The 5 Hot Topics at CineAsia

Courtesy of PVR Cinemas

As Asian exhibition explodes, the Hong Kong-based trade show this year concentrates on accelerating the momentum.

CONTINUED GROWTH OF 3D

CineAsia -- the annual Hong Kong-based trade show dedicated to the Asian exhibition sector -- may kick off with presentations on light levels and high frame rates, but don't be fooled by all the wonky tech talk. In a sign of just how high-profile the event has become,  James Cameron's producing partner, Jon Landau, will present 15 to 20 minutes of footage from the upcoming 3D conversion of Titanic for Asian exhibitors during the trade show, demonstrating just how important the conference has become to the global film industry.

Landau hopes Titanic 3D will impress key attendees from around the region, especially since he believes Asia has embraced the format more than other markets.

"More and more, our industry relies on a global business," he says. "Because it is an emerging market, there are places in Asia that didn't have theaters 5, 10, 15 years ago. As those theaters have rolled in, they did so on the digital platform, which make it very easy to accommodate a 3D presentation. So the percentage of screens in Asia that are 3D is pretty high."

Naoshi Yoda, founder and CEO of Japanese exhibitor T-Joy -- which currently boasts 190 screens and 19 sites -- says that while 3D remains popular,  exhibitors must adapt quickly when the novelty begins to fade.

"Last year was lauded as the first year of the '3D era,' " he says. "For film promoters it was a record year. But we must continually create new value for customers [because] I believe we are entering a survival era where only the film promoters who can achieve this will remain standing."

In addition to the Titanic footage, Landau also will screen some higher frame rate demonstrations. Frame rates are the number of images displayed by a projector within one second. Twenty-four frames per second has long been the standard in cinema, but Landau will demonstrate the use of 48 and 60 fps, which he and James Cameron suggest offers a more truthful image.

"We have the ability with the same projectors that are rolling out in the marketplace," he says, "to do a firmware upgrade that allows them to run at higher frame rates and that changes the in-theater experience not just for 3D movies, but for 2D films as well."

THEATER UPGRADES

Luring consumers out of their living rooms to pay for movie tickets has become increasingly challenging with the advent of HDTV and state-of-the-art video games.

CineAsia will address the situation with a panel called Enticing Customers to the Cinema, presented by Don Savant, president of theatre development and film at Imax China.

In an effort to stay competitive, exhibitors throughout Asia are emphasizing theater improvements, as Hong Kong-based Multiplex Cinemas Limited did recently by becoming the first exhibitor in China and Hong Kong -- where it has a total of 31 screens --  to adopt Sony's 4K projection system.

CineAsia honoree Jo Yan, Disney's senior vp studio distribution for Greater China, is confident that there remains no equal to the moviegoing experience, and points to upgrades in the Chinese market that run the gamut from more comfortable seating to better sound and scheduling.

"As the theatrical business grows exponentially in China, cinemagoing is becoming a social activity," says Yan. "The cinemas are comfortable and air-conditioned, with state-of-the-art sound systems and 3D visuals. More people in China are getting used to watching films in theaters."

Yan will be on hand when Disney presents footage of Marvel's upcoming The Avengers, John Carter -- the first live action film directed by Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (WALL-E) -- and Pixar's Brave.

CRACKNG THE CHINESE MARKET

China's increasing openness to collaboration will be examined during a co-production panel involving CineAsia Producer of the Decade Terence Chang (Red Cliff), 20th Century Fox International Productions president Sanford Panitch and Hong Kong producer Nansun Shi.

 For many CineAsia attendees, gaining a larger foothold in China means navigating a film sector that plays by its own rules. The quota system, which allows just 20 foreign films a year, is a particularly thorny issue with distributors eager to put their best foot forward in the region.

"No matter how big a studio is or how many potential blockbusters it produces, there are only so many slots," says Disney's Yan. "The other problem is gross sharing. In places outside of China, take for example Hong Kong, the distributor gets about 47 percent of the gross. In China, the gross share for the distributor of imported film is only 13 percent to 17.5 percent. So distributors have to be more prudent."

ALTERNATIVE USE OF THEATERS

Digitalization has provided exhibitors with a new source of revenue, and CineAsia will turn its attention to how savvy exhibitors can use theater venues for more than movies.

"From the very establishment of our company, we have eschewed the term 'cinema complex' and presented the idea of 'entertainment complexes,' " says T-Joy's Yoda.

To that end, T-Joy has experimented with a number of alternative digital screenings, including broadcasting live feeds of concerts and sporting events. So far the response has been encouraging: A theatrical presentation of the 2010 World Cup in 3D took in $337,000 at the box office and sold 19,351 tickets.

Says Landau: "European sports are all shifting to 3D -- soccer, racing, even cricket. What 3D does for live events is to make the audience feel as if it is there. As traveling becomes more expensive and parts of the world more dangerous, 3D is going to give you the same sense of being there."

Alternative content will be on display at CineAsia with a screening of Madame Butterfly 3D, presented by RealD and the Royal Opera House. The film is a 3D version of a live performance of the play at London's Covent Garden in July.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Aside from thematic presentations, panel discussions and summit meetings, the Hollywood majors continue to rely on CineAsia to generate regional buzz for upcoming releases. This year is no exception: In addition to the Titanic footage, 20th Century Fox on Dec. 7 will present a special screening of Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Not to be outdone, Disney will offer attendees a screening of Steven Spielberg's World War I epic War Horse later that day.

CINEASIA 2001 HONOR ROLL

Distributor of the Year: Jo Yan
Senior vp studio distribution, Greater China, the Walt Disney Co. (Shanghai)

Yan, who leads all sales and marketing aspects of the Walt Disney Studios in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, is a CineAsia veteran who has attended the trade show since it began in the mid-'90s in Singapore, Thailand, Macau and Beijing. Yan heralds the choice of Hong Kong as the location in recent years, adding that the year the trade show was held in Beijing "was too cold, especially for the delegates from the tropics."

Exhibitor of the Year: Naoshi Yoda
Executive officer, Toei Co.; executive managing director, T-Joy Co.

A forward thinker dedicated to Asian co-productions, such as the Japan-Korea collaboration The Way -- Man of the White Porcelain, which he exec produced through the production company AmazonLaterna, Yoda founded the theater chain T-Joy in 2000 under powerhouse studio Toei, and was instrumental in the company's digital conversion, as well as what he calls "ODS" -- other digital stuff -- such as sports broadcasts and 3D versions of live entertainment.

Producer of the Decade: Terence Chang
Producer (Face/Off, Red Cliff, Reign of Assassins)

As a producer on such East-meets-West hits as John Woo's Face/Off and the historical epic Seediq Bale, which is currently representing Taiwan in the Foreign Language Oscar sweepstakes, Chang knows plenty about creating crossover successes.  Future projects include the English-language remakes of Woo's 1989 actioner The Killer and Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 gangster classic Le Samourai, with Woo attached to direct the latter.

Female Star of the Year: Li Bingbing
Actress (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame)

In recent years, the Chinese star has seen her international profile grow steadily as a number of her projects have crossed over to audiences in the West. After holding her own alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the 2008 fantasy actioner The Forbidden Kingdom, she found herself working with Hugh Jackman in the Wendi Deng-produced Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Bingbing is now in Canada making the latest sequel in the Resident Evil franchise, Retribution, which is due out next year.

 

 
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