Co-pros are no-go

This week, instead of virtual reality, some cold hard reality: there’s no pot of gold waiting for you at the end of the Chinese co-production rainbow.

Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon and co-produced by Universal, Legendary, LeVision and China Film Group, succeeded in eliciting a universal “Meh” from audiences around the world, earning roughly $172 million USD in China (a figure which once would have been astonishing but now is unimpressive) and around $35 million USD in North America. With combined production and marketing expenses in the neighborhood of $250 million USD, and global revenues expected to peter out at $320 million USD (prior to exhibitors taking their share), it’s safe to say that investors in “the biggest-ever U.S.-China co-production” are less than thrilled.

On the bright side, we’ll hopefully be spared a glut of formulaic Great White Hope films set against the backdrop of other historical Middle Kingdom marvels, pimped by puffy Chinese real estate companies with their eager Hollywood studio mascots in tow. Folks actually have to think now, and that’s a good thing. So, let’s elevate that thinking with some straight talk.

First, the unfortunate fact is that…(full post on AWN)

Co-pros are no-go

Mixed reality takes off in the Middle Kingdom

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Rick Garson is a unique figure in entertainment. A colorful, controversial executive and entrepreneur, Rick’s range of experience includes promoting Michael Jackson’s “Bad” tour as well as creating and producing the Billboard Music Awards. He career has also been defined by innovation such as his development and promotion of the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels” pay-per-view music special, the first of its kind.

Rick first hit China’s radar in 2008, when he produced the Beijing Olympics’ “Divas in Beijing” concert TV series. Since then, he’s had his hands dirtied and his nose bloodied in the rough-and-tumble world of Chinese events and entertainment. Rather than turn tail and go home, Rick doubled-down and moved to China in 2013.

He’s now breaking new ground in mixed reality with his latest venture, VX Entertainment. VX Entertainment provides world-class content for the immersive media era, and features what may be the first high-end mixed reality showroom (at least the first of its kind in China) combining projection technology, virtual reality and holography.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Rick in his Beijing studio, experience VX Entertainment’s mixed reality showroom for myself (one word review: awesome) and ask some questions about where he is and where he’s…(full post on AWN)

Mixed reality takes off in the Middle Kingdom

The art of indirection

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The following is a transcript of my presentation on VR storytelling principles, “The Art of Indirection”, delivered on December 1st at the 7th International Conference & Exhibition on Visual Entertainment in Beijing.

I’m here to talk about the development portion of the entertainment workflow, specifically related to virtual reality. My own background focused upon production during the first half of my career, the 12 years I spent with Walt Disney Feature Animation. After moving to China in 2008, I shifted my focus to development. This development work began in traditional areas of film and television – which I have taught here at the Beijing Film Academy – and shifted to virtual reality over the past year.

Virtual reality requires a different way of thinking. I believe you’ve heard this already. There have been great comments made today on this point, not restricted to virtual reality, but related to any new means of storytelling. When Demetri Portelli talked about shooting at 120 frames per second in 4k, he said something obvious, but also easily overlooked: the director needs to think differently about how to direct; the actors need to think differently about how to act; everybody involved in the production chain needs to review their assumptions, to adapt and expand upon what’s possible in the new media environment. This applies to VR as well. It’s easy to bring your preconceptions and old ways of working into play. In this respect – and I’m not the first person to make this observation – the current state of virtual reality is very much like the early days of… (full post on AWN)

The art of indirection

Trump could be to China what Kim Jong Un is to the USA

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Recently, a friend of mine asked what the Chinese take on Trump is. I’ve only lived in China for eight years, am not exactly Chinese, and wouldn’t presume to speak for China. Nevertheless, I offered my opinions on what I’ve heard, read and gleaned – shared here for what it’s worth…

Most of the Chinese folks I know regard Trump with amusement. When my friends here tease about how screwed up the American democratic system is to permit such a farce, I gently remind them that the fact they know more American political dirt than Chinese political dirt speaks to the strength of the American system (in particular, our flawed-but-free press). And mainland Chinese people, from ordinary Zhou’s to officials, are still eager to offshore their money to the USA, buy property in the USA, send their kids to school in the USA, and obtain residency in the USA. As screwed up as we are, we’re still apparently a good deal. 😉

Earlier in the Republican primary cycle, there was a surprising amount of admiration expressed for Trump in China chat forums as “a real man” (mainland Chinese people generally put a premium on strength, or at least the appearance of strength), and a clear preference for Donald over Hillary, who is resented in China for the USA’s “Pivot to Asia” and her tough stance on the PRC (the Secretary of State needs to be the President’s teeth, so her words were usually sharper than Obama’s). However, Trump’s comments about China “raping” the USA in business (while he continues producing his clothing line in China – making him either pimp or whore, not sure which) eventually penetrated the Chinese consciousness and soured public opinion on him.

At the official level, Trump’s ascendancy is employed by PRC state media as an example of the “failed American democratic system”. Reading between the lines of mainland Chinese news reports and editorials (which are more or less the same thing), you get the sense that Chinese officials are on the one hand pleased that the world’s most powerful nation could find itself (mis)guided by an isolationist buffoon like Trump – much in the same way that Putin is clearly delighted at the prospect of a US president who can be baited with tweets and wanked with flattery. On the other hand, it’s clear that Chinese officials are unsettled by the prospect of Trump’s tiny hands on the nuclear football. Trump could be to China what Kim Jong Un is to the USA.

Trump could be to China what Kim Jong Un is to the USA

Happy birthday

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The term “ex-patriot”, used to describe Americans living overseas, has always struck me as pejorative. Like most people, I took a lot for granted while living in the USA – something that I never realized or appreciated until moving abroad. I’ve never felt more patriotic towards my home country, in the truest sense of the word, than I have while living & working in China for the past 7 years.

The United States of America has always been a messy, contradictory, aspirational work-in-progress, but this strikes me as the hallmark of a true democracy. The events of this past week have been a compelling reminder of this. Say what you will about the USA, but there’s no other passport I’d rather hold.

Happy birthday, America!

Happy birthday