Inside Netflix: we reveal how brain scans and bots help shows go from lens to your living room

A mural in the newest building at Netflix’s Silicon Valley HQ features characters from its original series (Netflix)

WIRED went behind the scenes at the Californian HQs of Netflix and Dolby for an exclusive peek at how your favourite shows are brought to the screen

Netflix first launched in the UK in 2012 and, along with catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and streaming rivals like Amazon Prime, has completely transformed the way we watch television.

WIRED was invited along to the firm’s recent Netflix Labs Day at its Los Gatos headquarters in the heart of Silicon Valley for the global release of Marvel’s Iron Fist and to hear more about the innovations that brought it to the screen.

The firm is renowned for its ever-expanding range of original series from political drama House of Cards and 80s sci-fi throwback Stranger Things to 13 Reasons Why – one its latest offerings telling the disturbing story of why a teenaged girl took her own life. Unlike Amazon, Netflix has ditched the expensive process of producing pilot episodes, opting for a more direct approach.

A simulation of SDR vs HDR output for Marvel’s Iron Fist (Netflix)

“It really starts with a great idea, and a team wanting to bring it to life,” explained Cindy Holland, VP of Originals Series at Netflix. “We use data to work out what’s the minimum threshold audience size that we need, in order to justify the economics of a project that we’re thinking about”.

Marvel’s Iron Fist is one of the latest arrivals, with the comic book brand’s global clout helping Netflix conquer countries where it’s not so well known. It’s also the first of Netflix’s Marvel series to be shot using Dolby Vision – the audio and video firm Dolby’s enhanced version of HDR

You can read the full article at Wired UK (originally published 14 April 2017).

Advertisements

We went to Secret Cinema’s Empire Strikes Back performance and it was immense

Credit: Will Cooper

Credit: Will Cooper

The most mind-blowing spectacle since the Death Star exploded (though admittedly almost as expensive)

T3 was invited to join the rest of the rebel scum at this year’s Secret Cinema: The Empire Strikes Back extravaganza. This is a spoiler-free look at the clandestine film club’s latest outing, so if you haven’t been yet, don’t worry, this won’t ruin any surprises.

Secret Cinema first kicked off back in 2007 with a screening of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park. In its early years, the gimmick was that nobody knew what the film was going to be until they arrived at the screening location (though they could often be guessed from a series of pre-show clues).

More recent shows have changed format to include a pre-announced film, plus a much more ‘immersive theatre’ approach, replete with sets, actors dressed as Marty McFly or whoever, and so on.

Ticket prices have accordingly gone up to a whopping £75 (£50 for accompanied under 18s).

Obviously unperturbed by the price, in 2014, over 80,000 people attended Secret Cinema’s Back to the Future event in Olympic Park. This ran into initial controversy when the venue wasn’t ready for the opening night, leaving hundreds of ticket holders disappointed. Secret Cinema has clearly learnt from its mistakes, because there are no such problems this year.

9140c13a-3210-42e3-9493-6fdd9b2f9f75-2060x1236

This time round Secret Cinema has opted for The Empire Strikes Back, which ties in nicely with the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga (The Force Awakens) which is heading to cinemas later in the year. Read on for our search droid’s findings.

As everyone knows, the first rule of Secret Cinema is that you don’t talk about Secret Cinema.

To prevent spoilers from leaking and to stop dickheads ruining the experience for everyone else, mobile phones are placed in sealed silver pouches for the duration of the show. An idea that we would dearly love to see adopted in every cinema across the land.

You’re not allowed to bring food or drink in with you but there are plenty of “retail experiences” dotted throughout, selling booze, food and merch. Unsurprisingly, rations are not cheap, and you can’t pay cash for them. Take a cash card with you.

It’s worth noting that as it’s a major production with built-up sets and lights, the venue gets pretty warm so wearing military rebel chic is preferable to a full wookie costume. Open toed shoes are a no-no due to the “alien terrain” you’ll encounter…

You can read the rest of the article at T3.com (originally published 12 June 2015).

10 movie futures we want to live in right now


xs_Lead image - Tron-650-80

From Minority Report, with its multitouch surfaces, to 2001: A Space Odyssey with its homicidal computers, Hollywood has long served up future visions that tap into our tech dreams and nightmares.

Obviously there are lots of movie futures that we wish to avoid at all costs – the state-controlled euthanasia for people over 30 in 23rd Century Logan’s Run springs to mind. Likewise, we could probably do without the rations of manufactured ‘food’ in Soylent Green’s 2022. And let’s not even talk about post-Bond Sean Connery and his alarming Zardoz outfit.

