Giant Screen: the opportunities with ‘event’ screened entertainment.

The Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) are a tight-knit bunch, representing the highly specialist giant screen industry — including dome theatres.

It’s dominated by one brand: the Canadian/American owned ‘IMAX Corporation.’ In fact, the industries suppliers, manufactures, distributors, agencies — and even the content creators — are over-whelmingly North American.

There is little interest in what happens outside of the US. The largest number of giant screens (and dome/planetarium-style ) theatres reside in the USA, although matching other industry trends, the US will lose that claim to China in the coming years.

IMAX have tried, like other US studios, to break the highly lucrative China and Asian market (mostly with third-party collaborations via the ‘Hong Kong back-door’), but the surface has only really been scratched and progress has been slow; not helped by high-profile litigation over alleged IP-theft with China’s State owned film monopoly China Film Group Corporation. Independent Giant Screen Producers and Distributors that have tried collaborating in China all seem to fall into the ‘once-bitten-twice-shy’ category, or their projects end up in the ‘too hard box.’

That is a pity. Not least because, generally, giant screen pessimism, is rife. GSCA talk is of how it is impossible to make films make financially sustainable; pointing to the high cost of giant screen production, and the decline in box office interest, despite the relatively long –tail of revenue usually associated with giant screen films (that can play in theatres for years, not months).

Digital production (and projection, and post) will help. The move to digital from the ‘IMAX film format’ of 15-perf, 70mm film has its detractors (who chiefly speak of the loss of creatively), but it will continue to go that way, without question. That brings cost down.

There should be more optimism: I believe audiences will continue to demand ‘event’ based screen entertainment: giant screen is hard to replicate in the front room; VR experiences (currently at least) are hard to calibrate as ‘shared experiences.’ Epic stories told in epic environments are still very compelling for audiences. The month-to-month growth of small screen consumption should not necessarily mean the death of giant screen.

However, if giant screen and dome screens are to be a bigger draw than they are presently, pulling people away from IP-delivered, mobile or other screen environments, they need to offer ‘events’ indeed. To achieve that, working practices have to change; not just to make projects commercially viable, but also to better engage and entertain audiences.

Commercially, co-productions have to become the norm. The US will be forced to look outside its own shores, or risk a slow death. In so doing, they will find creative and commercial partners who bring fresh eyes to the project. Sponsorship deals — now the bed-rock of a giant screen finance plan — have to be extended, and have to be more innovative. Smart and targeted marketing will continue to be vital (there are some good examples already, mind due).

Simply put, the films need to be better, taking account of the new creative opportunities presented by digital film-making, 3D, AR/VR and holography.

Better ‘additional’ and aligned content is needed. Innovative in-threatre experiences, to turn visits into genuine ‘event’ experience, need more consideration. Augmented reality content has the potential to make giant screen event experiences ‘active’ not ‘passive’ engagements. Those trends should be followed closely. ‘Live’ giant screen content should be considered again. Interactivity is crucial — more content in the ‘negative’ 3D space (ie: the content that ‘jumps out’ in front of a 3D, giant screen film) rather than flat 3D work. The stuff that makes us sit up: the stuff we can’t get with any other platform.

There is opportunity. Especially for the creative and the connected.

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