April 2016 - Formerly on VirtualScreen Blog

It's this week's news that a bidding war was happening secretly in Hollywood, and it was supposed to be top secret. The reason why was supposed to stay behind the scene, it's because we are talking Pokèmon. Right now, three studios are active in the bidding: Warner Bros., Sony, and Legendary, the latter one said to be very close to winning.

Now, this article won't be about what consequences a Chinese conglomerate (which Legendary is part of) will cause if actually brings home the rights of one of the most significant Japanese properties, which apparently is concerning a lot of outlets (but if business is business no matter what, it shouldn't be too critical). Instead, a personal opinion on how an adaptation of Japanese properties (novel, anime, manga, video games) should work.

First off, I'll start by saying that I'm not a fan of those adaptations that tend to be super-faithful to the source's plot and facts (when it comes to fiction, of course). Because the mentality of being faithful to those things eventually makes you forget the differences between a book/game/cartoon and a movie. What is in it doesn't necessarily translate appropriately into the big screen. If you see, the more faithful adaptations are not necessarily the most acclaimed. Zack Snyder's Watchmen, who took the comic book vignettes as storyboards, is probably one of the most faithful adaptations ever, with studio driven changes, that, even if we include the ending, are overall minor. What works in the comic book, doesn't necessarily work in the movie (for example, the funeral of the Comedian is really fast while in the film is a very long sequence); the biggest problem of this adaptation that the satirical and social value of the original novel is wholly lost, since the influence of Nixon and the cold war mindset by 2007 (the year I presume the movies started pre-production) was just an old story to tell, ergo we didn't really care about those. There are rumors that a studio wanted the movie to take place in the George W. Bush-era. In this case, although much more challenging writing, would have given more chance to the filmmakers to make a version of Alan Moore's work relevant to our times, giving a different take on the material rather, maintaining its core objective of provoking, which is arguably more important than the plot, in this case.

That's one of the reasons why V For Vendetta worked so much, because, by changing a lot of significant things (the protagonist above all) from the original comic book, the Wachowskis-written blockbuster is still relevant nowadays as a thought-provoking film. Anyways, you can check any adaptation (including Lord Of The Rings) and realize that change sometimes is best for the adjustment (flow-wise, and, well, market-wise).

Now, after a long digression on how an adaptation should work, let's go back to the actual point of this article: the arrival of the Japanese properties in Hollywood.

There's no denying that Japanese anime/manga/games are the next target here in California. Since the superhero scene is held by the triumvirate Warner, Disney and Fox, and the active billion-dollar making franchises are just a few (Marvel, Star Wars, Transformers, Pirates, Fast & Furious), and they are all based on well-known properties, it's clear that studios are going after anime shows because they are known, they have a following and their premises are potentially really marketable.

As of now, we have two studios that own significant anime properties: Fox owns Dragon Ball (even after the horrible movie they released in 2009), while Lionsgate owns Naruto. Yes, technically Warner owns both All You Need Is Kill, whose adaptation was released under the name Edge Of Tomorrow (I know, the original name is so much cooler), and Godzilla, but the first is a graphic novel (adapted from a book), and the latter was a movie already, so it required a minor adaptation. Also, Sony owns Metal Gear Solid, of which since the announcement with Kojima doesn't seem to go anywhere.

For instance, Dragon Ball is probably the most popular anime property in the world. Nowadays, after 32 years since its manga debut (30 for TV), is perhaps a half a billion worth franchise, and potentially bringing it up a billion with proper work towards a live-action film series.

However, adapting Dragon Ball is tricky. Firstly, it visually requires a lot of restyling, which equals a realistic time of pre-production and pre-visualization of no less than 1/1.5 years to do it properly; all the creatures, characters and environments need to be re-planned a redone by giving a proper amount of time (including hairstyles, especially hairstyles) in order to make them suitable for a worldwide audience to see on a big screen. Secondly, due to the overwhelming popularity of Z over the original series and giving for granted that the studio would want more adult Goku than young Goku right away, the introduction of the world and the character(s) set up needs to be re-written. All of this wasn't in mind of Fox when they did the horrible movie; I guess it was done to renew the rights (they had them since 2003). That said, all of this work is necessary if the studio wants to make Dragon Ball a saga into a Star Wars-style series (and the potential is there). Funny enough, the fighting sequences are not a problem: the ending fights of both Matrix Revolutions and Man Of Steel state that is possible.

Naruto, on the other hand, could be a more straightforward adaptation to work on, as its original series was quite popular as well. Given that, it still requires a re-visualization as a re-write; not as much as Dragon Ball, but no less critical. The best way to approach the Ninja world, personally, would be Harry Potter style: as we stated, the original series popularity before, a movie series where we see the character grow up could correctly work for the franchise. Also, would give longevity, perhaps making the plot adaptation more fluent.

