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The future of film

What next for the movie industry? A researcher is helping film-makers in Hollywood plan ahead
Vision Arts and Culture The future of film

Hollywood and academia are not familiar bedfellows. Movies, the most popular form of entertainment of the past century, have generated countless works of scholarship yet few have looked beyond film as a cultural phenomenon and engaged directly with film-makers to work with them on the challenges facing them today.

Fewer still are the academics who have forged mutually beneficial collaborations with the industry’s big players and influenced practices in studios.

For more than a decade Dr Gianluca Sergi has been building links with screen industries and his research into how they innovate to address challenges such as streaming is resonating with film-makers – in the USA as well in the UK and in Europe.

It was following a workshop on innovation delivered to Hollywood executives that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy invited Dr Sergi to present his work at a meeting at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Academy, which brings together people from every aspect of the film industry and has an influence far wider than the Oscars, wanted to hear Dr Sergi’s thoughts on no lesser subject than the future of film. Safe to say, even for an academic with unparalleled connections with the industry, he was deep in uncharted territory.

A few stats...

177 million

190 million

13%

UK cinema tickets sold in 2018, up 3.7% on 2017 and the highest since 1970

The number of cinema screens worldwide, growing at a rate of 7% year-on-year

Rise (to £41 billion) in global box office 2013-18
Source: British Film Institute
Source: Motion Picture Association of America
Source: Motion Picture Association of America

In an era when Netflix as a film-maker rivals all Hollywood’s studios combined, the Academy wanted to know: will going to the movies still be relevant to future audiences? More fundamentally, when movies are created, distributed and consumed in so many new ways, can we agree what a ‘watching a film’ actually means?

It’s not the first time that cinema has faced such existential challenges – television springs to mind – and Dr Sergi is bullish about its prospects. Data from the Academy, the National Association of Theatre Owners in the US, the British Film Institute and other film organisations, shows film-going remains in good health. His research also indicates how differential pricing could help capture from a variety of social backgrounds.

To the lifelong movie fan, the cultural importance of film – and the shared experience of watching movies in a darkened room – are inextricably linked. He has nothing against Netflix and believes it could introduce a new generation to film. But in these fractured times, Dr Sergi believes shared cultural experiences are more important than ever, telling Vanity Fair: “What are the opportunities for people to go and share a communal space and enjoy an experience together, without worrying whether or not you voted for Trump or for Brexit?

This is a fertile time for my research. The data I am seeing indicates we could see a golden age of cinema-going
Dr Gianluca Sergi

“Almost every country right now has a fundamental issue of a lack of social cohesion and a lack of opportunities where people can remind each other that, fundamentally, we love stories. We love laughing; we love crying. If you remove that element, if you say, ‘Cinema can die, it’s not a problem, we can still watch films online,’ what you are doing is, you’re removing the social contract—and you do that at your own peril.”

As well as influencing Hollywood studios on issues such as technological change and creative practices, and informing the Academy’s strategic vision, Dr Sergi’s research has had an impact closer to home. He has helped Nottingham City Council develop a strategy to support local film industries and build partnerships with their counterparts in Germany and China – which the city says has provided “advice, access points and contacts, without which the Council’s international strategies wouldn’t have existed”.

In Germany, Dr Sergi’s collaboration with MEKA, a group of TV and film SMEs, led to one of its members adopting a new operating model and creating a post to cement his recommendations.

Dr Sergi says the importance of informed, strategic thinking for an industry that employs millions worldwide and entertains many millions more, should not be underestimated.

“This is a fertile time for my research. The data I am seeing indicates we could see a golden age of cinema-going, with most of the world’s population living in cities, and better access to transport and leisure.

“The film and TV industry are project managers par excellence – how a film is created and delivered is a thing of beauty, thousands of people working together on delivering a creative vision. Where my research comes in, and by building a platform for collaboration, is helping this industry examine its processes and better anticipate long-term challenges.”

Gianluca Sergi

Dr Gianluca Sergi is a Director of the Institute for Screen Industries Research and an Associate Professor of Film Studies in the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies.

Vision magazine front cover - Issue 4, Autumn 2019

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