Film & TV

“An endeavour to do something new to reflect the world where it’s at:” Impact Interviews William Burdett-Coutts

The Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival, running from the 4th-16th August 2016 is in full swing in Edinburgh and Impact got an exclusive interview with William Burdett-Coutts, CEO of the festival and the man behind Riverside Studios, the company presenting the festival, for a chat about the future of cinema and the event itself.

Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival 4 Ð 28 August 2016 Pictured here is Director of Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival William Burdett Coutts Telephone: +44 (0)20 8237 1000 Direct Line: +44 (0)20 8237 1014 Mobile: +44 (0)7771 882479

Impact: The Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival is completely new this year. Can you tell our readers a little bit about it and the inspiration behind it?

We think sigital is probably the thing we need to engage with, and we spent 18 months talking with arts organisations, tech companies and education organisations, basically building up to this event in Edinburgh, which forms all the thinking about where the world is at together.

“We’ve also created a Tech Hub where there’s lots of new technology, which are used in a digital capacity to create an engaging play stage”

What we’re doing at the festival is showcasing lots of recordings of live arts events, things that didn’t exist before digital, such as all the RSC and National Theatre recordings, and Royal Opera House and National Gallery. We think in future there will be more and more recordings of live events and we’d like to work with arts organisations around the country to achieve that.

We’ve created a VR (Virtual Reality) Cinema, a place where people can go and go and try out the best VR content that’s being made at the moment; we’ve researched that, and brought it in from places like Tribeca and South by Southwest. We’ve also created a Tech Hub where there’s lots of new technology, a lot of which are headsets but there’s other things which are used in a digital capacity to create an engaging play stage where you can try out the various things.

Alongside that, we’ve created a Games Workshop, where kids can go and play with Lego, Minecraft or the BBC Micro Bit, basically expanding the spectrum of youth through to older people.

It’s all then joined up with various talks on gaming, arts, technology and entertainment, an endeavour to do something new to reflect the world where it’s at and think about how entertainment can be a part of the  digital world in the future.

I: How important is it that we teach the younger generation about technology and cinema?

It’s great recording shows and showing them in cinemas to give you a good experience of seeing it as a film, but more important is how we engage with the audience at large in all the technology the younger generation carry around in their hands.

So how do we make the entertainment world attractive to people through what they play with, their iPads, computers and phones? I think gaming and education needs to be a part of that. There needs to be a thought about how it can all be activated.

There’s a big event in LA in January every year where they have technology on show, and what struck me most is that the technology is way ahead of the content and I think how we engage with the technology companies and how entertainment is brought into that sphere is the name of the game really.

“You can do anything from walking on Pluto, to free driving under the sea, to swimming with dolphins or being in a refugee camp”

I think we’re the start of it, it’s a very new age and a lot will change over the next 10 years.

I: You talked about the Virtual Reality Studio, what can viewers expect from a film experience like that?

In there, you can do anything from walking on Pluto, to free driving under the sea, to swimming with dolphins or being in a refugee camp so there’s about 25 different films on show, giving you a whole range of different experiences. It’s mind boggling and they’re very impressive.

Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival 4 – 28 August 2016 Telephone: +44 (0)20 8237 1000 Direct Line: +44 (0)20 8237 1014 Mobile: +44 (0)7771 882479

I: Seeking Home’, a documentary on migrants and refugees in the Calais camp, is described as a 360 degree virtual reality video. Do you think there’s a big difference between watching something on a 360 degree screen to a two-dimensional one, and how important is that for a film experience?

I think it makes it much more real, because you’re there as opposed to seeing it at an arms length, a bit like breaking the fourth wall at the theatre. When you’re in a space, seeing it at a distance, you feel like it’s not a part of you and you can distance yourself from it. The psychology of wearing a headset means you’re in the middle of it, and it makes it very real.

I: You’re screening some RSC recordings of live productions, why do you think people would be more interested in seeing it on screen rather than going to the theatre to watch it?

I think it’s a different experience but one that is equally valid. Especially in the middle of Edinburgh, if you tried to put on the range of shows that we’re screening, it would never happen. We’ve got something like 15 major stars on the screenings, such as Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Rylance and if you thought of trying to achieve that on stage then it wouldn’t be feasible!

It brings in an audience that aren’t in Edinburgh at the moment and equally it’s a valid way of seeing their work. People like seeing content in a cinema, they feel more comfortable. Also, it’s cheaper; people don’t have to travel far and it’s an easier way to see it.

It’s a great future we have with it and the NT and RSC are doing it very successfully. What we’d like to do is to see more work recorded. My personal belief is that every major arts or entertainment should be recorded.


I: You have two forms of cinema: ‘Street Cinema’ and ‘Event Cinema’. How does the process of deciding which films to screen change depending on whether it is at the ‘event cinema’ or the ‘street cinema’?

Events Cinema is very much about being in one space, a theatre space. We’re enhancing it by doing it in a specific environment.

Streets Cinema is a travelling cinema. We’ve got a strand dedicated to horror films from the seventies, another to musicals, another for futuristic movies and then shorts from the Edinburgh and Glasgow Film Festivals. Alongside that, we’ve dug out lots of BBC plays that are really interesting. It’s just a part of the spectrum of what’s possible.

Do you plan on moving the Street Cinema around the country?

Eventually, yes. This year is the start of a slightly bonkers idea and we need to see what reaction comes out of people, see what relationships come out of it and then see whether it’s something people have an appetite for. If so, then we can see about taking it abroad and then hopefully around the country.

I: Finally, how do you think the future of Cinema will change with the advent of Digital Film-making?

I think we’ll see an awful lot more film making headsets. There was an interview recently with Peter Jackson and he said that the next zombie movie will probably be something you wear a headset and you decide where things go in the movie. I think you’ll find that things become less 2D and a lot more 3D and that movie-making will change. It will be intriguing to see how it impacts things over the years.

Tickets can still be purchased at the website: with daily talks, screenings and events carrying on throughout the festival. The Ideas Studio launches on Monday 8th August, a two day event focusing on gaming.

Emily Harbottle

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