I'd say the biggest challenge to the film industry in the future will be addressing the development of interactive technologies in other media. We're reaching a point where the way we interact with our entertainment and media is advancing so rapidly that the merger of augmented reality and entertainment is inevitable, so we'll likely see the rise of interactive media that puts viewers in the middle of stories as active participants who can experience the story through whichever perspective and order they want.
For example, imagine a TV perhaps 20 years from now that isn't just 3-D, but is actually able to project a sort of holographic environment into your living room around you. The television show takes place with you walking around in it, able to see the interactions among characters depending on where you choose to sit or walk in a scene, with your body movements able to move and manipulate the setting around you. You can even venture outside to see scenes happening there, if you want, and thus you can watch and participate actively with the story. The choices you make might influence which version of the story you see. If TV can provide this type of experience (and rest assured, it will be able to eventually, probably sooner than anyone expects if the past leaps in technology are any guide), who wouldn't want to see at least some shows in this fashion?
New generations of viewers already have widely different standards than previous generations, as the arguments about allowing the use of mobile device in theaters demonstrates. Younger generations have lived their entire lives with the Internet and with wide access to increasingly interactive media, which will shape their expectations of other mediums and will push the boundaries of what we think is possible with entertainment.
If you can have those sorts of experiences at home, allowing such deep immersion into the middle of the shows and entertainment, won't mobile media likewise develop a way to provide similar experiences? Of course—and the advent of Google Glass and similar technologies, it will allow us to eventually take that interactive entertainment experience "on the go" with us, so we can step in and out of augmented reality that is part of storytelling entertainment anywhere and everywhere we wish to experience it.
So film and theaters will have to find a way to update and evolve the theater experience to conform to those kinds of eventual changes in expectations for new generations who might find the notion of sitting in a chair quietly while a film plays on a screen to be too quaint for their entertainment expectations. Even 3-D will become antiquated by comparison to what's possible with interactive mobile media in the coming years and decades. Film will need to provide something you can't get at home or on the go, and when those alternative options are so immersive that they place you directly within a story to interact with it, the challenge becomes enormous.
However, the answer will be to utilize theaters in the most significant way they've always served audiences—as a place for group interaction, as a place to experience a particular story for the very first time in a big public display alongside other fans drawn to this particular experience. Mobile devices allow interaction with groups around the world already, but the theater puts you side by side in real life, for a reality augmentation to your augmented reality, so to speak, at a time when the film is only available in theaters and within that particular unique group real-world experience. The theater can be shaped entirely around the concept of immersion into each particular film—sounds, smells, even possibly movement (not rumble seats, but maybe the actual theater you enter could be built to tilt and shake for everyone). While interactive mobile device can provide immersion and augmentation of reality, reality itself around you isn't all going to be perfectly structured for each of those unique interactive experiences ... but theaters can be.
Now, imagine you go to the theater, surrounded by other people, and you engage together in this interactive version of the film, where the whole room around you moves, where lights and sounds and smells from the story really exist in the room with you, and where sometimes during the story you can choose to venture off to a different part of the story with a smaller group in the audience while others go to some other portion of the story.
What is sad about this, though, is that the traditional theater experience will some day be lost, I believe. The idea of just going into a dark room and sitting silently while a story plays out on the screen in front of you will be a thing of the past. And in fact, some day there won't even be audiences alive who remember what that experience was like, aside from specialty theaters for a small little segment of society who are like hipsters of sorts who prefer old-style movie experiences. But with time, old methods of storytelling tend to pass and fall out of usage over tim: We no longer paint on cave walls, sit around a campfire at night after dinner to pass along the stories of our ancestors, and no longer gather around our radios to hear news and variety shows. Films no longer have a live piano player or other musicians to provide accompaniment to a film while dialogue and narrative are displayed in writing between shots. And so on.
Sure, sometimes we might go camping and tell some kind of stories for fun, or a theater might do a screening of an old movie with live music, but it's no longer common usage of those things as part of our storytelling social processes. Times change, and storytelling changes with it in order to survive, and that's a good thing—however sad it is when we watch a past wonderful storytelling method become more and more obscure.
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