Forum looks at new normal for post-pandemic film industry

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 31, 2020
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Film executives join in the discussion at the Global Film Industry Value Chain Development Forum held during the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival, July 27, 2020. [Photo courtesy of the MPA]

International film executives and filmmakers discussed and projected the new normal and new challenges for the global film industry at a forum held on Monday during the ongoing Shanghai Intentional Film Festival.

The festival is a major film event since the 180-day shutdown of the Chinese film market due to the COVID-19 outbreak in January. Since July 20, Chinese cinemas have started to resume work, but the pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped the whole industry worldwide. 

Fu Ruoqing, vice president and CEO of China Film Co., Ltd. as well as chairman of Huaxia Film Distribution Co., Ltd., said in his keynote speech that the pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis to the film industry and is also forcing the film industry to upgrade. He also expressed his confidence in the Chinese film market, saying: "The fact that I am able to be here today to discuss the future of the industry with you all proves that investment in Chinese film, talent and audiences will not leave."

"With the new normal brought on by the pandemic, the impact on streaming media is more outstanding than on the traditional film industry," said William Feng, vice president of Asia Pacific and head of Greater China of the Motion Picture Association (MPA). "For the global film industry, the main change is the screening window, which is becoming shorter and shorter. Actually, if the audience wants to have an immersive movie-watching experience, they will still go to cinemas. But mid- or low-budget films could choose distribution via streaming. So, a diversified viewing pattern will be the future trend."

Feng noted in the first part of the forum that their member companies, such as Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros., are investing significantly in streaming media. "But cinemas are an immersive experience with social attributes that cannot be replaced."

Richard Gelfond, CEO of IMAX, joined the forum via video link. He said the impact of COVID-19 on the global film market is inevitable, and it will take some time for the global film market to return to normal. But he agreed that he has never had any worries about movie theaters, because the movie-watching experience brought by movie theaters is completely different from online platforms, and the theater experience is irreplaceable.

A Beijing cinema reopens on July 24, 2020, after being closed for 182 days due to the pandemic. [Photo/Xinhua]

Rance Pow, founder and president of Artisan Gateway, said that, as he sees it, in the long run, the film industry is still optimistic but may face challenges in the short or medium term. Due to the pandemic's impact, 10 - 15% of the world's cinemas may be permanently closed, and the cinema industry may face integration and reorganization. 

"Now, other film markets in the world are gradually recovering. For example, in European countries, such as France, 80% - 90% of movie theaters are reopening one after another, and audiences are beginning to return to theaters." As the box office gross of Chinese cinemas exceeded 100 million yuan (US$14.3 million) in the first reopening week, "this is a good result and has sent a positive signal to the world film market," he said.

Recently, the fantasy adventure film "Double World" debuted online in both China and overseas in late July thanks to a deal with iQiyi. The film raked in 42.62 million yuan, a new record for a premium video-on-demand (VOD) title in China. Netflix purchased the distribution rights outside of China.

At the forum, Yang Xianghua, president of Membership & Overseas Business Group of iQiyi, was uncertain about the challenges ahead: "The combination of online and offline methods will be the new normal. At present, the new model for online and offline releases is still being explored, such as what films are suitable for online distribution, how to broadcast, and how to price them, as well as problems of how long is the window period and how to split revenues? I hope we can explore a multi-line win-win situation for future films."

Wang Zhonglei, co-founder, vice president and CEO of Huayi Brothers Media, hopes the market will recover as soon as possible. "As a producer, we have a lot of content to offer. China's film industry has been united during the entire pandemic. During the market recovery period, Huayi is willing to be a responsible company."

Starting from the second half of the year, Huayi will release films on every important film season, and it also has plans to film three or four movies to contribute to the market, he revealed.

Regarding the streaming media, Wang Zhonglei put forward suggestions: "According to the feedback from the platforms, movies that had been released in theaters performed better in streaming media. In the future, streaming platforms can customize a movie with the producer and only play it on the platforms. But it doesn't have to be low-budget movies."

In the second half of the forum, directors and producers discussed how to improve Chinese film production. 

Jerry Ye, founder and chairman of Qing Song Films, believes that the Chinese film industry is still in a relatively primitive stage of industrialization. "China has a long history and abundant stories, as well as a huge and passionate market, but we still lack excellent and practical talents," he said.

Producer Belle Avery joins in the panel via video link with filmmakers at the Global Film Industry Value Chain Development Forum held during the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival, July 27, 2020. [Photo courtesy of the MPA]

Director Lu Chuan was impressed by the professionalism, high efficiency and precise operation of the foreign crew when he made his Disney wildlife documentary "Born in China" and has great expectations for the future of Chinese films. Lu believes that Chinese filmmakers should take on the crucial responsibility of maintaining the openness of films and international exchanges.

Producer Belle Avery said that she is happy to see more Chinese filmmakers in international cooperation. She suggested that Chinese films should learn to tell Chinese stories from a global perspective, let more international filmmakers participate in Chinese film production so that the global audience will accept Chinese films more and be more interested in them.

The forum is co-hosted by the Shanghai Bureau of China Media Group, The MPA and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival will run through Aug. 2.

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