Live at Horizon

Please note that the information currently given below refers to the EFM Horizon 2019 and is shown in order to offer a general insight. All relevant content will be updated as soon as it becomes available.

"Live at Horizon" features up-to-date reviews on recent events and interview series with key players of the film and media industries on cutting-edge market trends and innovations. Journalist and filmmaker Andrew Houchens joins all EFM Horizon events and meets entrepreneurs, producers, distribution and sales agents sharing their opinions on the latest industry developments.

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EFM Horizon
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EFM Horizon Recap 2019

EFM Horizon Opening

"There is no more science fiction; there is nothing new to be imagined that we can't already do." This was the provocative theme at Horizon's kickoff with storytelling technologist Alex McDowell, who presented his work with USC's World Building Institute as its Creative Director, Experimental.

"World building" employs story narratives as a tool to predict and address real-world scenarios and challenges. Some of McDowell's current virtual "worlds" are doing anything from exploring ways to fight poverty to examining the pathway of an insulin cell. His work with things like spherical storytelling and mixed reality can help imagine the future for a variety of industries, including film and entertainment.

A veteran film production designer turned pioneering storytelling academic, McDowell suggested that film was the most conservative of all industries he's worked in, and pushed for the use of story augmentation and 3D world building as a means to allow us to think more closely to the way our brains actually work.

In a "post-cinematic" world, forward thinking around narratives can take us to the next level of storytelling, enhancing the way we regard traditional filmmaking altogether.

The Transforming Force of AI: Hype or High Potential?

Can AI change the way we make content? Apparently yes, and very much so. At Friday morning's AI session at Horizon, experts discussed various forms AI is taking in the current media landscape, including predicting film budgets and even writing dialogue.

With film as a "linear" medium, Data Scientist Sadaf Amouzegar argued that AI can only be an enhancement for film producers. Elevating existing tools beyond our imagination to save time and money in the production pipeline, her company RivetAI's software is focused on problem solving solutions which arguably allow more time for creativity.

Kathleen Schröter -- Head of Marketing and Communications for the Fraunhofer Institute, a leading European research institute for digital society -- furthered Amouzegar's comments, saying that she was very hopeful about AI and the current state of entertainment. Instead of dreading that AI will drain creativity, we should be realizing its potential to assist existing models, giving more time for our own creative processes to flourish.

Interactive Session and Panel on Blockchain

With blockchain still mostly a buzzword for a broad portion of the film industry, experts and skeptics alike gathered on Saturday at Horizon's blockchain session to debate the still-emerging technology. Comprised of an interactive demonstration and presentations in the morning and a panel addressing monetisation and curation in the afternoon, arguments for increased data transparency for producers were among the praises sung about blockchain.

"But blockchain isn't going to make people watch your movie, no technology can do that", said Stu Levy of the Producers Guild of America. While blockchain won't necessarily help filmmakers find audiences, it was argued that it can help incentivize influencers to bring audiences, though learning who your audiences are is the foremost important thing. "We can't wait for the distributors to do the work for us, we need to learn how to interrupt the model and sell films for ourselves", pointed out Sam Klebanov, entrepreneur and CEO of the start-up Cinezen, a VOD platform using blockchain technology.

And Manuel Badel, a digital media strategist and financier, suggested that traditional distributors are maybe the most skeptical of all blockchain skeptics. He went on to explain the various benefits of the technology, including its ability to improve rights management for artists. The debate about blockchain is certainly still an active one, so it will be crucial to follow the space in the coming months and years to see how and if "traditional" industry will adapt the application.

Focus on VR

Has VR jumped the proverbial shark, or has it yet to hit its peak? VR experts, creators, distributors, and platforms gathered Sunday at EFM's fourth VR NOW Summit to debate this and much more. One thing was certain: there are still plenty of challenges facing VR, including monetisation and mass market adaptation. Why is VR not more successful now than how forecasters predicted it would be a few years ago?

Liz Rosenthal - immersive and interactive pioneer and director of Power to the Pixel - broke it down to the fact that headsets aren't yet comfortable enough for consumers. She predicted that headset designers will take another three years or so before they get it right, and when that happens, VR will be a platform with practical everyday uses, like a smartphone. Rosenthal discussed the various distribution opportunities for VR but said top festivals aren't yet exhibiting it as an established art form and instead as an emerging technology, creating further challenges. In her role as a VR programmer at the Venice Film Festival, they have made a major priority of showcasing VR work alongside films in competition, breaking down preconceived notions of audiences and critics alike.

Bob Cooney - leading global authority on location-based VR - furthered Rosenthal's remarks, noting that another big challenge is getting consumers just to try VR, in turn enabling them to understand its value and immersive capabilities. But he was hopeful, celebrating the transformative potential of VR and its ability to resonate with audiences "at the deepest level." He recalled a 1997 conference where the question of VR's market adaptability was the main focus, and said that he is confident the medium is finally plateauing. The industry should continue to explore and realize its strengths, and ask itself how VR can address the incredibly immersive nature of real life in media and entertainment.

