In press interviews I’ve been asked more than once, “Do you really think movies on theatrical spheres are the next big thing, like IMAX?”
I never hesitate.
“No. I don’t. They’re not.”
“But if your team includes the core group who first brought spherical movies to the world, why don’t you…?”
I try not to interrupt, but I never hesitate here, either.
“I believe that movies on spheres are fabulous, potentially beautiful, captivating new articulations in the modern digital media world. They’re interesting in their own right, but they’re not about to supplant rectangular media. They don't have to.”
Years ago, when I was first approached about making a spherical media project, the whole thing was presented to me as little more than a round PowerPoint presentation. In a vacuum I can't fault that charge. Until that moment, round slide shows based on planetary data essentially described the alpha and omega of spherical screen presentations and there was no reason to think otherwise.
Almost all creative enterprises rebel against the status quo one way or another, even if they don’t know it while it’s happening. When I first put my hands on The Sphere I had no idea how dogmatically its proponents held on to the flimsy, short lived traditions they thought were already chiseled in stone. The technology was so new, in fact, that I didn’t realize how much early presentational conventions had already been accepted as settled best practices. When I took on my first Sphere assignment I saw only what was in front of me: a round screen that displayed planetary data. I heard only what was told to me: this is how it works, and this is what it does. The promise and potential of The Sphere were completely undefined, with almost no clues to the future.
Once I got to work, however, things changed. First they changed in the shadows of my mind. I could see The Sphere hanging in the mental darkness of an imagined theater. Silvery and silent, the screen represented a new, beautiful tabula rasa, ready for anything. The Sphere’s creators were certain—absolutely certain—that the boundaries of this new technology were clear and definite: The Sphere was singularly for showing planets. But because I was new to the community and thus ignorant of dogma, I didn’t deeply internalize those boundaries. I didn’t feel their restrictions in the same way as others on the Sphere team. Because I also didn’t know the political forces operating behind the scenes (yet), I acted without regard to their otherwise sacrosanct status. Because I was tired of designing dull, droning presentations for dull, diffident audiences, I decided to try and make something invigorating and real and captivating. What started as a speechwriting job ended with the invention of a new methodology for making movies on round screens.
Acts of rebellion are always disruptive. Acts of creativity are almost always acts of rebellion. Therefore, acts of creativity are almost always disruptive. Creative acts are always the result of what’s come before, and while new works emerge as a result of incremental modification, those modifications are always about one thing fading out while another thing begins to glow.
The concept of unedited planetary data on The Sphere did not disappear. Not at all. But the concept of cinematic spherical content rapidly began to shine like a poem where before it had been just an interesting, round lamp. Without trying to destabilize the environment, the new idea provoked disruption anyway. Cinematic expressions of things that most certainly were not planets turned expectations inside out, challenging what came before simply by virtue of their great difference from precedent. Figuring out how to place a chair, for example, on The Sphere in the context of a larger scene began to transform the platform.
Culture generally presumes rebellion to be destructive and violent, or at least iconoclastic. Culture often presumes rebellion to be precursor to revolution, too. Moments of creation are always about taking the past and translating some part of it into a future that doesn’t exist yet. But in the disruption of expectations, it’s possible to demonstrate opportunity rather than acrimony. That’s not to say it’s easy for all parties to understand what’s happening, or accept all new expressions as valid or relevant. Nijinksi’s scandalous choreography to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is a perfect example, challenging audiences with something new before they were conversant with just how profoundly relevant those expressions happened to be.
It’s possible to be a creator without intending to rebel against the status quo. But the moment a person takes creative acts seriously is the moment he or she unfurls a banner declaring their unwillingness to accept the current organizational scheme. Even in the construction of beautiful creations, we are standing up and declaring that things need to change.
That’s why the opposite of war isn’t peace, at least not exactly. It’s creation. By creating things, we make the world.