston Dixon lists as one of his “Twenty-Five Reasons it’s All Over,” the fact that films are now “composed” for television screens or mobile devices rather than cinematic screen presentation.

The restriction of the media device will drastically change how a film maker’s approaches the composition of a shot. A wide shot of Peter O’Toole as he stumbles over and down an enormous sand dune is great when the actor is life size, but at 320 X 200 the subject of the shot is lost. The impact of man against the elements, the sheer dimension and power of the desert is lost, or certainly diminished on a tiny screen.

Recently the Sundance Institute challenged several film makers to produce a short film for mobile phones. Maria Maggenti, director of the upcoming big-screen film Puccini for Beginners, was one of the film makers who accepted the challenge. She notes that “I held the phones up and looked through them to see what it looked like, to see what faces looked like and depth of field… from there I decided that, although both my films feature people who talk, the best way to handle this was to have no dialogue. So the elements are a simple narrative, no or little dialog, visuals that are very clear and more or less fill up the screen, and easily readable. I guess not a great deal of character development.” [5]

But not everyone agrees. Today there are thousands of amateur “film” makers who are happy to shoot with the tools they have, and plenty of people who don’t want great cinematography, they just want to laugh as some idiot jumps off a garage roof during a backyard wrestling match. Some say that mediocrity is becoming the new standard, and it may be true. We have seen a diminishing sense of value in creative endeavors and productions and the work that traditionally goes into a professional execution of these efforts.

We have seen the 35 mm SLR replaced by the digital camera, and along with that we have seen an extinction of the photograph. Today most are satisfied to save it to a hard rive, and printout a copy on low quality paper and cheap ink cartridges. Stock photography has replaced real table top, commercial photographers. Innovation in printing, and low resolution requirements for the web have brought down the bar of acceptable product. This effect is being felt across industries, as MP3 compression is good enough recording quality has dropped down on the importance scale. Blogs have ushered in new lows in journalism and writing, and YouTube has made just about any video fodder for distribution.

Ideally, the cream will rise to the top. Good film makers will not be satisfied with being on YouTube next to a back yard girl fight video. The truly talented film makers and videographers will adhere to principals of visual composition such as the rule of thirds, the Golden Section and the natural geometry that we exist in. As producers we are challenged by the restrictions of new mediums, but we are also supported, and promoted by them as well.

True innovators succeed in the environment that they find themselves existing in. They take to tools available, the confines and restrictions set upon them, and find ways to break out and express themselves in clear and evocative ways. It is truly an exciting time to be a producer…



  1. Zimmerman, C. Indie Film Investments: Independent films present an alternative investment opportunity. February 22, 2008

  1. Yen, Y.W. YouTube looks for the money clip. March 25, 2008,
  1. US Movie Market Summary 1995 to 2008

  1. The End of Cinema as we know it: American Film in the Nineties. (2001) New York University Press. Edited by John Lewis. Twenty-Five Reasons It’s All Over. Dixon, W.W., (pp. 356 – 366).
  1. Making a Film for the Really Small Screen. Morning Edition, NPR January 18, 2007.
  1. Marill, A.H., Big Pictures on the Small Screen (2007). Praeger, Westport CT.


The future of the Interface

What is the future of the GUI – graphical user interface? Is it a three dimensional immersive environment that uses physical motion and movement input through digital skin, gloves and virtual reality goggles? Alternatively, is it a two dimensional screen that relies on touch, and voice activated conversation system with audio commands? Or… is it all of the above?I would venture to say that it is most likely all of the above and then some things that we have not even thought of yet. The interface will evolve much in the same way that we evolve, through need based adaptation and market forces. Economic forces will most likely have the largest impact on what new technologies make it to the selves of electronic super stores, and which innovations sit in a basement of a laboratory at MIT.

As designers, we are always striving to make the interaction between user and technology better, more intuitive and more human. This interaction is inherent between user and any technology, not just computers. The ergonomic design that goes into the interface between driver and automobile is extensive and essential to the success of the product. A well-designed interface can make or break a product.

