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Big Ideas: “AR ads that are able to address and interact with people like in Blade Runner 2049” with ARwall advisor Gato Scatena

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Gato Scatena. Scatena was raised in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. Scatena graduated from Kealakehe High School in 2001, and went on to study computer science and film & digital media at […]

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Gato Scatena. Scatena was raised in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. Scatena graduated from Kealakehe High School in 2001, and went on to study computer science and film & digital media at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In 2003, Scatena was cast in Peter Weir’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, and after graduating university with a Bachelors in 2006, he soon began working as a marketing assistant at InkTip.com, an online film and television script marketplace. After five years with the company, and helping to grow their clientele by more than 200% along with their film & TV credits to more than 300, Scatena left the company as VP in 2013 to build S&R Films. Together with his partner, Jordan Rosner, the pair grew the company to developing, financing, and selling a dozen feature length motion pictures each year. In late 2017, Scatena negotiated a partnership with Periscope Post & Audio allowing him to step away from S&R Films’ day-to-day operations, and to focus on larger budget motion pictures while also exploring other opportunities in tech and marketing. Among these opportunities, Gato Scatena holds an advisory role with ARwall.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ha! That’s kind of a loaded question. The simple answer: childhood wonder. I guess the long answer is that I’ve always been curious about so many things — Egyptology, astrophysics, computer science — that filmmaking kind of gave me an excuse to get paid while geeking out on everything interesting this world has to offer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Russell Crowe and I talked some Federales and a sleepy hotel owner down from, what could’ve been, a hairy situation in Mexico.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

I wish I could take credit for it as “my idea,” but I’m just lucky enough to be an advisor to the company. The bottom line is that this company, ARwall, is developing the most exciting technology I’ve played with since I started producing feature films.

So, they won ‘best new AV/AR startup’ at SXSW last year, and as a [movie] producer I worked with them because they invented a completely immersive replacement for the green screen — but that’s only the groundbreaking side for filmmakers.

The truly public-facing disruption comes from the way their technology is about to be deployed in real-world advertisements. If you think about how ads are able to address and interact with people in movies like Blade Runner 2049, ARwall will be doing the first generation of this closer to the year 2020.

How do you think this will change the world?

Some of the newer developments are still under wraps — and those are going to be wild — but the most obvious and palpable changes coming from the technology are going to be to everyone’s every-day lives. Imagine advertisements that can look into your eyes, talk to you, and even walk with you. Or interactive games played out in the real world where the game truly engages with the player. I mean, like I said, what ARwall is doing is bringing the “futuristic” worlds of “Blade Runner” and “The Fifth Element” to our front door. And it’ll make games like Pokemon Go feel like Pong.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Sure. Every new technology offers the potentiality for side effects. ARwall technology could feel invasive if used too aggressively by advertisers, let’s say. I mean, just like Blade Runner, if in another 20 years I have a half dozen holograms chasing me down to buy their products, that’d be pretty annoying. But, in general, like the EU’s GDPR, I’ve seen most governments pretty quick to regulate advertising and marketing industries as new tactics are created. And when governments fall short, private companies tend to respond with easy-to-adopt solutions. After all, just 20 years ago SPAM wasn’t really a thing, and now it’s just a new norm. We’ve all adapted to its existence, and in many cases, have built software to filter or eliminate it.

That said, I’m far more interested in all of the uncontemplated ways the ARwall technology is going to be adopted and utilized. If we’re talking apples to oranges, one could imagine today’s world as a fairly static environment that is designed with various purposes (transportation, commercial, social, etc), and with the expectation that we will simply navigate through said environment. In a way, ARwall is going to allow that same environment to move, alter, and engage with us as we navigate, so walking down Main Street on a Monday might provide a very different experience compared to walking down Main Street Tuesday. With that, the ARwall motto now a-days has been “spaces, not places.”

Now, with this technology, as seemingly simple as it is in concept, it’s fundamentally disruptive to our normal world, so I have no doubt that some creative people out there are going to use it in unexpected and exciting ways. And, for the most part, I look forward to seeing them.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Again, not my idea, but the far-reaching implications for the technology came later. The tipping point, really just came from the filmmaker point-of-view. Most audiences don’t realize how annoying it is to shoot on green screen. Everyone on set simply has to “imagine” what’s going on in the scene. Actors can’t see their environment, cinematographers do the best they can with the actors but don’t have much else to go on, and the director prays he has enough coverage for it all to work out in post-production. Now before one of your learned readers tries debating this with storyboards and shot lists, let’s just quickly agree, it’d be better for everyone if they could actually see their environment. Better for the actors, the filmmakers, and the audiences.

It wasn’t until later that the technology began to prove useful in a much broader array of verticals.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

I don’t think much! Even though ARwall just recently started taking on clients in late 2018, we already have major studio and network jobs either completed or on the docket. On the film side of our clients, I think once a major visionary filmmaker like James Cameron uses our technology to make their picture come to life, that’d probably be the only notch on our belt we’d need. Once filmmakers see our tech in action, there’s no going back.

In terms adoption outside of film, I think once we have a handful of advertisers test-drive us in the real world, and some key influencers play with our setups for some insanely upgraded selfie-game, ARwall should be all set.

That said, there are a lot of other industries already taking interest, including medical and automotive, which are obviously huge, so perfecting our core product is key before scaling.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. You will have sleepless nights. As a business owner, it would’ve been nice to know that the relatively stress-free evenings after work I enjoyed as an employee were going to disappear. This might be different for someone starting a company with resources and backing, but I can tell you for sure: bootstrapping a startup is something you’re only going to want to do once.

2. Your employees are going to feel like your children. I remember our first hire at Scatena & Rosner Films. She was fresh out of school, eager to work, crazy smart, and had delightfully naive expectations about the entertainment industry. Still, she was a great human being so in time she started to crush it at work. But at the end of the day, your employees are going to look to you for guidance, and you’re going to be on the hook for keeping food on their plate. It’s a different kind of stress.

3. Get all the shit you don’t want to do out of the way first thing in the morning. If people are honest with themselves, when they put the annoying priorities off in the morning, those tasks never get done. On the other hand, if they have exciting things to do later in the day, it doesn’t take a cup of coffee to get moving — you’re already motivated. In fact, I’m still rocking one of those American Express appointment books they send out to members every year. And at the top of each day is a list of all the most boring, lame, and annoying “to dos” I could think of the previous day. That way, come 4pm, I’m still hitting hard.

4. You’re going to fail. Anyone going into business for themselves who thinks they’re just going to crush it right out the gate is setting themselves up for a panic attack. The best frame of mind to be in is to always be aware that things can fall apart, and to have faith in yourself and your creativity that you’ll be able to manufacture ways out of any problem. The most successful people tend to have the longest list of failures… they just didn’t quit.

5. Know your market. Too many entrepreneurs assume their idea is great, and start spending a lot of money and time on the fun stuff before really knowing what the demand looks like for their product or service. If you have a good idea, find some impartial experts (not mom and dad) to pitch. If your idea is going to fail due to a lack of demand or competitiveness, it’s best to let it fail on the drawing board than in a brick-and-mortar.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

There’s no such thing as “future proofing,” but as an insurance policy, it’s always good to keep an up-to-date resume on file with head hunters. This way you always have a line in the stream without being distracted by the job market. You’ll be 100% focused on your business, while remaining open for potentially exciting opportunities elsewhere.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

Most new film school grads would say “my next movie.” In reality, entertainment investments should be in new technologies, like ARwall, and OTT platforms. Trade publications like Varietyand The Hollywood Reporterare, for the most part, still reporting on the entertainment industry in a somewhat business-as-usual way, but the business is a lot more turbulent than they let up. Companies like Netflix and Amazon, paired with the proliferation of smart TVs are providing real challenges to traditional exhibitors such as cable providers. At first glance, the general public might think “so what? Same products, different conveyor belt.” Unfortunately, those wars at the top between distributors create price fluctuations that can negatively impact the filmmakers down the line. In other words, a movie going into production in January that could be worth $3M domestically, might only be worth $2M by the time it’s completed in July. And those losses are bankrupting a lot of production companies around the world.

On the other hand, while cable providers are likely on their last leg, the only thing I can see filling that gap — ultimately created by audiences who want a wide variety of choices in entertainment — are going to be new OTT platforms. Netflix may be a goliath right now, but major studios, cable providers, and broadcasters around the world are going to be forced to launch their own platforms to retain financial and creative control over their content [as opposed to be subservient to Netflix and Amazon]. In the end, I think that OTTs are simply going to be the new “channels”. Therefore, OTTs and new technologies — especially those that increase value and reduce costs — are going to be the financial winners in the film and TV business.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Embrace change. Embrace it slowly and with calculation, but embrace it nonetheless. It’s coming whether you like it or not.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Imagine the immersive and interactive communications, entertainment, and advertising in the worlds of your favorite Sci-Fi movies. Those are all Gen 4; our technology is the only Gen 1 in existence.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@GatoScatena @arwallco on both Instagram and Twitter

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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