Thursday, May 5, 2011

Beyond Digital….What Matters Now?

Biola University held their annual media conference on April 30, 2011 at the CBS Studio Lot in Los Angeles, California. Over the years, the Biola Media Conference has become a must-attend event for those of faith who work in mainstream media and entertainment. The conference offered an all-star line-up of Hollywood insiders who spoke out on issues that impact the direction and the future of entertainment and media. This year’s conference was no exception with the theme being Beyond Digital....Matters Now?

Few would disagree that today’s media and entertainment industries are facing enormous challenges and obstacles. The only constant is change. Thanks to the digital revolution With rapid shifting technologies and diverse delivery methods, speakers such as futurist Kevin Kelly, founder of Wire Magazine, stated that the only certain thing is “wherever attention flows, money will follow”.

Obviously, knowing where the attention will be directed is always a guessing game in today’s media world. Kelly also stated that screening is the new paradigm. We now live in a society where we are surrounded by electronic screens. But, in the future, change will come as the screens will adapt to our needs and purposes. Not only will we be watching screens, but the screens will have the capability to watch us. Kelly called it eye tracking because the screens will be able to detect our eye movements thus indicating what we find interesting and engaging on the screen.

The conference was hosted by media guru Phil Cooke, who also echoed the theme of the conference. Cooke has a new book out called Jolt. It speaks about surviving in a world that’s constantly changing. He stated that many in today’s media industry are being bypassed for promotion because they are not capable of keeping up with the ever-changing media industry.

As usual, the breakout sessions and workshops covered a multitude of topics. Especially interesting was Bill Marsilli, the screenwriter for Déjà Vu. He gave advice on how to incorporate spiritual themes into mainstream feature films. Bobette Buster, a screen and television writer, hosted a seminar on Hollywood Economics 101. She described the future media world by using the term, atawad, which means anytime, anywhere, any device. In this scenario, the consumer will have total control of his or her media choices. Although this is an exciting concept, it also presents challenges for content producers and distributers.

Christian filmmakers also got into the act with a workshop hosted by producer Dan Rupple on the issue of bringing films of faith to screen. Bobby Downs, a panelist, who produced the award-winning film Like Dandelion Dust, discussed a new emerging model that will compete with both mainstream and Christian films. He pointed to films such as The Blind Side and Soul Surfer as examples of movies that embrace this new shift.

New to this years conference was the Access Lunch. Participants could select an area of interest in their field, such as writing or producing, and have an opportunity to have lunch with an industry insider who is an expert in that area. Conference organizers hoped this would provide a more intimate setting that would spark discussion and dialogue.

Media missionary school was on hand to conduct several interviews with conference speakers, panelists, and participants. In the following weeks, you will see many of these posts on this site.

The closing session featured several well-known speakers, including Tom Halleen, Senior Vice-President of Programming at AMC and DeVon Franklin, Vice-President of Production at Columbia Pictures. Both shared their insight on what has helped them to be successful in Hollywood. Halleen believes that his success is due to his ability to take care of the small things. Franklin believes what has helped him the most is his ability to read a room and to read people.

If there was one constant theme that emerged, it’s all about telling a good story. The fact is this theme has been consistent in practically every Biola media conference from it’s inception.

The final session featured an interview by Phil Cooke with actor, producer and director Sean Astin of Rudy and Lord of the Rings fame. Astin echoed the theme of good storytelling as a must. Perhaps, the only thing that seemed a bit strange was that Astin did not necessarily speak about the main theme of the conference, Beyond Digital…What Matters Now. Although it was interesting to listen to his experiences as an actor, I felt that we were missing something because it did not inspire the audience in both a spiritual or practical means to deal with a changing world that we all face.

Overall, the conference organizers did an outstanding job. Considering the time restraints and the fact this is primarily a volunteer effort, it is amazing what they pulled off. It’s clear that attendees had many “take-aways” from this conference.

The Biola Media Conference will be held next year in late April or early May. I encourage you to consider making it a priority for 2012.

Photography by Nathan Morgan, Kelsey Heng and Harold Hay

Special thanks to Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator - Biola University

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