The Apple Macintosh established an archetype for the computer desktop that has driven application design across platforms for over twenty years. Today Apple’s innovative interface design with ITunes and IPod, in both desktop and physical aesthetics has redefined online entertainment and they way we consume it. The Apple Ipod was not the first MP3 audio player to market, but now it is the dominant one, and the competition is quickly following suit from design and functionality.

The Object is the Objective

All objects, whether based in computer technology or not have unique requirements that will be the defining basis of the user interface with that object. An automobile may become more digital, perhaps using head up displays, touch screen input for features like radio, video, and diagnostics, but there will always be some sort of steering wheel. It may not be round like a wheel, but it will be physically attached to the steering column and the wheels and steering system.

Just as species, evolve slowly over time, so will the interface. Evolution is something that happens through slight changes in the norm from various outside pressures and influences. Applications and computing devices are successful and adopted based on a certain expected uniformity in performance and interaction. Through consistency of interaction, users are able to move effortlessly from one platform to another with almost no learning curve. Radical shifts in the user paradigm can result in user confusion or additional user effort and ultimately rejection of a product that might be inherently good.

So is the object the objective? I believe it is. Interfaces should be designed to enhance the user experience, remove pitfalls, and obstacles, and should not be designed for design sake.

Today, with the advent of various three dimensional platforms such as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and several others, the idea of the 3D immersive environment is generating a great deal of buzz in the technology world. Millions of dollars are being spent on technologies such as Second Life so users can meet in virtual boardrooms regardless of their physical location, or attend classes remotely and view an avatar of a professor as they lecture. All of this is still accessed via a standard keyboard and a personal computer. Therefore, we are still accessing this faux 3D via a 2D monitor.

I am not completely sold on the concept of the immersive three-dimensional environment. Technology evangelists like Myron Kruger and Jaron Lanier, the man who coined the phrase “virtual reality”, seem to think that this type of interface is what we, as innovators and designers should be striving towards. That interaction of man and machine should be one of “goggles and gloves”, where computers respond to the physical movements of the individual user.

Lanier says that he sees a world headed towards “post-symbolic communications where children grow up with the ability to program and make virtual micro-worlds according to their own thoughts… they can invent the contents of virtual worlds very quickly, at an improvisatory rate.”  On one hand Lanier makes the argument that this type of improvisational development is the future, but then in his essay “Digital Maosim” he seems to argue the opposite. That the current trend of collective collaboration illustrated by applications such as Wikipedia are leading us down a dangerous path: “the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it’s been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it’s now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn’t make it any less dangerous”.

Won’t this instantaneous virtual computing power and development based on thoughts of children lead to the same influx of mediocrity, and collectivism? Will the mob rule if we can dynamically create virtual applications based on thought?

I believe that the biggest challenge to the ubiquitous computing device interface today is information management and search functionality. Vannevar Bush recognized this issue in 1945 with his Atlantic Monthly essay “As We May Think.” He saw the inevitable need for information management as one of the greatest post World War II dilemmas facing our growing nation, and society in general. This has never been truer than it is today.

We are constantly being bombarded with and seeking out information, in all forms: radio, television, web, RSS, email, SPAM, etc… This is a critical problem in technology development from and interface perspective, a design perspective, a hardware perspective, and content perspective. It is an enormous challenge and responsibility for designers and producers.

Movements in the world of the World Wide Web have been focusing less on our physical interface with the machine and more on our interaction with the content that the machine conveys, or gives us access to. Through the establishment of uniform standards put forth by the WC3 that evolve in a controlled manner, the science of search will also evolve. The search will become what Tim Berners-Lee describes as “structured collections of information and sets of inference rules that they can use to conduct automated reasoning”. The concept of the “Semantic” web is a major step in the direction of searchable and manageable data collection and retrieval that becomes more essential everyday.

Regardless of the device the user is employing, hand held device, desktop computer, GPS navigation device, reliable search capability is a key element to the effectiveness of the device, validity of the data network.

What is Next?

Devices will come and go. This Holiday Season, it is the Kindle electronic book reader, the device that promises to kill the book as we know it. This summer it will be a better I Phone, or the Microsoft version of it… perhaps The Bill Phone. Both will use the touch screen concept for device interaction, and most likely, we will see this new style of interface popping up everywhere from hand held devices to table tops.