While most of the futures predicted in movies are bleak as hell and some have been and gone, there are loads of superb Hollywood worlds of the future that we can’t wait to see become reality. Here are our favourites…

Oblivion

xs_Oblivion-650-80

As with the majority of his films, obviously Tom Cruise does a lot of running, but what else does this post-apocalyptic flick offer apart from a tiny sprinting Scientologist? Well, it’s 2077 and Earth’s population is relocating. Jack Harper (Cruise) is one of the few humans left on Earth, living in a fancy sky apartment perched above the clouds that looks like it has been designed by Jonny Ive. We could definitely see ourselves chilling out in this beautiful example of futuristic interior design. While trying to ignore the murderous alien force that’s trying to hoover up the planet’s remaining resources and eliminate the humans, obviously.

Her

xs_Her-650-80

Set in the not-too-distant future of 2025, Spike Jonze’s futuristic fable Her sees mild-mannered Theodore Twombly developing a romantic relationship with an intelligent operating system (voiced by Scartlett Johansson). Shot in LA and Shanghai, the subtle advances in technology along with minimalist design and a beautiful colour palette make this a future we’d dearly like to be part of. We’ll probably stick to being just good friends with our OS though.

Back to the Future Part II

xs_Back to the Future Part II-650-80

We could hardly talk about movie futures without including Back to the Future’s version of 2015. Lots of the tech featured is already here, including video calling, voice recognition, gesture control and ironic 80s themed establishments. Even the self-tying trainers from Nike are on the way. There are no sky-high cities here, just an old-fashioned town square with a few technological advances. And that’s why we like it – there are no murderous robots about, just pizza rehydrators and a healthy dose of nostalgia. We’d move to Hill Valley faster than you can say “where’s my f***ing hoverboard?!”…

You can read the rest of the article at T3.com (originally published 21 April 2015).

Netflix review

Netflix reviewNetflix offers unlimited online streaming of movies and TV for just £5.99 a month, but can it take on main rival Lovefilm? Find out here…

Netflix has been offering online movie streaming in the US since 1999, but it’s taken until now for the service to make its way over the pond to the UK. For £5.99 a month, you’ll get unlimited access to the Netflix library of films and TV programmes, which means that the service will be going head-to-head with the Lovefilm Instant offering, currently priced at £4.99. The gloves are off in the Netflix vs Lovefilm rumble, but how does the new kid on the block fare?

Netflix: Streaming

There’s no denying that just six quid a month will get you a sizable chunk of films and TV to choose from, although it’s worth considering how much strain it could place on your Broadband data cap. If you go above the set limit on your ISP package, you could well end up getting charged for the extra data – an important point to keep in mind if you’re planning on getting the most out of your monthly £5.99

Netflix: Devices

As well as streaming from your computer, Netflix works on pretty much all of the major platforms, including Sony PlayStation 3Nintendo WiiXbox 360,Apple iPhone and Apple iPad. There are also client for various web TVs from the likes of Samsung, along with LG Blu-ray players and LG home theatre systems, along with media streamer boxes from brands like Roku.

The fact that Netflix works on Apple TV as well as across numerous Androiddevices is also a major boon, and something that Lovefilm doesn’t currently offer (there is an Android app where you can manage your list and settings, but no streaming).

However, Lovefilm is aiming to be make its service available on as many devices as possible so it’s a reasonable assumption that we won’t have to wait too long to see streaming capability on Android devices.

The ability to stream Netflix via the iPhone app using 3G is also great news, although it probably depends on what the 3G signal is like where you live, or more likely what it’s like at your gym or on your commuting route, as we’re guessing those are the the places where most people will want to watch Netflix on their phone’s relatively tiny screen.

Buffering on both the iPad and Android tablet apps is surprisingly swift meaning that you get get stuck into watching your chosen title pretty much straight away.

Syncing between devices is a nice touch, which means that you could start watching something on your laptop, and then pick up where you left off at a later time on another device. The UI is simple to use and more or less the same across different platforms, so the whole experience is pretty much uniform, no matter what you’re gadget you’re watching on.

You can read the rest of the article on T3.com (originally published 1 February 2012).

Cinecittà – Italy’s lengendary film studio

Cinecitta Rome setItalian filmmaker Frederico Fellini once referred to Cinecittà as a “temple of dreams” and it’s not hard to see why.

This legendary film studio was founded in 1937 and has played host to numerous blockbusters, including Ben Hur, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic. The largest film studio in continental Europe, Cinecittà (Italian for Cinema City) has been the filming location for more than 3,000 films over the years including 48 Oscar winners and dozens of ‘spaghetti westerns’. Thanks to the creative talent on offer and relatively cheap production costs, numerous American productions were made at the studio in the 1950s, earning it the nickname “Hollywood on the Tiber”.

Cinecittà film studio

As well as being a beautiful example of modernist architecture, the studio has many claims to fame. Long before Lady Gaga was garbling about Paparazzi, the term was coined at Cinecittà, named after a photographer called Paparazzo from Frederico Fellini’s hugely successful La Dolce Vita. The famous studio is also where Hollywood stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton began their affair while fiming the extravagant epic Cleopatra.

