Biosuite & Unsound

Film & TV Production

‘Biosuite’ is a collaborative project bringing together the disciplines of film production, music composition, environmental art, technology, and engineering to research ‘future cinema’ and the ever-increasing demand for audience interactivity & immersion in the audiovisual experience.

THE PROJECT

Belfast-based production company Filmtrip and Queens University’s Sonic Arts Research Center [SARC] join forces to create a world first cinematic experience as part of the Creative Industries Innovations Fund.

‘Biosuite’ is a collaborative project bringing together the disciplines of film production, music composition, environmental art, technology, and engineering to research ‘future cinema’ and the ever-increasing demand for audience interactivity & immersion in the audiovisual experience.

The short film ‘Unsound’  was shot & post-produced in N.Ireland, screening in the world’s leading 360 degree audio facility, based in Belfast, at SARC.  The Sonic Laboratory is a unique multi-functional concert hall / research laboratory. It can accommodate an audience of up to 150 and features a 48-channel sound diffusion system.

Whilst the TV, film & games industries are rushing into 3D, conversations about 4D (adding physical effects to the 3D viewing experience ) are already taking place.  Usually the domain of the theme park such 4D experiences are becoming more widespread as new methods of attracting audiences to cinemas are being explored by the studios.

But this project ‘Biosuite’ is going one step beyond the 4D experience, and getting into the minds and emotions of an audience.

Beginning as a conversation about creating films that helped the audience feel more involved, and more immersed in the experience, Filmtrip’s Gawain Morrison & SARC’s Dr Miguel Ortiz Perez discussed a number of techniques before deciding that tapping into emotions of an audience could be really interesting.

The opportunity to make this idea a reality came when the Department of Culture Arts & Leisure, along with the Arts Council, launched the Creative Industries Innovation Fund.  ‘Biosuite’ was selected for the first round of projects through this scheme, and has been going through six months of development, since the award was made.

The partnership between Filmtrip Ltd & the Music, Sensors and Emotion (MuSE) cluster at Queens University’s Sonic Arts Research Center combines commercial knowledge with educational skills & world leading facilities. 

An established centre of excellence dedicated to the research of music technology, SARC is a unique interdisciplinary environment which has united internationally recognised experts in the areas of musical composition, performance, signal processing and Human Computer Interaction. 

Filmtrip’s award-winning production team of Gawain Morrison & Chris Martin have been involved in feature films, shorts, music videos, music production, event promotion & tours over the last 20 years.

The MuSE team consisting of Dr Ben Knapp, Dr Miguel Ortiz Perez, Javier Jaimovich, and Niall Coghlan, have been researching emotional response reactions in relation to music performance & visual stimulus, and having 18 months of research under their belts allowed the Biosuite project to kick off at a prototype level quite quickly.

To complete the team horror feature-film writer Spencer Wright scripted the film & Belfast-born director Nigel [N.G.] Bristow directed it.

SARC’s centrepiece, the Sonic Laboratory, provides a unique space for cutting-edge initiatives in the creation and delivery of music and audio, and so it was decided that not only should a short film be produced to push audience’s emotional buttons, but that the film should be experienced in this extraordinary audio environment.

Small attachments to the audience member’s hands pick up ECG [Electrocardiogram] signals, measuring and recording the electrical activity of the heart, and GSR [Galvanic Skin Response] which measures the change in conductance of a persons skin, and is highly sensitive to emotions in people. Fear, anger, startle response, orienting response and sexual feelings are all among the emotions which may produce similar GSR responses.

These signals are captured by a computer running software, created to process the incoming data from the audience, and depending on what the audience’s response is measured to be, at any particular point, determines what changes occur in the film that they are watching.

This unique cinematic experience will allow the audience to experience changes in the score, the sound effects during scenes, the placement of audio within the SARC lab, and changes in character point of view.

The film will take approximately 15 minutes to watch, and a number of permutations will be viewed or heard depending on how the audience feels as they move from scene to scene.

A project that is operating in uncharted waters ‘Biosuite’ is allowing a lot of room for all of the creative juices to get flowing at one time, and everyone involved with the project is very excited at the potential.

Whilst keeping the focus on this project both Filmtrip and the MuSE team have their eyes on the larger picture of feature film production, gaming and location-based emotional triggers, all using the skills & tools that they are learning whilst producing this project.  The changing shape of the media landscape, from audience participation through to the blurring of media lines & boundaries, offers up a wild west range of opportunities to people and companies able to experiment in this space.

