With his first studio tentpole about to swing into theaters, Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts today appeared on a panel titled “Innovation And The Big Screen Experience” here at the CineEurope conference in Barcelona. Asked his feelings about features versus television, he said, “I love the movies. Everyone always says the same thing about the shared cultural experience, seeing things on the big screen, the church of the cinema… But on top of all that, as a filmmaker, I love having people be trapped in a movie theater, forcing them to watch what I made.”
Watts got a good chuckle from the exhibitors assembled in the room and added, “Film is a temporal medium as much as it is a visual medium, you’re playing with time and you don’t have that ability where someone can pause at home. That’s such a fundamental part of what makes filmmaking exciting to me. I don’t really have as much interest in any other medium. I just like the control,” he laughed.
The discussion this morning centered around that church of cinema concept and also the challenges facing exhibitors as TV continues to permeate. Big data and innovation were constant themes.
In order to keep attracting audiences to the cinema, Vue International founder and CEO Tim Richards said, “We are focusing on a back to basics type approach. Seat, sound and screens. We have seen its a bit of a game-changer if you get it right, particularly with reclining seats,” he said. “People tell their friends and family.” Proprietary big screens also “tends to be direction Vue is taking,” because size does matter.
On data, Richards said there’s a great amount available, the question becomes “how to harness it.”
Watts asked, “Isn’t most of the data controlled by people and companies who are incentivized (not to share)?”
Mikael Lovgren, Chairman of Sweden’s SF Studios agreed. “It is the whole value chain. By opening up all this data it will help.”
Richards chimed in, “We have 100M customers we can target. I think we’re in very early days. I would love to target every person in our markets who’s ever seen a Marvel or superhero movie. That’s the future, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Jean Mizrahi, founder and CEO of Images Group/Cinemanext, added, “Exhibitors will more and more become their own marketing agents.” And, there will be more and more demand for solutions to manage the relationship with customers. Software analytics, forecasting is becoming more and more important.”
Partly, that’s because the “video world is moving much faster than cinema,” said Mizrahi. “When TV series are produced in HDR, the quality is absolutely outstanding. I believe the big screen needs to catch up with television. For the first time, TV is ahead and that’s a big issue.”
Talk also turned around the “hundreds of versions” of films that are made now from 3D to different Atmos mixes and shaking seats. Watts said he likes to be involved at every point as much as possible, but he focuses “on one ideal viewing experience and set that as the highest bar.”
Creative decisions lean towards that bar, he said, and “everything else is essentially a compromise. It’s important to try and stay involved at every level and important for filmmakers to embrace that idea and make sure when people do go to the movies they’re having an experience of something they’ve never had before.”
Although this is a European conference, growth in Asia naturally came up as a subject during the panel.
Lovgren thinks the customer experience in Asia “is more advanced than in other parts of the world.”
Richards sees Chinese money going into Hollywood as a positive and that the “internationalization” of the industry and of movies is a good thing. “We forget it hasn’t been that long, it was 1994 that international receipts first passed receipts in North America… suddenly having international on your business card didn’t mean that you were being parked at the studio, it meant you were kind of leading things.”
Since then, “The studios’ commitment to marketing and promoting for international audiences has been massive and that helps all of us,” Richards continued. “The Chinese wave coming in now I see as a very constructive positive one.”
Asked about one key innovation to help secure cinema’s future, Richard said it’s “having great movies; great movies that drive our audiences and working with our partners.”
For Watts, he’s “still pretty new at this,” but offered, “It’s all about making an experience, you go to the movies to see something you’ve never seen before. You want to get different people out there with different voices. So you see awesome huge spectacle or just a small unbelievable story you’ve never seen before. You go to the movies to be transported. That’s the responsibility of filmmakers and the people that hire the filmmakers — to try and find new dreams we can all share together.”
Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming begins its international rollout on July 5.