The studio has survived bombing attacks during World War II as well as a fire in 2007 that resulted in a substantial amount of damage.

I was lucky enough to visit the studios on a recent press trip to the Italian capital, where we had the chance to go boozing at a lavish party on the set of BBC/HBO drama Rome, of which I’m a huge fan. Needless to say, much bubbly was quaffed, many poses were struck and copious amounts of embarrassing photos snapped.

If you’re ever in Rome and looking for something to do that’s a little different, then I highly recommend a visit.

3D better than 2D, says your brain

Libby in Mindlab testing gearHere’s an exclusive feature that I wrote for Pocket-lint.com when the Blu-ray Disc Association invited me to take part in some Mindlab testing.

People are 12 per cent more attentive when watching Blu-ray 3D compared to a conventional Blu-ray disc and 29 per cent more attentive when that same 3D experience is up against a plain old DVD. So says recent research commissioned by the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA). The results of the study, which is good news for 3D evangelists, also showed that people are 7 per cent more engaged when watching Blu-rays in 3D as well.

But how were these results collected and just how believable are they? Pocket-lint was invited to take an exclusive peek at the testing procedure and also to take part. Read on to find out what happened.

The tests were carried out by the Mindlab International team, based at the Sussex Innovation Centre in Brighton which is essentially an incubation home for tech companies. Mindlab is a neuromarketing company founded by company chairman, director of research and “father of neuromarketing” Dr David Lewis-Hodgson in the early 90s, under the slightly alarming title of StressWatch. Thankfully in 2005, the name was changed to the infinitely more friendly sounding MindLab.

On arrival at Mindlab HQ, we had the whole test process explained to us by Mindlab’s MD and director of operations, Duncan Smith, and his friendly team of data analysts and researchers. The technology used by Mindlab may look like something out of a science-fiction film, but it’s actually called EEG testing (or electroencephalography to give it its full title) which provides quantifiable data on brain activity that’s combined with EDA (electro-derman activity) readings taken from small electrodes on the hand which measure stress indicators such as sweat. The point behind all this is to understand responses to subconscious influences, in this case a selection of film clips.

You can read the rest of the article here on Pocket-lint.com (originally published 28/03/11).

Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Elizabeth TaylorIt’s almost impossible to write about Dame Elizabeth Taylor without mentioning her oft-quoted love of jewellery and her eight marriages, two of which were to legendary hellraiser Richard Burton. But there was a lot more to her than a propensity for wedding vows and diamonds.

Rising through the ranks from child actress to glamourous starlet and then genuine box office dynamite, Taylor cemented her reputation as a movie icon when she became the very first actress to command a fee of $1 million for her eponymous role in 20th Century Fox’s 1963 epic Cleopatra.

Up until that point, actresses had largely played second fiddle to their male co-stars in terms of billing and cold hard cash. Taylor was the first who had the smarts, and the talent, to compete with the boys. She did, however, remain modest over her trailblazing fee when she quipped: “If someone’s dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I’m certainly not dumb enough to turn it down”.

Taylor won her first Oscar in 1960 for her role as part-time call-girl in BUtterfield 8. However, the award was widely considered to be the result of a sympathy vote following a near-fatal bout of pneumonia – a illness which redeemed her in the eyes of public after she ran off with Eddie Fisher, the husband of American sweetheart Debbie Reynolds. Even Taylor herself acknowledged that the film was one of her worst.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor

In 1966, she won a much more deserved Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This time she starred as aging lush Martha alongside real-life husband Richard Burton as her long-suffering spouse George in what would prove to be her most critically acclaimed film. The famous couple starred in several other films together, ranging from glamourous star-studded flick The VIPs to the entirely forgettable nonsense that was The Comedians.

As well as making her mark in the world of film, and building a business empire based on perfume and jewellery, Taylor also devoted much of her time to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS, as well as raising a great deal of money for the cause. Following the death of her friend and Giant co-star Rock Hudson from an AIDS-related illness in 1985, she became one of the first major celebrities to talk openly on a subject that had previously been taboo and widely misunderstood.

Elizabeth Taylor AIDS foundationAlways one for taking in waifs and strays, Taylor was a loyal pal to Montgomery Clift and James Dean, both promising young actors who struggled with their sexuality. She was also a vocal, if somewhat misguided, friend to pop superstar Michael Jackson when he was accused of sexually abusing a child in 1993.

As a mouthy dame, Taylor always came across as a significantly more ballsy character than many of her contemporaries such as the doe-eyed Audrey Hepburn, glacial Grace Kelly or tragic Marilyn Monroe and kept up with the times by tweeting under the name @DameElizabeth. Even towards the end, Taylor proved that she still marched to the beat of her own drum by insisting that when she was laid to rest, the service should start 15 minutes later than planned so that she could be late for her own funeral. A classy final act.

The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation