The Marché du Film is the business counterpart of the Cannes Film Festival and one of the largest film markets in the world.
In more recent years, it’s grown to include XR as a core part of its programming.
Like many festivals this year, the Cannes Marché du Film struggled to attract the usual number of attendees from all over the world to its onsite location. However, during the three sessions I hosted as a part of Cannes XR live on-site, I watched stories unfold that were unlike any ever experienced before.
Hollywood Meets XR at the Cannes Marché du Film
Thursday night, before the main panel on Evolver-Prologue— a collaboration between Marshmallow Laser Feast, Pressman Film, Terrence Malick, Atlas V, and Orange’s XR division— we gathered on the rooftop terrace overlooking the promenade of La Croisette, the famous walkway that links the city with the golden beaches and green-blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
Arriving at 9 pm, I was ushered away from the hubbub of the filmmakers, producers, directors, actors, and technologists gathered on the balcony and into a small room adjacent to where guests were quietly experiencing a first look at Evolver-Prologue using one of four Oculus Quest headsets available.
In this highly-anticipated VR experience, I found myself in a dark world as an invisible spectator where I was taken on a journey through the human body. Rivers of red and blue particles rushed by— representing the flow of blood and oxygen through capillaries and veins. Branches of gray particles arched up from either side and stretched out straight ahead and over my shoulder. The skeletal human frame was bathed in omnipotent melodies that soundtracked the narrative of life, death, rebirth, and nature in this audiovisual journey.
Just over 5 minutes later, Evolver-Prologue was over. I was curious to learn more, understanding that this 360 piece, stylistically reminiscent of previous experiences by MLF such as Ocean of Air, was just a prologue the team was sharing in order to attract funding to develop a full vision.
As the evening continued—and the conversation with it—the amount of passion that had gone into the prologue became more clear, in addition to a strategic approach for mass-market distribution.
Evolver-Prologue VR Piece Situated for Mass-Market Appeal
The following evening we joined forces once again, this time on stage for the introduction of Evolver Prologue to the audience of the Cannes Marché du Film with Marshmallow Laser Feast joining remotely from the UK. The panel was an opportunity to learn more about each party’s involvement and their collective vision for development.
“Orange is betting more and more on XR content, not only VR. We think the future is XR, which is thinner devices and a mass-market audience,” said Guillaume Brunet, Head of XR Spain – Orange.
As Orange rolls out their 5G services, they plan on playing a bigger role in the distribution of content as a part of their subscription services, in addition to location-based entertainment that makes use of 5G for hybridized events.
When we broach the subject of the metaverse, Brunet says, “The metaverse approach helps us to be a distributor and creator of social experiences.”
It’s a trend we’ve seen rising sharply as of late. Social gaming platform RecRoom raised $100M thanks to investors betting on user-generated content, Manticore Games raised $100M to build a creator multiverse, and VRChat—just a few weeks ago—raised $80M as investors grow increasingly aware of the continued growth of digital worlds and the demand for new types of immersive content.
Market Growth: Where Film, XR, and LBVR Collide
“It’s exciting for us to think about the opportunity of merging the opportunities that film and XR offer us,” said Eleanor (Nell) Whitley, Executive Producer at Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF).
She refers to the way that film is sold and distributed, and how this model is nearly non-existent in the XR world, where MLF is considered much more a part of the digital arts scene.
“What we’re interested in in terms of market opportunity, is where is the success,” said Whitley, pointing to Atelier des Lumières in Paris and teamLab’s Borderless digital art museum in Tokyo. These location-based experiences received a respective 1,392,000 visitors in 2018 in Paris and a record-breaking 2,198,284 visitors in Tokyo in 2019.
“There’s a huge opportunity for digital media to play a role in these new forms of audience and ticketed experiences. We’ll continue to explore that with Evolver,” added Whitley.
Cinema is Here to Stay, It Might Just Look a Little Different
As for the film industry, the XR market potential is also catching the eye of influential producers in Hollywood like Edward Pressman and Samual Pressman of Pressman Film. The company is best known for American Psycho, Wall Street, Never Die Alone, and Bad Lieutenant just to name a few.
“In film, after the pandemic, everyone is questioning what is the future of theatrical movie-going experience, and I take the opinion that it’s still going to exist,” said S. Pressman. “Theatre goes back to the Greeks. We’re going to want communal experiences, being in the dark and watching two-dimensional frames, whether that’s in our homes or in theatres. Then you get into VR. The more immersive the headsets get and the more our phones are enmeshed with the way we perceive reality… the motion picture that Muybridge and the Lumière’s discovered is just evolving and changing.”
As for his role and the role of the film industry in XR, S. Pressman says, “There’s space for everyone. People are watching more than they ever have.”
When I ask about Pressman Films’ relationship with Terrance Mallick and why it seemed like a logical next step for their collaboration—one that goes back decades to Badlands in 1973—S. Pressman invited his father to join us on stage.
“When we were doing Badlands, we were making the rules up as we went along. Independent cinema was at a very early stage,” said E. Pressman. “There were really six companies, major studios, that controlled the whole industry. The evolution of the film industry… we dared to break the rules. When this subject came up, it was similar to breaking rules back then. There’s a new future of cinema and that’s where we started.”
“Taking risks is something that film requires. Not taking rejection as an absolute verdict. What we’re seeing here, is in its early stage, and where it leads, being unknown, is very exciting,” he added.
He claims to be no expert in this new medium, but when asked about market opportunity, he added, “The experience is something that doesn’t need much explanation. It’s exciting, and the potential even more so.”
Getting a Global Scale Hybrid VR Experience Off the Ground
The collaborators have one primary focus at the Marché du Film. It’s to demonstrate that now is the right time for the market and that their vision is the right one to be funded for global distribution.
“For Evolver there are a lot of opportunities. There are European subsidiaries that we know,” said Antoine Cayrol, founder and producer at Atlas V. He names the CNC and BFI as examples, highlighting that this route to funding is very different from the US market.
He explained that the goal is to leverage European culture funding as well as private funding from the US market. The various approaches to investment are based on pre-sales, licensing fees, and co-production where money is put upfront based on financial projections and revenue share.
It’s What Happens When you Take the Headset Off
Storytellers are gravitating towards XR. It presents a unique opportunity to transport audiences to new worlds where they can play either active or passive roles.
“VR is a technology that is hacking perception. It can trick you into thinking you’re in a different place than you really are,” said Barney Steel, founder and Director at MLF. “In that sense, it really differs from film where you’re in a room and observing the screen in front of you. In VR, you’re taken from your room and put in another place.”
“Part of the power of this perspective shift of the medium is that it can take you out of your skin, out of your body and first-person human perspective and occupy these other non-human perspectives,” added Steel. “When it comes to 5G, and the convergence of new technologies, it’s all leading to a deeper level of immersion in experiences engineered by human beings. There will be a lot of escapism, but we’re interested in what happens when you take the headset off and how the experience in virtual reality can affect your relationship with reality and other human beings.”
Measuring the Market for XR: An Upward Trajectory
Just this week, RoadtoVR published a report stating that VR content revenue grew by 30% in 2020, thereby situating itself as one of the fastest-growing markets in media. At the same time, there are rumors that Netflix is making moves to include VR as a part of its future content strategy after the company inked a new deal that gives Shondaland Media exclusive rights to produce VR and gaming content for the streaming service. In other news, Facebook’s head of AR/VR content Mike Verdu recently joined the company to lead Netflix’s push into gaming.
As for market returns, VeeR, a premium VR content platform, reported at the Marché du Film that eight titles in its location-based VR arcade ZeroSpace VR Cinema generated over $1M in revenue over the last year, with the top five in-demand genres being sci-fi, fantasy, action, thriller, and horror. While the venues current audience is over 90% male, location-based audiences demonstrate massive opportunities to reach female audiences, as VeeR’s findings for LBVR show a balanced audience of 46% male and 52% female.
Meanwhile, an average of 3,000 logins per day have been recorded for the online XR3 exhibition, a collaboration between Cannes, Tribeca, and NewIamges Festival, reports Michael Swierczynski, Director of NewImages Festival.
Feature Image Credit: Cannes XR