One thing I am confident in is that the 3D evangelists that talk of a future of immersive environments will eventually seem less important, as the technology that they pontificate about does not arrive. The market place will seal the fate of environments like Second Life, because they do not deliver what they promise. They are too expensive and require too many resources to match the visions of their creators.

It seems to me that some of these visionaries are missing the forest through the trees. We already exist in an immersive three-dimensional environment. Let us focus on evolving in this world through the application of technology that enhances our lives but does not fully envelope us and remove us from the world we live in.

I see the screen, no matter what size, as the primary access portal to content. This screen may take the form of a contact lens, or other HUD device, but we will always remain on this side of the looking glass. I just don’t get why it is so important to so many to feel like we have gone to the other side.

Sure, it is great fun to fly around and attack a band of Orcs that have just pillaged a village… but it is also great to smell a Rose, use Google to find the local florist, and use your I Phone to order a dozen for your wife.

I will take a real Rose over a 3D-rendered one any day.


Power of the Podcast

I can honestly say that before I took the Mobile Media development class I had hardly listened to, and never produced a pod cast. Now, I am an avid Pod Cast consumer and developer. I am creating a weekly Pod Cast for fun, and will continue to do so after this class has ended, and I have pushed several of my clients into the world of Pod Casting.

One client is a non-profit business counseling organization that is looking to reach out more effectively to their clients and to the community. I am moving them in the Web 2.0 direction, of interactivity and enhanced user experience by starting with Pod Casts. An organization such as this has a vast amount of untapped resources at their disposal in the form of information and experience.

The organization is made up of retired and active executives that volunteer their services to small business owners band entrepreneurs with new business start ups or dreams about a successful business. Offering information via Pod Casts can add value to the website, allow users to access information that normally they would have to attend a meeting to acquire 24/7. The Pod Cast opens up opportunities to engage users on thier time, which is ideal for the small business owner.

Seminars will be delivered via video and audio, and will be presented free of charge to interested consumers. Business leaders from around the state can offer their insight and expertise via articles that can be produced as pod casts, as well as posted as opt-in material.

By shifting the mind set from a Web 1.0 perspective to a Web 2.0 idea of engagement and interaction this non-profit will be ramping up their service and contribution to the business community for minimum coast, and maximum impact.

Once, we have launched, I’ll post links to the pod-casts.


Mobile Media Site

This is a great site for innovative thoughts on mobile technology and media: The Mobile Media Consortium 

Check it out.

Global Warming Party in Bali

You have to love the UN… have a Global Warming Summit in Bali: “Government officials and activists flying to Bali, Indonesia, for the United Nations meeting on climate change will cause as much pollution as 20,000 cars in a year.” 

It’s amazing to me that the politcally invested in the “Global Warming” crisis are trying to quash opposing viewpoints. “Most of the people here have jobs that are very well paid and they depend on the idea that carbon emissions cause global warming. They are not going to be very receptive to the idea that well actually the science has gone off in a different direction….”

Food for thought…

The End of an $.10 Era

I remember as a kid my mom or dad would always tell us to have a dime in our pocket so we could use a public phone to make a call if we needed to. Well, those day are now a thing of the past. The idea that you could carry a dime and do anything with it has been a thing of the past for sometime, but now you won’t be able to use a pay phone at any cost.

AT&T Ends Pay Phone Business

“In with the new, out with the old: AT&T said on Monday it plans to end its dwindling pay phone business by the end of 2008, as more consumers use mobile phones, according to a Reuters report.

This will affect 13 states that AT&T services, and continues an overall downward trend in the number of pay phones in the U.S., from 2.6 million in 1998 to an estimated 1 million today. Some critics still warn that the moves affect low-credit, low-income consumers that don’t qualify for cell phones or home phone service.”

I guess it makes sense… almost everyone at every age has a mobile phone… I cannot even remember the last time I used a pay phone. But, it still a little sad to see something go the way of an endangered species. I have never had any use for Condors or Buffalo, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want them around.

Technology marches on.


MySpace for Millionaires

Interesting article from the WSJ on exclusive social networking sites for the rich… so if you are looking for a millionair, here is a good palce to start.