We had out first public emotional response interactive screening as part of SXSW in March this year, in the Alamo Ritz on 6th Street, in Austin.  We followed this up quickly with 3 evenings of screenings as part of Belfast Film Festival, and screened our emotional response horror short ‘Unsound’ as a double bill with a different David Cronenberg film each evening.  The audience members that were wired up kindly allowed us to collect their physiological data in response to each of the David Cronenberg films.  The 3 films were Videodrome, Scanners and Naked Lunch.  We are presently analysing the results for future projects.

You can check out the article written by New Scientist Culture Lab at http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2011/03/plug-in-for-emotional-response-cinema.html

THE DIRECTOR : NG BRISTOW

N.G. BRISTOW studied English and Drama as an undergraduate and film as a postgraduate at Goldsmiths College.  His short films include: HIDE (theatrical release with THIS FILTHY EARTH); EVERYBODY’S GONE (Gold Plaque at Chicago); DAH DIT DAH (Best of The Fest, Edinburgh); ANIMAL IN THE MIRROR (Cork, Stuttgart, Rotterdam - 1 shot, 11 mins, 16 mm).  They have been screened at major international film festivals and on television stations all over the world.

As a screenwriter Nigel has been commissioned by Channel Four (RIPLEY BOGLE), The UK Film Council (KLOXX), Tall Stories (ANGEL WEST) and Crow Foot Films (LITTLE HOURS).  Nigel has directed over a dozen different primetime TV dramas including the much-beloved shows: BALLYKISSANGEL, THE BILL and CASUALTY, along with the little-seen “cult” / bizarre misfire NIGHT AND DAY.  He has recently begun directing commercials through Street Monkey.

As a guest lecturer he has run workshops at many universities and film schools including: Goldsmiths College, RADA, The Royal College of Art, Metropolitan Film School and University for The Creative Arts.  He was a special guest at Rencontres Britanniques in Antony and the symposium on Irish Cinema at Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Beyond the obvious he has acted opposite Vivian Stanshall in the TALE OF THE LONG SKY; terrified audiences with his binaural nightmare “THE EVER EXPANDING CABINET OF UNNAMEABLE HORRORS” at the Canal Café; and brought theatre to the terraces of Millwall FC - and lived to tell the tale.  He is also a former Irish Men’s Sabre champion, though his fencing is a little rusty these days…

THE COMPOSER : MIGUEL ORTIZ PEREZ

Miguel Angel Ortiz Pérez is a mexican composer and sound artist based in Belfast. Born in Hermosillo Sonora, he has been involved in a vast range of activities related to modern music and sound art. He has worked professionally as a composer, sound engineer, lecturer, score editor, promoter and sound designer.

Sporadically, he takes part as a performer in ensembles such as BLISS, Control Group and M&B; where he explores a vast array of performing mediums ranging from traditional acoustic instruments such as cello and trumpet, to laptop improvisation, performance with bio-instruments and hyperinstruments.

Miguel graduated from the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, México under his mentor Eduardo Solís Marín before pursuing a Masters degree at the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast under the guidance of Ricardo Climent and Pedro Rebelo. He is recently completed a PhD at SARC, focusing on the use of biosignal interfaces for musical applications under the supervision of Professor Michael Alcorn and Dr. R. Benjamin Knapp.

http://www.miguel-ortiz.com

UNSOUND. SOME THOUGHTS FROM THE WRITER : SPENCER WRIGHT

I write film scripts for the same reason I watch films; to lose myself in other worlds, to vicariously walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and hopefully learn a little something along the way. (Even if that something is; don’t take a job as caretaker in a mountain resort, live on Elm Street or ever… ever .. babysit.) Anything that helps immerse me in ‘reel world’ rather than ‘real world’ automatically gets my vote.

Many a tool has been employed down the years; from smell‐o‐vision, B‐Movie foyer high jinks, to the recent 3D magic of Avatar. But we’ve still only managed to venture some of the way. The movies we watch have only ever been on TRANSMIT rather than RECEIVE. Up to now the traffic has been one way.

The experience, whilst not passive, certainly hasn’t been inclusive. Which is what so excited me about the Biosuite project.  As a filmgoer, first and foremost, the idea that I could influence the onscreen world was utterly mind blowing ‐ Mood and tone dictated by my responses, shifts in score, a story which would evolve through my responses, characters who live or die depending on how I feel!... Does it get any better than that?

The gaming industry has made this a fine art but those longer in the tooth may remember devouring board based RPG’s and fighting fantasy books in which the avid player’s fate balanced on the throw of a dice. All forerunners for a brave new world that, at long last, we are now on the cusp of discovering, in film.

