Walking The Innovation Talk At The Infinity Festival In Hollywood

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 9, 2019

As we roll to the end of another year, the advertising and media world looks to the new year for fresh inspiration, kicking off with the inevitable CES.

Love it or loathe it, CES sets the pace and the conversation for the year. There is always a marketing stunt or two, some great events, wonderful networking and a truckload of innovations.

Another inevitable experience coming out of CES is not knowing how to put many of these technologies into practice. That's where the Infinity Festival comes in.

Never heard of the Infinity Festival? It takes place in Hollywood in early November, billed as the premiere festival for Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

The Infinity Festival is in its infancy -- this is only its second year. It's an intimate look at how Hollywood is actually using technology, with a wide range of experiments, research, technology -- and, of course, content.

Just how wide-ranging were the topics? Here's a sample of what was on the agenda:



A hall of hands-on innovation where attendees could come and play with the tech on offer -- including a simple but killer app that could turn anyone via facial motion-capture into a CGI David Bowie; 

A panel of the creators of “Vader Immortal” talking about storytelling via VR, featuring the truly impressive Vicki Dobbs Beck, who has been with Lucasfilm and ILM for over twenty-five years; 

A screening of Gemini Man in gorgeous 3D 120 FPS -- literally more real than real.

There were separate tracks on each technology's impact on the entertainment industry: AI, blockchain, 5G, and Immersive, as well as telling a more integrated story from the point of view of content and experiential.

Lori H. Schwartz, who is chief curator for the festival, outlines how the festival content is selected. “Our focus for the festival and its curation is to bring context to technology by showcasing how it's enabling storytelling. We have the privilege of sitting in the middle of an amazing group of storytellers and technologists and it's very powerful when they come together.”

Navigating such a depth of material is one thing if you're an entertainment or tech insider. It's another if you come from the marketing and advertising side of the business.

As an agency person, some panels were a stretch to understand how I could apply them to what I do, but then there were others that were unbelievably impactful.

Case in point -- the presentation from Yves Bergquist, the director of the “AI & Neuroscience in Media” Project at the Entertainment Technology Center, presented a sampling of his team's work, including the jaw-dropping deep learning-driven semantic content classification application. For anyone who works in the cultural space in marketing, this was akin to finding the Rosetta Stone.

Another highlight was the superb work from the Warner Brothers Global Insight and Analytics team, headed by Liz Huszarik, whose team pulled together a really insightful generational look at fandom and how it informs everything, from content to social to media to messaging.

Seeing the festival through an advertising and marketing lens, I felt in some ways that the entertainment industry, in its use of technology, is substantially ahead of the ad world. And yet, as much as the innovations were so impressive, I came away with the feeling that they were somehow incomplete, and that there was a real role for the ad world in this conversation.

The final panel that I saw at the festival is a beautiful illustration of what I mean. Van Jones of Reform Alliance, a CNN political contributor, and Elijah Allen-Blitz, an Emmy-nominated VR director, showed their work “The Messy Truth” -- an incredibly powerful VR experience of a traffic stop seen through the eyes of a kid in the backseat.

The power of the work was only amplified by their film of taking this experience and showing it to people at an NRA conference. Then Van Jones asked the audience for ideas of how to scale the experience.

It really struck me then that the ad -- and media -- community – could have contributed to that conversation on the spot in a meaningful way.

When things happen in silos -- Hollywood over here, Silicon Valley just over here and Madison Avenue way over on the other coast –- we miss synergy and collaboration.

We need a stronger mashup between these three forces: technology to give us the tools, the entertainment industry to power the storytelling and the ad industry to give it scale and accessibility to consumers.

I am rooting for this newly minted festival. With great momentum and a bigger engagement from the ad community, I think the Infinity Festival could become a perfect finish to the marketing year, by seeing innovation truly brought to life.

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