Night One: Digital Distribution And The Story 9/30/10

Posted: September 30, 2010 in Digital Media, social media
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tonight I couldn’t help but think of Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” and how the way we experience a story greatly relies on the medium in which it is delivered. A perfect example of this is Avatar. In the theater the 3-D imagery was somewhat astonishing when partnered with such realistic CGI and needless to say – I was sucked in… but on a tv or mobile device the experience relates to that of when I watched Ferngully in middle school. My main question after class this evening is how do we optimize the content we put on the web to create the same kind of emotional engagement we may see in a theater or even a live scenario? If the medium is the message what is the impact the internet is having on how our media is experienced and how do we make it better?

  1. Allan says:

    There are two things that leap immediately to mind in response to your question.

    The first concerns story itself: on the movie screen or in a theater, visuals (and, sometimes, sound) often tend to overpower the story itself. Avatar is an excellent example: a visual feast, inspired by the paintings of Michael Whalen, but the story is paper thin and trite. It plays on our emotions by evoking cliches and tropes that we have had drummed into us, so that we know what we’re supposed to feel and when. But, oh! The imagery is amazing. On the big screen.

    Don’t get me wrong, there *are* thoughtful movies (and stage productions) that can tell a compelling story, but have you noticed that those do not tend to make quite as much use of the visuals? The Godfather has excellent imagery, but the story is the thing. Details matter, and in that way it makes good use of visuals, but the real story comes through in the dialog.

    Why does Star Trek the Next Generation work better on TV than it ever did in film? Because on TV, they made excellent use of the immediacy and intimacy of the television set in your living room. The movies focused more on visuals, but at the cost of being more remote. The story (and the characters) got swallowed up in the loud sound effects and the messy visual effects.

    So part of the answer to how you optimize content for the web is to have a compelling story. You won’t have quite the same visual impact to distract from it, so the more compelling your story, the better.

    But also, the web medium is more intimate. A person looking at a website is sitting right in front of it. Character will shine through more, as well. Intimacy. Immediacy. As fascinating as the Godfather is, and as fascinating as the characters are, you wouldn’t want to necessarily sit down right in front of them. So your web presentation not only needs to have character, it needs to have sympathetic character.

    The second thing that leaped out at me when you posed the question is to take into account the advantages and constraints of the medium. Internet content is seen and heard via a computer. Computer speakers tend to be more mid-range, so audio content should tend to emphasize voices more than base-laden back-beats and explosions. Like television is to movies, the resolution on computer screens tends to not lend itself to minute detail. But still, because web content is typically viewed by one person sitting immediately in front of a computer screen, more detail might be effective than might be found on a typical television program.

    Then there’s web content viewed on smart phones and the like. Here, detail is almost impossible. So, how do you manage it?

    Faces and upper bodies! Simple graphic elements. Animation, yes, but don’t go overboard. The bridge of the starship Enterprise was deliberately designed to evoke the space and comfort of a living room rather than the confining spaces and poor lighting of a submarine. Your web space should similarly evoke the notion of someone sitting across from you at your kitchen table, the local coffee shop, or the next (open air) cubicle. Sound design should emphasize conversational qualities, and not put music or explosions at center stage.

    It seems to me that the web content that is grabbing the most attention can be found on blogs and podcasts. The most successful blogs and podcasts have personality, point of view, and more often then not, either a strong theme or a strong story. But they are ultimately about personal connection.

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