The Bit Screen
Are movies stuck in a technology loop? This short piece in the NYT, “Yes, Norma Desmond, The Pictures Are Getting Small Again,” points out that the early movie-going public watched pint sized images on kinetoscopes—and today, with smart phones, many people are again watching movies on small screens.
In 1998, when the dial-up was considered blazing fast Internet and Real Video was just out of 1.0, I launched a site dedicated to films made specifically for the Internet, The Bit Screen. The moving images were about an inch square, as tiny as those in a kinestoscope, and most lasted about one minute. To watch them, you had to lean forward, into the computer screen (not unlike pressing your smart phone up to your nose).
It took a lot of technological persistence to watch web cinema in the late 90’s and a lot of people asked me why in hell I would think anyone would watch a film in such a small screen. But people did and eventually the technology morphed enough that Internet films could fill an entire screen—in fact, only four years after the launch of The Bit Screen I curated a show about web cinema at the ZKM in Germany. In setting up the show I caught my young IT guy trying to resize some of the original 1998 films—he was frustrated at how small the images were!
Today he’s probably watching feature films on his smart phone, as are many people. And what I wrote then, “A History of Web Cinema” for the anthology, Future Cinema, is still true today. When you’re making a moving picture, whether for commercials, episodic television, interactive eBooks, YouTube or the movie theater, the technology of the distribution platform will play a key role in your storytelling.