Summit on the Development of Future Films Hosted, Exploring the Integration of Big Screen and Streaming Media under Competitions
Given the rapid development of film technology, the streaming media has witnessed a significant rise and become one of the main platforms by which people watch videos. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a more apparent conflict between cinemas and the streaming media. Specifically, a number of cinema movies, including Lost in Russia, Double World, Trolls World Tour and Hamilton among others have been released via streaming platforms, which has obviously exerted a big impact on cinemas. Are streaming media a special way in a special period or an irresistible trend? Are streaming media and cinemas to be involved into a zero-sum game with no space of cooperation, or is it a new normal of boundary-breaking fusion of different platforms? To find the answer, Summit on the Development of Future Films of the 10th BJIFF revolved around the theme of Integration of Big Screen and Streaming Media under Competitions, inviting well-known filmmakers for in-depth discussions, thus offering suggestions and advice for the future development of China's film industry.
As one of the important forums of the 10th BJIFF, Summit on the Development of Future Films determined the development strategies and targets of China's film industry by studying and judging the market as well as clarifying the direction; besides, by activating wisdom and accumulating thoughts, China's film industry witnesses the growth of box-office revenue while developing its own development ideas and propositions.
On August 29, the summit was held in Beijing Yanqi Lake International Convention & Exhibition Center. The participants included Xu Zheng, the famed director, actor, producer and screenwriter; Zhang Yibai, the famed director and producer; Jiang Wei, President of Wuyuan Wanxiang Pictures and producer, Wu Hehu, former vice general manager of Shanghai United Cinema Circuit, Song Jia, General Manager of iQIYI Film Center, with the famed film critic Zhou Liming being the moderator. Putting forward unique insights and vision, the guests focused on the forward development of global films. To be specific, they talked about the evolvement of video-streaming platforms in the context of science and technology development and the COVID-19 pandemic; what types of films are for cinemas and what types of films are for streaming media; how they can complement each other and how they can enter a healthy competition among other urgent issues facing the industry. In addition, they have analyzed and predicted the future opportunities and challenges of films from a more macro perspective.
-Cinema Movies Gravitate Towards Streaming Media: Accidental or Inevitable?-
Recently, incidents concerning cinemas and the streaming media have captured people’s attention. For domestic competition, Lost in Russia made the first attempt. On January 24, the announcement that Lost in Russia would be streaming online was considered to kick-start "the first year of releasing films via streaming media in China", which thereby open the way for binding the video platforms and film and TV productions. In response, Xu Zheng recalled why Lost in Russia was streamed online and the subsequent implications, while making responses to many behind-the-scene questions. For example, was the move a result of the fact that the investors were under pressure from receiving the returns on the investment or were there any other reasons? What was the greatest personal concern then? Was there any desire to respond to the backlash from cinemas?
Xu Zheng said that he made the decision from the standpoint of a creator without any intention to disrupt the screening mode, not to mention the huge response thereafter. "COVID-19 is a special situation unseen in a century. Originally, I wished to let the audience see the film free of charge." Xu said that although the Internet will enable films to have expansion and derivatives in an ecological manner, but going to the cinema is still a unique experience.
Given that the cinema film Double World is exclusively available on iQIYI, Song Jia, General Manager of iQIYI Film Center, put forwards her own opinions concerning the fact that an increasing number of cinema films are being screened via the streaming media. She said that this was accidental yet inevitable, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the science and technology development. The streaming media has given rise to a forward-looking strategy of film distribution, while it is also an exploratory process. For movies, different platforms are different options. "It’s like you can dine at a restaurant should you have free time, but you can also order takeaways if don't want to go outside."
Having been engaged in film distribution and projection for half a century, Wu Hehu has witnessed the whole process of China's film market from a planned economy to a market economy, while following closely the film industry. During the pandemic, the film projection industry bears the brunt, and it is still recovering while it is a long journey before the global projection industry could make a full recovery. Speaking of the impact of streaming media on cinemas, he also pointed out what were special cases as a result of the pandemic and what indicated the general trends. Wu said, "People should never build a wall to separate the cinema movies and movies screened via streaming media, but instead we should build a canal for complementary communication. In the 5G era, movies should gravitate towards the streaming media, thus expanding the film market. Besides, we should produce excellent films to attract viewers, give full play to the advantages, let the market allocate resources and let the audience make choices themselves."
Jiang Wei once participated in the establishment and management of more than 20 Broadway theaters, engaging in the production of The Meg. With rich experience in film production, distribution and projection of the whole industry chain, Jiang also talked about the inevitability of the era of streaming media, as well as suggestions concerning how to achieve a win-win result between the streaming media and the traditional films. He thought that we could make a clearer explanation of the issue from an economic perspective, "Given the tradition that we achieve the box-office revenue by means of cinemas, now the development of science and technology and streaming media provide content creators with more channels of harvesting results, thus bringing sustainable development for people in the industry."
-How to Make Films and Platforms Mutually Reinforce?-
Recently, Interstellar saw a re-release in China, gaining 80 million yuan at box-office within a week and outperforming a batch of new films. Guests also commented on the inspiration of such works for cinemas.
Having directed films such as Fleet of Time and I Belonged to You, Zhang Yibai is also the producer of the much-anticipated film this year Leap, as well as the chief producer of My people, My Country and My Hometown and I. Sharing his own creative stories, Zhang said that filmmakers were actively embracing streaming platforms. However, Zhang also said that only on the big screen could viewers observe the astounding details of performance and plots. "This is the difference between the big screen and streaming media, but there is no competition between the two, yet which compete against time instead of expression. In the end, it's all about the content. The creation needs to be brilliant enough for the audience to sit down and give up watching videos at faster speeds."
