With its acquisition of DirecTV and pending purchase of Time Warner, AT&T is no longer simply a telecom services provider; it has "transformed into a much broader entertainment group," as David Christopher, CMO of AT&T Mobility, describes it.
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That was on display at a weekend event in Los Angeles, during which AT&T took over the entire Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank, California, to showcase the inevitable merging of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
"We wanted to step back and ask how we bring in not just developers but creators of all sorts to help us define this rapidly changing world," Christopher said during a media briefing with other AT&T exces. "Whether it's AR, VR, MR, or filmmaking in general and how you start to think about technology influencing that, you never know where great ideas are going to come from."
Inside the tented exhibit hall was the usual tech demo scene; attendees tried out the Nokia OZO camera, saw demos from HoloLens dev partner AfterNow, and strapped on the Gear VR from Samsung, which brought a 360-degree capture booth to the event, prompting a long line of curious onlookers.
At the other end of the studio lot, an even longer line snaked towards the Steven J. Ross Theater for Academy Award-winning movie director Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker), who was there to talk about her VR short, The Protectors, Walk in the Ranger's Shoes, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now available from National Geographic.
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The documentary short, filmed in VR, follows the danger faced by rangers in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo—"one of the most dangerous places in the world, where rangers are the last line of defense [before] elephants' extinction," Bigelow said.
The audience was instructed to don Samsung Gear VRs and watch a clip. "Remember to look up, look to the side, look behind you, everything is active, as if you were in the field yourself," Bigelow reminded them. (How soon before VR directors won't have to say that anymore?)
As for why she opted for VR, Bigelow said it "build[s] empathy—which is not the same as sympathy—[because you feel like] you're actually there, walking through the brush, not knowing what's around the corner. [You experience] the natural threats of the environment, as well as poachers—the technology really enabled this to happen."
Sadly, we didn't get a preview of Bigelow's new film Detroit—out Aug. 4. It employs the same focus on eyewitness POV to create tension, she said, albeit back to Hollywood 2D and movie stars like Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War) and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
Before leaving, we bumped into brothers Keno (17), Korbin (13) and Kasden (11) Deary, who were sitting on a fake Hollywood NYC stoop with their dad, watching the film units in action. It turns out all three are experienced content creators already.
Keno is founder, host, and producer of The Creative People Podcast; Kasden is in development for his own cooking show; and Korbin is a coder who partcipated in the AT&T 2017 Shape Hackathon a week earlier.
"Got a website for VFM?"
"No. We just built it for the hack," Korbin told us.
His dad nudged him. "But you also teach code. Do you have your business card on you?"
"Oh yeah, I also teach other kids how to code. My brothers and I have a company called Korbins Kode," he explained, handing over his card.
He's only 13.
But it seems you're never too young to start out in tech, especially if companies like AT&T are ready to commission content for a triple-screen future.