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ipad software videoThis guest post was contributed by Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo; he is the winner of the 2008 Webby Award for Best Drama Series and one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Film. He is currently working on a number of transmedia projects that he hopes will make it out of development hell, and he blogs to maintain his sanity at, where he recently authored The DSLR Cinematography Guide.

The Apple iPad offers a number of exciting new possibilities for filmmakers and story architects thanks to its screen size, connectivity, and interactivity. At first glance it may seem like just a big iPhone, but it’s priced to move and — whether you plan on buying one or not — in 60 days it will be in the hands of millions. For filmmakers and independent creatives, there’s a lot of brain candy contained in that thin body; here are seven ways I think the iPad will change filmmaking and interactive storytelling.

ipad mlb1. Interactive interfaces

The above image (apologies for the blurriness; taken from the iPad’s live announcement, courtesy Gizmodo) demonstrates a couple of simple possibilities for interface overlays on top of video. For live sports broadcasts, these interfaces may be merely informational, but for narrative content, touch-based widgets offer a whole new world of interactivity. From “choose your own adventure”-style video content to multi-angle controls, by giving audiences real-time interfaces on screen, filmmakers can turn viewers into a participants. TV and set-top manufacturers are increasingly integrating internet connectivity and on-screen widgets as well, but none of them have the immediate tactile control of a iPad. While widgets are an easy-to-visualize example, the touch screen itself offers all sorts of interactive affordances; you don’t need something displayed on top of the video to allow viewers to interact with your content.

2. It’s a book, it’s a movie, it’s… an app

Anthony Zuiker (CSI) released a “digi-novel” last year, wherein a printed book contained a URL every 20 pages; readers could enter the URL into a browser and watch a related online video. In a lot of ways transmedia storytelling to date has been mostly about promotion (The Dark Knight, for example, used an Alternate Reality Game to promote its theatrical release), but the iPad offers a different set of possibilities: instead of these experiences existing as separate, promotional entrypoints, they can all be brought together on one platform. This is not to say that a project can’t have a live component that exists separately, but the iPad will play a pivotal role in bringing together different forms of storytelling: words, still images, moving images, audio, and interactive experiences can all live together on one handheld, connected device. The iPad will profoundly blur the line between book, movie, and game, and it will do so by offering these new-media experiences for sale through iTunes as… an application. When you’re developing a cross-platform story, what happens if you can’t define your project along clear lines? Should I say it? “There’s an app for that.”

3. Serialization (of payment)

In the old world, you’d develop a feature — a two-hour piece of content — and spend years making and distributing it. Then, on your next project you’d start the whole process all over again — possibly with a different studio — who then spends a lot of money on P&A to (re)mobilize an audience for another round of one-time payments. In the new world, as a filmmaker it is your responsibility to own your audience and mobilize them, not only from project to project but also from episode to episode. There’s a reason almost every movie in the local multiplex is a sequel, and it’s not just because Hollywood is risk-adverse; it’s also because audiences come back to stories and characters they like. So where does the iPad fit in with all this? Well, not only can you sell a hybrid book/movie/game as an app, but you can also charge the viewer a la carte for entries within the series. Apple calls this in-app subscriptions, which means the iTunes season pass — where a customer must decide on the spot to buy an entire TV season — isn’t the only option. Instead, your interactive application allows you to bundle installments however you like. For example, you can bundle “acts” of a show, where each act consists of several episodes, or if your storyline branches, charge separately for different paths. While it may be hard to convince someone to part with $20 all at once (the iTunes price for a high-def new release), if you’ve got a good story you may be able to convince them to part with that same $20 through a series of micropayments.

itunes ipad4. Charging money for digital content

Every newspaper and magazine in the country was hoping for something more than the iBook functionality that Steve Jobs demonstrated on stage, and while subscription print models are probably in the works — it’s not clear yet — one thing’s for sure: people are used to buying content through iTunes. There are currently 75 million iPhone users who have collectively downloaded 12 billion apps, songs, and movies; those numbers will only grow once the iPad is released. In an era where everyone’s struggling to monetize content with free, ad-based models, the iPad (by virtue of its large, high-quality screen) offers an even better platform for filmmakers than the iPhone. The iPad’s tech specs show that it plays back h.264 video at 720p (identical specs to the Apple TV), and its IPS screen will be bright, accurate, and viewable from a wide angle (meaning more than one person will be able to watch). The challenge for independent creatives comes in figuring out how to get indie content into iTunes (previously it was nigh impossible, and these days there are conflicting reports; chime in with a comment if you know better). The revenue split between creators and Apple is generally 70-30 in your favor, and iTunes does a good job of convincing customers to pay for 1s and 0s (this is the whole reason the iBook application gives you a nice-looking bookshelf: you feel like you’re buying something tangible). The iPad means more potential customers for filmmakers because:

5. Everyone’s connected to the internet

FreshDV’s Matt Jeppsen tweeted the following during the iPad’s announcement: “Know who desperately needs the iPad? Grandma. That +3G access is all she needs. No interface in the way, no routers to worry about.” He’s absolutely right: don’t underestimate the value of the built-in 3G. If you’re reading this, obviously you have decent internet access. But there are a lot of people who don’t have broadband — 40% of the US last I checked — and for content creators, they’re all potential customers. Previously, these people were unreachable through the series of tubes, and while I doubt an old-fashioned household without broadband access was going to buy an iPhone or $1,000 Macbook, they just might spring for an iPad. This is why Apple wanted to get the entry price point so low: to bring iTunes to a huge, previously untapped market, who will now use the iPad as their portal to a world of paid content (which Apple takes a cut of). With the addition of the iPad, iTunes TV and movie sales should jump significantly; now more than ever, your digital distribution strategy is key (see: Peter Broderick, Jon Reiss).

6. Flash is suddenly valuable again

If you’ve released a video online, you’ve likely been reliant on Adobe’s rich-media platform Flash (it powers the players at YouTube, Vimeo, and basically every other online video portal; we distributed The West Side using a custom Flash player). But Apple has famously kept Flash off the iPhone, and it looks like the iPad will be no different. With the iPhone bypassing Flash and serving up separate h.264 videos and with HTML5 looking to push Flash further towards irrelevancy, how is the iPad a good thing for Flash? Because of Adobe’s announcement that Flash CS5 will support iPhone app development — and now iPad development as well. Suddenly there are millions of Flash developers who can develop rich-media applications for Apple’s mobile platforms. While Flash won’t be an ideal development platform for applications that rely on hardware interactions (camera apps, for example), for filmmakers interested in extending their experience beyond “traditional” movies, this is a big deal. Why? Because with Flash, you can develop your rich-media experience once, and then output to web, iPhone, iPad, set-top boxes, and Blu-Ray platforms all at once. It remains to be seen how effective Flash will be implemented on some of these devices, but for productions with smaller budgets, being able to output to several different platforms without incurring huge costs will be… well, huge. And the iPad, I suspect, will be the crown jewel in Flash’s cross-platform strategy.

7. Communal watching

A world where everyone walks around staring at little screens doesn’t sound like very much fun. Many of us (still) enjoy watching movies at the theater, where every laugh, groan, and gasp in the audience becomes part of the experience. However, movies are increasingly viewed less and less in the theater and more and more at home (or on the go). Here’s where the iPad offers filmmakers an opportunity: a connected viewing device like the iPad can afford the viewer a new community-based watching experience. With an always-on internet connection, it’s possible to implement real-time comments, twitters, audio chats, and on-screen pointers… the possibilities are endless. No one’s saying it’s a good idea to overlay your cinematic masterpiece with a chat window, but watching a live TV broadcast while Skype-ing someone almost feels like you’re there in person; with the iPad, this type of “virtually there” experience could be even more integrated. It’s not a replacement for the “real” thing, but we have to embrace the fact that our content is going to be viewed in all sorts of conditions, and giving viewers the ability to watch something together is only a good thing. It’s our duty as filmmakers to offer our audience the best viewing experience we can, and the iPad places more of that power in our hands than ever before.

The iPad was just announced yesterday, and these were the first 1,000 words that came to mind. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways the iPad will change filmmaking — which you may feel is for better or worse — but one thing’s for sure: it’s an exciting time to be creating content. Let me know what you think in the comments, and stay tuned at FreshDV and nofilmschool for more.

22 Responses to “7 Ways the Apple iPad will affect Filmmakers and Creatives”  

  1. 1 JayDee

    Well… yeah. Kinda.

    It’s a big iPod touch. That’s all. The price is right, but… lots of people will buy it, play with it for a few months, and then they’ll realize that it’s a big iPod touch.

    I don’t think, even at that price, that I’ll buy a device that does everything my Palm Pre and my laptop can do better.

    But it sure is sexy.

  2. 2 Gary Bettan

    I put together a little list of my own over at Videoguys blog

    Videoguys’ iPad Wish List for Videographers Imagine the possibilities!


  3. 3 DAVID

    Hard to beleive when people have such a lack of vision that they cant see how devices like this DRASTICALLY help us in every way, too many other ways to mention. If you are a filmmaker, and you cant see through the mist at this level, STOP being a filmmaker, as you will starve.

    The people that created all this technology had a vision from the 70’s what we would have in our home today, and yet a lot of filmmakers cant see the opportunities right in front of them. (Talking about last post above me)

    Yes, agree above. I can already see another half dozen applications for it in filmmaking, distribution, marketing, transmeida that are AMAZING!


  4. 4 Ryan


    Go ahead and keep your Palm Pre and laptop; my point is, as filmmakers we should be thinking about the iPad as a distribution platform, not as a piece of hardware that we may or may not personally lust after. That’s why I started the article with “At first glance it may seem like just a big iPhone, but itís priced to move and ó whether you plan on buying one or not ó in 60 days it will be in the hands of millions.”


  5. 5 John

    Cool lists, Matt and Gary. Let me throw mine into the mix…

  6. 6 Rob Imbs

    JayDee, I figure that if I were to play with the iPad for a couple of months, I’d never want to stop playing with it. I’m buying 1 the first day they come out ;)

    My two cents –

  7. 7 DR

    I wish they would have picked a better name then iPad! But im still getting it.

  8. 8 Keith

    Great Article, really got my creative juices going, keep up the good posts.

  9. 9 Lester Sealy

    Alot of bloggers aren’t too pleased with the new iPad.There was just 2 much hoopla regarding it and lots of people got disapointed.Quite frankly, I actually see some of the cool potential of this gadget. Third-party applications for making tunes, games, newsprints and magazine and books, all sorts of awesome stuff, but they failed to sell it right (excluding the books). It smells kind of not finished

  10. 10 Maren Kate

    I think there’s going to be huge money in building iphone/ipad apps because of this.

  11. 11 cical

    I don’t think will help any filmmakers with 4:3 screen. it’s wide screen era

  12. 12 Mike Curtis

    Uh – no realtime video, hello? And if you’re doing customized content for a $500 appliance to layer on that stuff, no thanks!


    Maybe V3 might..naw – not Apple’s way.

  13. 13 Matthew Jeppsen

    Yep, but realtime video via the internet + augmented overlays is certainly possible. When you are always online via a relatively high-speed connection, who cares if it’s OTA, satellite, or via internet. Tools like the iPad will further blend together our hodgepodge of mishmash technologies into a cohesive single point of entertainment.


  14. 14 Ryan

    Mike and others docking the iPad for lacking certain features: you’re absolutely right. The iPad could’ve been so much more if someone other than Apple made it (although I don’t see people complaining about the lack of features on something like the CrunchPad aka JooJoo, which is the same price but understood to be solely an internet surfing device).

    But a $900 whiz-bang gadget that has everything everyone wants would sell 100 times less. It’d be like if 20 theaters in the country got 3D digital projectors at 8K resolution. Badass for tech-heads, sure, but what’s better for us as content creators: 50 projectors that show 8K resolution, or 2000 projectors that show 2K? As a filmmaker I’ll take the 2K projectors and the much larger potential audience.

    Also, this is the first iPad. Think of it as the first iPod: it had a monochrome screen, no store, and it wouldn’t play lossless audio or any kind of video. But its simplicity is what made it king of the hill, and as a result it shook up music distribution for good.

    Further iterations of the iPad will introduce new features; for now, I think there’s plenty to think about. I don’t even want one, but that’s not the point.

  15. 15 Matthew Jeppsen

    That CrunchP.., err JooJoo could be a sweet on-set monitor if it just had a video input.


  16. 16 Matthew Jeppsen

    For further reading in addition to Ryan’s excellent article, here are a few other articles that ought to stimulate conversation:


  17. 17 Ryan

    To clarify, I think the iPad’s potential as a game-changer for film distribution is far less than the iPod’s was for music distribution, but once you start talking about interactivity the potential is there. Especially once Apple adds all the features you guys are talking about, with the iPad Nano, iPad 3Gs, or whatever the successors are called. Anyone want an iPad Shuffle?

  18. 18 Thomas Koch

    The iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone does not support flash. So all those sites that have content are useless on the device.

    I think an audio control surface for Soundtrack Pro, Pro-tools, and SoundBooth. Color Control Surface for Color correction.

    One device for the edit suite instead of a separate room for audio, and color correction.

  19. 19 Matthew Jeppsen

    Some iPad rumormill…seems to be a camera in the software chain already (perhaps Apple didn’t reveal it’s entire hand on Wednesday), as well as a few other goodies like local file storage/access.


  20. 20 Jonathan Poritsky

    Definitely some interesting points from the consumption standpoint. I jotted down a few ideas how we can use it in the creative process. Some of it is a bit far off technologically, but a lot of it should be ready on iPad Day 1:

  21. 21 Alan Hainsey

    As an IT professional who is called upon by family members to solve home computer problems on an almost weekly basis, I have long argued that PCs (and I include Apple Macs in there) are hugely more complex than 905 of their owners need. I firmly believe that we need a home computer that works like a television, where no technical knowledge is needed to operate it,when you turn it on it just works and it doesn??t keep crashing. On a side note it is interesting to note that the reverse is in fact happening, televisions and the like are becoming more like badly behaved PCs, I regularly have to reboot my freeview box when it crashes. But that is another story. As I was saying we need a simple PC for the masses, one that surfs the web, sends emails, handles media, and does some of the othere things we use PCs for. When I got hold of an iPod touch, my immediate reaction was, this is it. This is all the computer most people need. It works. It is intuitive to operate and it doesn??t (seem to) crash. If only they made it a bit bigger, maybe had a optional keyboard and mouse. I should really mention these thoughts to Apple, I am sure it would take off???? I am going to spend my remaining days telling anyone who wants to buy a PC and doesn??t work in IT to get an iPad instead. Maybe Steve Jobs will give me one in lieu of commission.

  22. 22 iPad

    Great post. I’m not worried about android catching up to iphone, they are just too far behind. Thanks! Ryan

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