The plot, in both cases, is a tricky problem. Both manga and anime are long-form narrations: 52 episodes year-round anime in Japan, and 52-chapter year-round for mangas. The entire Dragon Ball Z anime consists of 291 episodes, 444 episodes if we count the original series too, which would go over if we count the Super and the no-more canonical GT series. And differently from the most extended US TV series The Simpsons which has aired more than 500 episodes without a continuous storyline, anime shows have a constant story of which a significant number of episodes (I would say 90%) is necessary to keep up with what's going on. Naruto, on the other hand, eclipsed that number. All this to just say that us western people consider American TV Series with 24 episodes a season a long-form narrative. Compared to anime, that's short.

Another thing to keep in mind is that no Anime is made with the idea of being exported. Japanese culture doesn't work like this. Dragon Ball became popular probably due to the similarities with Superman, and its violence (Attitude Era wrestling was making huge ratings on TV during that time), Naruto shares some features with the Toriyama series, from characters to fights.

Very few video games are made with the international audience concept in mind. Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, and Pokèmon are probably the only ones that are specifically produced to be also exported.

That said, the Pokèmon adaptation needs just a visual work, plot-wise is a free pass. The anime was cool at the time, but the games are what made the property important, and those have no real story. Potentially, Lionsgate could get their hands on a Transformers-style franchise.

Regarding Metal Gear Solid, the story is a hybrid between a western and a Japanese novel. Visual elements from both cultures are present in the plot, the trick here would be to decide how to approach the property. Kojima was attached to supervise the project, but since he divorced from Konami and consequently from the video game franchise I don't know if he still there.

I guess all this interest in Japanese properties came because of two movies.

The first, Pacific Rim: without being an actual adaptation of any property, Del Toro wisely took elements of the kaiju culture and some anime features (Neon Genesis Evangelion was an apparent reference for the Jaeger design) to bring his epic to life. What made the big difference was the right amount of time for pre-production.

The second one is Edge Of Tomorrow. After reading All You Need Is Kill, you can see significant changes have been made. The setting was wholly westernized, and the creature/world design was obviously westernized too. However, the core of the story is there, and it's one of the most beloved movies in the last three years. In fact, despite a not at all impressive box office run (which was barely enough for the film to break even), it's getting a sequel thanks to its fan following and appreciation. Not something executives in Hollywood won't notice

That said, Edge Of Tomorrow may bring some complications to the most purists fans, which we can see already in the Ghost In The Shell adaptation. Since the westernization of the movie worked so well, we are going to see it in everything based on a Japanese property. And of course, will start from the casting. Tom Cruise for All You Need Is Kill, Scarlett Johansson for Ghost In The Shell, Nat Wolfe for Death Note. All of the movies, of course, will get different settings, meaning most likely the film won't take place in Japan, but in the US. Even the long gestated Akira adaptation is rumored to take place in Neo New York, rather than the original's Neo Tokyo.

Now, even if you don't like the idea, people should need to approach this realistically: this movie, to be appropriately adapted, requires a very high budget. We are talking about $150 million at least, except Death Note, which could get away with a $25/30 million budget due to its minimalistic concept. All the others need a huge budget, and, to go profit, studios and investors will want big names to bank on. Meaning star power, which means American/British actors, which of course means different settings unless you go for an 'I moved out of my country' story. And it's not necessarily a bad thing; it doesn't mean it's not a well-done adaptation. And if you think I'm justifying western-washing, I'd instead define it as an explanation for it.

A lot of people, though, would argue that a lot of manga/anime characters don't look Asian, but western. It is a fascinating point, which is complicated and not at the same time. While the drawings don't always represent Asian countenance (at least in those like Dragon Ball or Naruto), it's not required to do so. One of the essential points made by fans online, who most of them have studied, either for hobby, passion or more, the culture, Japanese people assume those drawings represent Asian people because for them the Asian physical features are the standard. And it's not a racist thing, is just the truth. For us, those drawings represent caucasian people because for us that's the standard, those are the features we are exposed since we were born. The same things happened to them. So, yeah, they are technically still representing Asian people. At the same time, though, for movies like Dragon Ball, Pokèmon, and Naruto, which all take place in fictional worlds, the idea of race can be cheated out easily.

As much as a utopia, especially considering proper pre-production when most studios are eager to make money right away, but if they want an adequate adaptation to base on a franchise, they should follow this mindset.

June 2016 - Formerly on VirtualScreen Blog

VS: Virtual Screen
CA: Cihan Atkin 
YZ: Yazan Khalaf

VS: For the people who don't know, what is XCINEX?

CA: “XCINEX is a premium content streaming service that will offer front row access to live events, concerts, theatrical movies, musicals, operas, comedy shows, ballet performances, Vegas Shows, and much more. How? By replicating the theatrical model, through a pay-per-viewer model. We are able to stream any event that currently would require you to physically attend a venue and purchase a ticket.”