According to Zhang, My people, My Country features a collection of short stories, the huge success of which demonstrates that people’s habits of watching movies are changing. In this process, streaming media promoting short videos play a subtle role.
Besides, Xu Zheng also said people had been spoiled by the short video platform. As a result, producers would have to deal with the movie length and viewers’ patience in the future, while they can grab the audience’s attention by diversifying their means of expression and creative habits. However, for different platforms, there is no similarities and differences in terms of performance, "To perform the potential answers is the right and good performance, which remain the final goal deserving consistent commitment.”
Relatively speaking, it should be easier for movies to become a dark horse screened via streaming media than via the theater, especially movies designed to be a sprat to catch a mackerel. Examples exist, such as 22 and A Cool Fish. Which movie, the “waist” or “bottom”, is more suitable for streaming media and which is more suitable for the cinemas? In what form will the competition and cooperation between the two categories take place? Wu Hehu, Song Jia and Jiang Wei shared their own views. Song Jia talked about how criteria applied to finding projects for streaming media are different from those for movies, while Jiang Wei talked about how projects fit in with the platforms. He said that the production of cinema films aimed for the greatest common ground among audiences and needed to achieve "empathy", while streaming media provides more freedom as well as a wide, virtual space, thus they have differences in space and time.
Wu Hehu said that the audience was mobile. Watching a movie on the big screen is like watching an oil painting in an art gallery, while the same painting displayed via the streaming media would become a stamp. These are different carriers. "Movies represent a group sharing mode for individual consumption, strengthening the sense of social interaction and ritual. Yet streaming media is free and casual. In the future, should movies be produced via streaming media, the costs can be cut, eliminating unnecessary stunts and scenes, thus shortening time."
Song Jia, Xu Zheng and Zhang Yibai predicted the future direction and possibilities, concerning the production of films released via streaming media and cinema films. According to Xu, the question concerning whether films released via streaming media can become hits merits sound research because streaming media and cinema are different media with different laws. He believes that as the streaming media evolve, new technologies for content creation are bound to emerge. "This technology is not an industrial technology, but a texture technology. In the future, the IP design may witness the linkage of streaming media and films, thus generating narrative connectivity to engage audiences."
Song Jia said there is no hit among films released via streaming media on a large scale, and it is a matter of time. "People have not determined to produce a hit, and we have not considered which is more suitable for an online release. There lies a big difference. The core of a film is spectacular scenes, while the films released online involve the consideration of how to achieve brilliance concerning the narrative rhythm, technological innovation and narratives. Featuring their own unique structure and knowledge system, films released online do not represent dimensional reduction attack.”
-Could the Window Period Protect the Cinemas?-
Economically, cinema can play a leading role, and the box-office can directly affect the post-market potential of a film; culturally, it creates a sense of ritual; from the viewing effect, it plays an irreplaceable role. The traditional means of protecting cinemas depends on the "window period", which spans about one month in China, three months in North America and three years in France. Films that have previously tried to defy the window period have provoked a backlash. But more recently, Universal Pictures has struck a deal with AMC, the largest theater circuit in North America, to cut the window period from 90 to 17 days. In addition, Jiang Wei stated that the Chinese movie theaters need to prepare for pressure in the future. He said, according to the practice of Universal Pictures, movies can be screened via streaming media after being released at cinemas for three weeks, which is not suitable for China market. He said: "At present, movies are screened in the movie theater for a month in China, and thus a window period of 30 days is more appropriate. As a result, it is not necessary to shorten the window period, sparing more time for film distribution and projection."
Video on Demand has a history of at least 30 years in North America, while it is occasionally adopted by streaming media in China. Generally, it costs 5 yuan for a film, while in North America, it takes mostly 5 dollars for a film. However, it costs 20 dollars for Trolls World Tour and 30 dollars for Mulan. On whether the charging model of streaming media would become the mainstream, Song Jia said that there is the possibility that new model would emerge. "There is no best model, but a better model."
-Would the Future of Movies Turn into An Expression?-
Reviewing the development history of films spanning a century, movies and other forms of art have witnessed mutual fusion and competition. At present, in addition to films such as the traditional feature films, and episodes among other main forms, there are highly popular short videos, live streaming events and video games featuring graphics on a par with movies. Hence, it can be concluded that images and graphics have been ubiquitous in people's life, and anyone can produce images anywhere at any time, which in theory can also be seen by an infinite number of people. In this case, should the definition of film be greatly expanded, or be more precise; should the sanctity of movies be preserved, or should it be seen as a means of national expression?
From their respective perspectives, experts have talked about the diversified development of films in the future, saying that the reality is constantly changing. Therefore, science and technology will see continued development even without the COVID-19 outbreak. Looking ahead, movies might adopt the forms of AR, VR and holography, involving sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch; perhaps streaming media can turn everyone's life into a TV show, with all the boundaries and definitions evolving.
The current conflict between cinemas and streaming media is likely to be a drop in the ocean, while competitors today are likely to be collaborators tomorrow. The pandemic will end finally, but humans will always be in need of good stories. When filmmakers create good stories in sufficient quantity, then each story will look for the most suitable platform. Platforms, whether huge IMAX or phone screens, will not be easily replaced as long as they have irreplaceable value.