28/11/2013, by CLAS

The ‘creativity challenge’: fears and opportunities

One of the privileges of working as part of the Institute for Screen Industries Research (ISIR) is to witness first hand one of the most dramatic shifts of power in the history of the film industry, namely the growth in influence and importance of China as a film market. Since we have been lucky enough to develop strong ties with Hollywood studios, organisations and filmmakers over the years and we are now in the process of building those ties in China too (most recently in May and October this year) this puts us also in a position to be able to offer a rather unique perspective in that we are in effect third party witnesses to this shift and its two major actors.

China is on everybody’s lips in Hollywood: sometimes the word is uttered in genuine recognition of its growing influence in the film industry (China recently surpassed Japan to become the second largest market for films in the world, topped only by the combined North American territories of the US and Canada, the so-called ‘domestic’ markets); at other times it becomes the synonym of a toxic mix of frustration and fear: frustration at the very complex nature of doing business with Chinese companies, fear of the consequences that China’s growth is already having on jobs in Hollywood, in Los Angeles in particular. It’s not quite ‘fear and loathing in LA’ but not too far off either.

This already difficult situation is compounded by the fact that China is by no means the only concern: there are a number of other territories (a word preferred to countries as the latter are often grouped in geographical areas for film analysis purposes) whose stake in the global film industry is growing dramatically. A recent major report on the future of the film industry (PWC) indicates the eight fastest growing territories in 2013-2017 period as follows (in order of growth): Indonesia, MENA (Middle East and North Africa), India, China, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Russia.

Speaking at a recent Hollywood event, President Obama identified creativity as the unique selling point for the US: ‘In the global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody else is creativity. That’s something that can’t be copied (…). Even with new markets and new technologies, there’s still no better place to make movies and television and music than right here in the United States.’ For all the talk around technology and emerging markets, creativity remains the key to the continuing development of one of the most dynamic sectors of the global economy. All main questions appear to revolve around the notion of creativity and how it can be ‘managed’: identified, fostered, harnessed, packaged, distributed, enjoyed.

However, the combination of fears about jobs (a protest from individuals who had lost their industry jobs to overseas operations took place at the same time as Obama delivered his speech), lack of in-depth analysis on industry dynamics (financial, managerial and cultural), and the rush for ‘easy money’ (from China, Dubai or any another cash-rich government wishing to take a seat at the top table of the industry) makes for a very dangerous mix that runs the risk of freezing the entire industry into a sort of circular thinking, inward-looking position where the same ideas are circulated by the same experts through the same outlets. It really looks as though more creative thinking around creativity is needed.

History may provide a good starting point: arguably, it was the migration of human and financial capital from Europe to Hollywood that made this industry what it is now; as then, the challenges the current landscape offers today are more than matched by the potential growth that the whole industry could enjoy if the appropriate opportunities and mechanisms for creative exchanges were developed and supported by all interested parties (studios, filmmakers and governments).

University research and student talent can play an important role in facilitating this process by providing a different kind of catalyst to the mix, the kind of in-depth R&D capacity on addressing the creativity challenge that the industry evidently needs at present. The recent ISIR visits to China and Hollywood for high level consultations with a number of leading industry players and studios reinforced this conviction: the New Year will bring a host of opportunities to develop the dialogue with both China and Hollywood, with several events being planned both in China and at Nottingham.

We look forward to working with all relevant individuals and organisations, within the University and globally, to ensure that academia plays the role it can (and should) play in this arena.

Gianluca Sergi (Director, Institute for Screen Industries Research)

Posted in Culture, Film and Media