When I was first pitched the Biosuite idea by Gawain at Film Trip my initial thought was ‘Sounds awesome when can I come and see it?’ Even better then to be asked to write the script which would launch this maiden voyage. To be at the genesis of such an innovative and groundbreaking project which (and forgive my excitement!) really could change the way we watch film forever is an honour.
. It seems right that the often critically maligned whilst publically adored horror genre will be the first to dip its toe in these new waters. In my view it is perfectly placed to invoke an honest and interesting spectrum of reactions from the audience; everything from heartache to yuk!

Not that this experiment should, or will, end with horror. Can you imagine the ‘Will they ‐ Won’t they?’ climax of a Rom Com being answered organically by an audience and not solely by the filmmakers? Wouldn’t ‘Dirty Dancing’ have been a much better film had Baby missed the climatic, ‘I’ve had the time of my life’ jump at Kellerman’s and landed teeth first in the dirt … Sorry I digress ☺

I’m sure there are writers who will disagree and venomously resist any attempt to tell a tale anyway but their way. But once a word is read or an image viewed it really ceases to be purely yours anyway.

It belongs to the reader/viewer who can and will interpret it anyway they see fit. Creating set ups and parameters which stay honest to the characterization whilst providing a range of outcomes is undoubtedly a challenge; but well worth doing. Suddenly, the work becomes almost a living breathing thing; something that can surprise and enthral as it evolves in the hearts (literally ☺) of the audience and on the screen before your eyes. The connection between writer and audience has never been more intimate, the gap between ‘real’ and ‘reel’ never smaller.

The Biosuite project represents for me a new way to write, a new way to watch and ultimately a new way to think.

DEVELOPMENT – The first step for me was to try and get a handle on the technology in terms of how it might influence the structure of the story to come. Technology is a double edged sword for me. Like research it has a ‘devil’s candy’ appeal. It’s easy to get embroiled and glammed by it thus taking your eye of the core story itself. And from the outset Film Trip wanted more than just a format that would simply be a vehicle for the kit, our story had to be cognizant of the technology but not dictated by it.

For instance we had to be aware of moment s in the script which allow for the gathering and processing of data which would dictate the onscreen action seconds later. Juncture points in which events could take a different turn had to be devised and embedded. But throughout we wanted our short film to stand on its own two feet whether viewed as part of the SARC experiment or at home with your feet up.

So I began to flesh out what I expected to be a few ideas. But the goals and ethos behind the project is such that these few ideas quickly became dozens. Possibilities abounded! We explored various set ups of a scientific bent. However, most of them fell into that age old trap of trying to tell a feature film in a short film format. Which rarely ends well. (Not that they weren’t fun to write. I’d wager a few of them may well make it fully to the page one day. Watch this space.)

In the end I got together a document of 20 or so pitch‐sized ideas. It included everything from; demonic garbage grinders (that one from the diseased mind of Chris Martin) to joyriders racing with the devil, and graveyard shifts in haunted hospitals.

In the end one idea stood out from all the others, this idea was as far removed from the scientific angle we’d previously been exploring and yet it was undeniably the one that got us most excited.

‘Thief in the Night’ [now Unsound] presented itself as a story with emotional meat on its visceral bones. A setting which was far removed from the technology yet could easily fuse with it to produce a unique movie going experience and a story that came from a very simple, almost fairy tale, seedling of; “There was an old woman who lived in a house…”

Further meetings with the SARC team not only crystallized the nature of the technology for me but also proved we were onto something as they too began to share our excitement. Miguel had ideas on the use of score almost as an additional character in the story. Another facet of the experiment is to actually record the effects changes in sound and score have upon an audience. These findings will be the bedrock for bigger, better things to come. Everyone had space to bring their creative talents to the table and the script that followed just got better and better as a result.

ACTION! ‐ Director Nigel .. NG .. Bristow has the unenviable task of weaving the strands of story, performance, cinematography and experiment into a cohesive end product. But as I said earlier the goals and ethos behind Biosuite are such that they both inspire and energize at every turn. I have no doubt he’ll rise to challenge. Throughout development Nigel has managed to keep abreast of the technology whilst keeping a firm, weather eye on the story; counter balancing the more extreme elements of the script with the poignancy of witnessing an elderly woman struggling against the ravages of time and ageing.

As the rehearsal phase begins I for one believe the mix is right; a tenacious, forwarding thinking production house, a solid script, uber-talented Director and a host of tech geniuses coming together to create something pretty special.

We are now merely weeks away from taking a big step. But it is still only a first step.
Today a short film. Tomorrow a feature. In a few years time who is to say we won’t all be sitting down at home, wired to our televisions actively changing the events of some wonderful onscreen world ……

Filmtrip and SARC are blazing a heady and exciting trail. I’m glad I was there at the beginning. I definitely can’t wait to see where we end up. Either way … It’s gonna be one hell of a ride ☺

 

Biosuite & Unsound