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The Language Of Events

I have recently been teasing out why hybrid-events have, to many, been a lack lustre and frustrating experience. Through the insight of Duncan Nimmo I have crystallised it to, "we need to invent a new grammar/narrative of such events".

Duncan comes to me from the movie making industry, here's my summary of what he told me - stick with it, it is totally hybrid-event related :)

... before the movie camera was invented we of course have had storytelling for a very very long time. Sitting around the campfire having a yarn, writing novels and publishing them, and even performances on the side of the street.

Theatre itself evolved out of this storytelling tradition and became its own thing with its own technology and ways of being - act 1, act 2, act 3, principal actors, physical theatres, and everything else that goes to put on a theatrical performance.

When the movie camera was invented it was at first a novelty to be witnessed, the sheet hung up and a train arriving at a station. The sheer act of seeing the technology in action was the event. 

"Wow, we can have 50 people on a video call, how cool is that!"

Movie makers desired to do more than merely show off the cool tech and their next move was to point the camera at a theatre stage and, using the camera technology, share an existing mode. 

"Ok, if we can have 50 people on a video call why can't we make that into a conference?!"

If we had stopped there we wouldn't have cinema as we know it today.

The Russian director, Sergei Eisenstein, took the technology of movie making and, by inventing the grammar ("film language") of the modern cinema, enabled many others, then and now, to leap into a whole new universe of expression - the cinematic movie.

His, and other early pioneers*, leap was a grammar - the cut, the montage, the close shot, the pan, ... - that we instinctively know as "a movie". Think about when the movie grammar is not used and how we don't think of it as cinema, it's a "live performance on the big screen". Or it can be a jarring challenging experience which some directors are well aware and use consciously. They know the grammar we all speak / expect and chose to usurp it for creative purposes.

Taking this back to live events we can plainly see that we are at the same state with hybrid-events. We have had in-person events since for ever and all know and understand how these work, we instinctively know what is both expected of us and the event when attending. Align this with the "sitting around the campfire", it's human, connected, and in meat space.

Theatre can be thought of as our fully online events - not in what they do but how it's a heightened version of the campfire with a much more passive audience. There are fantastic online events just as there is wonderful theatre that delivers an experience to remember. There is also dross in both theatre land and online, we wonder why we bothered buying the ticket.

Hybrid-events are yet to be fully realised, the grammar as articulated for movies by Eisenstein and transformed "camera pointing at theatre" into "cinematic movie making" is yet to be heard.

If we had stop here we won't have [insert label that will surely replace 'hybrid-events'] as we will know them tomorrow.

Much like cinematic movie making there will need to technology evolution to support this new 'thing'. BUT I believe that we, event making people, need to express this new narrative of hybrid-events using what we have and then the holes will become self evident. Let's find the problems before rushing into making technology, no-one needs the event equivalent of 3D movies when no-one in the audience thinks that's a problem to be solved.

I hope this gives people a sense of where we're at, why hybrid-events aren't what we'd all hope, and that they can and will. Without the grammar we can't all work towards a new thing, and that'll be the focus of my next article, what is the grammar ...

L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat by Auguste and Louis Lumière,

* there is never "the one person" that changes the world. Everyone stands on the shoulders of giants, and we all benefit from the work of those around us. Eisenstein stands amongst Lumiere, Melliers, Porter, Griffith, and many others. Eisenstein did however collated the many cinematic movie making approaches into "film language", that's his mark.

If you're interested in the language of film check out "Scorsese Talks 'The Language Of Cinema'"