An AI trailblazer, an eSports champ, Canada’s most celebrated Indigenous filmmaker, the foremost expert on podcasting, an advocate for environmental sustainability and a VP at one of the world’s largest media conglomerates. What an exciting season of Now & Next that was!
As ’tis the season for looking back on the year past, host Leora Kornfeld shares six important takeaways from Now & Next’s second season.
Episode 1: “How AI Could Reshape Filmmaking”
Takeaway: Playing ‘Moneyball for Movies’ opens up a whole new approach to production
In our first episode, we met with Jack Zhang, a Canadian entrepreneur and the founder of Greenlight Essentials. Jack, who’s still a twenty-something, designed an artificial intelligence-based program that is enabling new ways of working in film and television, from the earliest stages of the creative process all the way through to casting and distribution. He takes a cue from ‘Moneyball,’ the true story of how the manager of an underdog baseball team used statistics to compete against teams with more money, influence, and resources.
Zhang’s bet is that there are undervalued assets in the film and television industries, just as there are in professional sports. He explains: “The film industry is mainly driven by talent, big names […] When we look at films, we do look at talent, but more importantly, we look at the story of the film because talent costs a lot of money, but stories, they don’t cost a lot. You can change [the] shape of your screenplay however you want, but historically, there’s no way to tell what kind of stories the audiences would like. But from data mining, using our natural language processing tools that we have, we can see what kind of a combination of stories that audiences really liked based on their past actions and maximize that demand among audiences.”
Takeaway: Video gaming can actually be good for you
To her legions of fans, she’s “missharvey,” a pro gamer, five-time Counter-Strike world champion and overall prominent figure in the billion-dollar eSports industry. But Stephanie Harvey is also aware of the stigma surrounding her chosen career. One of her goals is to turn that around. As she puts it: “There’s a fight for acceptance, to break the prejudice that there is around gaming, which, for whatever reason it’s the new devil. All of that has been disproved in studies. You actually learn so many skillsets, multitasking, problem solving […] So many soft skills from teamwork to communication skills to leadership.”
Takeaway: An iPhone and a Twitter account do not threaten the documentary form
With more than 50 films to her name over her 50-year career, Alanis Obomsawin is one of the world’s most acclaimed Indigenous filmmakers. She was one of the first to take her cameras to the heart of developing stories, as she did in her landmark documentary about the 1990 Oka crisis.
Though anyone today with a smartphone can tweet, photograph and film any event, Obomsawin does not believe that the documentary is a threatened art form. As she explains: “You can have all the equipment in the world, but you still have to be able to tell the story and to really do it where people will sit down and hear and listen and learn something about the history and what’s happening in everyday life. People will cover a lot of things themselves, but it won’t be like a documentary.”
Takeaway: Podcasting offers a way to “push the culture and crawl outwards”
Nicholas Quah is one of the foremost podcast industry watchers. He is the founder of Hot Pod, the go-to source for the latest on podcasting. In the wake of the industry’s tremendous growth curve, and as legacy media companies move millions into the sector, one might wonder if there’s still a chance to start from the ground up with little or no budget and still break through. Nicholas Quah wonders about this also. “That’s the million-dollar question when it comes to this transition period. There’s no reason why a really well done podcast that is able to hit the culture at the right time can’t break out. Because with the proliferation of streaming platforms, you have more of an opportunity for people who are a little bit outside of the mainstream to make something that really pushes the culture and crawls outwards. I still think that’s possible in all of these mediums, including podcasting.”
Episode 5: “Audiovisual Production Goes Greener”
Takeaway: Eco-sensibility in film and television production is good for the planet and the budget
Environmental concerns continued to make headlines this year, with issues related to climate change becoming increasingly urgent in the minds of many. What does that have to do with the entertainment industry? Well, audiovisual production is notorious for generating large-scale waste as well as harmful emissions.
In this episode, we met Zena Harris, a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant to the entertainment industry. Harris teaches producers and crews how to not just recycle, but more importantly reduce and reuse. According to her, productions of any size can become eco-conscious. “Any production, no matter the size, even a small indie film, can implement sustainable production practices. With larger productions, you see larger cost savings, and you see these economies of scale there. But any production can implement this.”
Takeaway: With digital video, you can “super-distribute” around the world and adapt with local talent
For the second season’s final episode, we sat down with Brendan Yam, a vice-president at Viacom. The media conglomerate owns widely known brands such as MTV, BET, Comedy Central, VH1, Paramount and Nickelodeon. Yam heads up Viacom’s Digital Studios International (VDSI), a division focused on developing, adapting, and distributing short-form digital video content for a global audience. In less than a year and a half, VDSI has amassed billions of views across 180 markets.
As Yam explains in this episode: “In digital, what you’re expecting is a faster iteration process. We’re trying things that either work or don’t work and we move on quickly. So the model that we’ve created with VDSI is when we have a hit format in one market. We then want to take that format, super-distribute it across the world and get people recreating that with local talent.”