For Immediate Release
Creative Industry Insiders Discuss Survival Strategies in Pandemic Times
Aug 27, 2020, HK: The fifth Tipping Point Webinar organized by China Daily, themed “Taking the Show Back to the Theaters in the Time of COVID-19”, was held today with an aim to help artists and creative professionals gain new insights and opportunities in the current challenging environment. People associated with and interested in the future of cinema, theater and live shows from across the world attended the online event.
The webinar featured four creative industry insiders and key players – Mr. Albert LEE, executive director, Hong Kong International Film Festival Society; Mr. LOW Kee Hong, head of theater (performing arts), West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Hong Kong SAR; Mr. TANG Fu Kuen, curator, Taipei Arts Festival; and Mr. Fred WANG, chairman, Salon Films (HK) Ltd – who shared their insights into finding sustainable ways to restore artists' livelihoods in the short and long term. Mr. Teddy CHEN, producer and director, Sum-Wood Productions Ltd. shared his views on the topic in a pre-recorded video.
A Combined Effort is Needed to Get through This Tough Time
Albert LEE pointed out that cinemas are in great difficulty at the moment because of reduced capacity owing to social distancing restrictions and all the stakeholders should work together to help the industry survive, instead of relying solely on the government to bail it out of the crisis. He said the biggest expenditure of running a cinema in Hong Kong are the rentals, followed by staff salaries and film producers’ fees. Thus a combined effort from everyone is needed in order to keep the cinemas afloat.
“Now is the time for us and the artists to discover more possibilities to maintain our presence. Meanwhile, we need to engage with different audiences continuously,” said LOW Kee Hong. He added that “in the longer term, we need to start thinking about different financial models. We need to rethink about the choices of platforms and how we can monetize different platforms so that artists and staff can be paid properly. It is really essential to acknowledge that art is not for free.”
“Since the social-distancing measures are still in place, people going to the theaters need to follow the health regulations,” said Low, drawing attention to the vast outdoor spaces in West Kowloon that could be utilized for staging live performances while complying with the social-distancing measures.
Fred WANG felt the onus was on the government to take the lead and support the cinemas and other cultural venues which had stopped operation temporarily when social-distancing measures were enforced. He advocated turning theaters into multipurpose venues – using them to hold elections and games, for example. We need to turn cinemas into venues hosting different functions of society, he said.
TANG Fu Kuen said, “We (Taipei Art Festival) are very lucky as audiences and artists are able to enter the theaters. I have rejected all kinds of online programs which means that I resist this whole digital fatigue. Instead, we are combining the digital element into the performance in order to lift the overall quality.”
The New Normal and New Opportunities of the Film Industry
Albert LEE pointed out that since all new big international releases were on hold, it had opened a window for showing local independent films in Hong Kong cinemas which were kept open when much of the world was under lockdown. In response to a question from one of the moderators as to whether it might be possible to create a space to show such small-budget homegrown films in a post-coronavirus scenario, Lee said, at the end of the day, “film is a business – which means returns are an important consideration.”
He mentioned that a number of films made before COVID-19 struck were awaiting release. So investors are going to be very cautious with making any new investments. They will consider the audience response to the reopening of cinemas and reviews of newly-released films before making further decisions, he added.
LEE said the rise of streaming platforms was not necessarily a bad thing. He welcomed the idea of people viewing films on multiple platforms like cinema hall, home theatre, live-streaming platform and television.
Fred WANG said the film industry needed to try out new business models and observe whether the current environment can support these in a sustainable way.
“In a post-COVID world, people may not watch films in the cinemas. There may probably be billions of people watching 3D or augmented reality films at home,” said Wang, noting only a very few film studios like Disney has the money and production expertise to make good use of such technology. Even popular streaming platforms like Netflix are lacking in new content due to the pandemic, he pointed out, adding, “Content is king. Good content is needed before getting a mass distribution in the market.”
The Film Industry is Going to Achieve Higher Growth post-COVID World
Albert LEE predicted the recovery of the film industry in three to four years. He said it was necessary to recalibrate the entire industry in order to adapt to the “new normal”. It will be a long recovery process. He said he was still very hopeful about the prospects of the film industry in the long run while being concerned about its short-to-medium term development.
Fred WANG saw a bright future for the film industry. He envisioned the traditional film business developing rapidly and maturely, and believed injection of new blood in the industry will develop a new business model in order to support the improvement of the whole industry. He pointed out that the film industry should not just care about the quality of films and revenue earned but also about raising the standard of film appreciation in society.
Teddy CHEN, director of hugely-popular films such as Bodyguards and Assassins, said in a pre-recorded video played at the webinar, going to the cinema was a social act and an experience that watching movies online at home cannot replace.
“Take rich households as an example. They will have a screening appliance at home. The problem is, despite having good audio electronics and a 100-foot screen, watching movies with few people at home cannot replace the experience of the cinema – where you share the joy with hundreds of people, and the intense atmosphere while watching thriller movies. The emotions are different,” said CHEN.
“Some of the artists in the industry will remain in melancholia for the better days of the past. They may not be able to cope with the future, while others will have that will and wisdom to move on. And they will be the ones who will renovate and innovate for survival,” said TANG Fu Kuen.
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