"To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." So said Buckminster Fuller, a theme shared by White Rabbit CEO Alan R. Milligan at Monday's 5th annual EFM Startups presentations. White Rabbit is using blockchain technology to monetize peer-to-peer streaming, essentially turning piraters into film fans and supporters by allowing them to pay a fee for otherwise "illegal" downloads. While the new technology relies on good will, it also taps into a massive audience of new "fans", far beyond the reach of global subscribers for Netflix, for example. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality," suggested Milligan.

The other nine invited startups would concur, presenting everything from a global database to search and source archival material (Archive Valley) to audience biofeedback technology measuring audience analytics (LMDP Pro). AI, blockchain, and VR were themes through all startup presentations, a further reminder that these "trends" are becoming more and more of the mainstream, with the future already here.

At Monday afternoon's "Smart Production" session, Norwegian director Erik Poppe highlighted the importance of creative collaboration in a small country like Norway, where the need to work closely together and rely on new tech has led to forward-thinking developments around production processes and strategies. Poppe's innovative use of technology in films like U-July 22 and The King’s Choice has made him a celebrated early adaptor of new technologies in the global film industry, but he says this came more from necessity than experimentation: "We are dependent on the development of technology, it's so important, especially with the size of the industry in Norway." This notion has undoubtedly made Norway more competitive in the global market, bolstered by creative startups like the three companies that presented alongside Poppe: Drylab, Storyline, and Gimpville. All are applying new technologies with the goal of making film & TV production cheaper and more streamlined in Norway, and beyond.

Crossing the Bridge between Tech and (Online) Distribution

Building off last year's initial session bridging tech companies with VOD distribution platforms, Tuesday's follow-up aimed to take things to the next level. Participants were tasked with brainstorming concrete solutions to problems like improving audience reach and consumer experience via existing technologies. Weerada Sucharitkul, founder of UK-based streaming platform FilmDoo, emphasized the importance of risk-taking and an openness to new tech when exploring these issues. That's exactly how she founded FilmDoo, creating a platform for films she'd only heard about but wasn't able to see online or in London theaters because they didn't have formal distribution. Using sophisticated data tagging and a very specific recommendation system, FilmDoo has expanded to over 15 countries in five years and is still growing. The consensus for all was that conversations between VOD and big tech should remain open, and ideally a formal organization could be established so that they can communicate and meet up more regularly!

Think Tank to Inclusion

The Re:Vision Think Tank also followed up on a previous event, with a goal of providing actionable solutions to address increased inclusivity in the film business. Held in collaboration with IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project), the first Re:Vision was held in September at IFP Week in New York. This edition aimed to broaden the conversation and provide a forum for transformative change in the industry, bringing together diverse filmmakers, execs, and festival leadership to exchange ideas and brainstorm strategies.

One takeaway was that the need for more formal reporting and data around diversity needs to be shared, with report's like 2018's McKinsey report demonstrating that diversity on teams (whether film-related or not) has proven financial profitability. But without numbers, facts, and figures to back up points like this and without influencers and decision-makers to hire and support diverse filmmakers and execs at a broader level, inclusivity just remains a talking point. Industry also has to walk the walk, using inclusion riders and other concrete tools to ensure that diverse profiles of all backgrounds and experiences are invited to the table.

© EFM / Loanne Nodin

© EFM / Loanne Nodin

That's a wrap on EFM's Industry Debates 2019, and our heads are still spinning! Over three days various issues were discussed and addressed with experts from all corners of the industry (and the world), including future-proofing production in an ever changing landscape of distribution, strategies for making more diverse and inclusive films for all, and VR as a marketing tool for traditional media and existing IP.

With New York based indie veteran Anthony Bregman giving opening remarks on his producing experiences at Friday's opening Debate, the conversation expanded with European producers Linda Beath and Claudia Bluemhuber joining the table. All three producers agreed that more and more films are made based on algorithms in today's day global streaming platforms, and that films cannot be made based on data alone. Filmmakers must be true to their own voice and stories foremost, but they also must be allowed to fail and to make films again. Sometimes the "failures" are what lead to true learnings and successes down the road.

Filmmakers and execs at Saturday's panel on changing the narrative in film sales, distribution, and marketing to make more diverse and inclusive films seconded this thought. Especially for minority filmmakers and filmmakers of diverse backgrounds, the industry puts too much pressure on the success of one film, expecting for example that a black director should be making films for all black audiences. This notion was criticized as obviously unrealistic and greatly outdated. Screenwriter and AMPAS member Misan Sagay said incremental gains had been made in diversity for writers and directors, but still much more needs to be done to ensure opportunities for minority and female talent. "The people with outdated thoughts used to make decisions and something has to give to get those people out of the way, because the audience is ahead of us."

The final Industry Debate on Sunday highlighted VR's ability to bolster marketing for existing intellectual property and traditional films and series. Mária Rakušanová (VIVE, Raindance Film Festival) discussed the case of a recent VR project she worked on adapting a story from the Bible, which was presented to the Pope at the Vatican. While the Bible is one of the oldest forms of "IP" around and probably doesn't need help with monetisation, it was an interesting example of how VR is reaching new audiences through its immersive and diverse potentials.