VS: How does XCINEX work?

CA: “XCINEX is a plug and play system. Purchase your very own XCINEX device (audience detection sensor) When XCINEX begins taking orders. Once your hardware arrives, simply mount it on top of your TV as instructed in the easy to follow manual. Power it up and follow the instructions on your TV screen to complete the setup. After setup is complete, using your XCINEX username and password, log in to the platform, select the content you want to watch, purchase tickets, and let the entertainment begin. It’s a one-time purchase. No commitments or contracts are required. If you are not entertained, you can return the hardware within 60 days for a full refund and cancel your membership.”

VS: How did the idea of XCINEX start?

CA: “The idea started in 2012 when I was playing around with Netflix. I was upset because I had this beautiful home entertainment system but no premium content to enjoy it with. My choices were limited to old catalog content, content that I can watch elsewhere for free.”

“In this day and age, consumers are wanting more – they want access to theatrical content, new content and live entertainment like concerts and Broadway show without having to leave the comfort of their own home. They want instant gratification. This is the obstacle my team and I have been trying to solve for the past three years. The reason why users cannot watch theatrical content and live events from home is because the content creators have no idea how many people are in the room. Plain and simple,” Cihan says.

VS: What kind of audience are you trying to attract?

CA: “Our target audience is people with from various demographics. People who have physical disabilities, the elderly, those who live too far from a concert venue/movie theater. Parents; especially parents with toddlers who have difficulties getting out to see a movie or a concert. The list goes on and on.”

VS: As I’ve seen on the demonstration you have on your website when the device detects an extra person in the room, the screaming would stop. Is that correct?

CA: “Yes, but not instantly. We allow up to a minute and a half of playing time; or whatever time limit the content owner sets, to let the ‘extra-user’ watch an X amount of minutes to preview the content and decide whether or not they will want to buy a ticket. Or, if someone enters the room such as carrying laundry, groceries, etc., it will allow the actual viewers to keep enjoying the content without any interruptions.”

VS: Also, nowadays, or at least here in LA, movie tickets start at $15 bucks, with IMAX going as high as $22.

CA: “In Washington DC and Maryland area (the city where the company is based in, NDR) the ticket prices are the same; around $15 - $25.”

VS: Since the system is streaming the content directly from the internet to your TV, can you tell us what your anti-piracy measures are?

CA: “Great question! XCINEX is not your typical Hulu box or Apple TV, because XCINEX gives consumers’ access to content worth millions of dollars and not available anywhere else, we have created a robust registration process and multi-layer security measures to prevent piracy from taking place. 

With our model, security starts with registration/membership. To become an XCINEX member, you will be required to verify your identity by entering your name, physical address, SSN (soft credit check), fingerprint or retina biometrics. Your XCINEX profile will have to be linked to a credit card/debit card or your bank account.

The member’s XCINEX ID number will then be watermarked to all the content you consume.

Our technology is capable of recognizing and detecting any recording device being used in the room, using a combination of reflective-lens technology, pattern, and object recognition. If a smartphone or camcorder lens is detected by the device, the content will pause until the device is removed from the content viewing area. “They can’t pull out their smartphones or camcorders to record or even live to stream the movie.”

“The XCINEX member agreement is also a strict user agreement. If you are caught stealing content, you're directly liable for it. You are also liable for your guests (since they may not be necessarily registered to the service). The fines are up to $250,000 per viewer. It’s a hefty price to pay for a movie but stealing is a serious problem that we intend to eradicate. With XCINEX, not only are you subject to legal consequences but you will also damage your credit. So, why even risk it! We plan to create a movement that will really eradicate piracy.”

VS: What about privacy?

CA: “XCINEX does not have the memory to store images. The XCINEX Device is fully disconnected from the internet while detecting the number of people in the room. Once the detection is complete, the device connects to the internet to send the necessary information to the server. The device will not have a memory to store the images of the room.  XCINEX was specifically designed so even if it was hacked, nothing would be on it. Your personal privacy and private entertainment experience is our utmost priority. We strongly stand behind our privacy policy and proudly protect our members.”

YK: “So no Ashley Madison risk here. Jokes apart, we really thought about everything, from both a privacy and piracy standpoint.”  

VS: Have you been in contact with any studios already

CA: “Yes of course. We have successfully formed and have strong relationships with all 6 major Hollywood Studios. Everyone is waiting for us to finish the final product to test. We have also established relationships and obtained LOI’s from independent and foreign content providers from various entertainment industries.”  

VS: This was one of my points when I talked about Screening Room. The theater, to me, is the main option to experience a movie. However, not every time that is possible, so having an alternative would be nice. 

CA: “I'm a big movie buff myself and I usually go to the movies mostly for the IMAX experience; an experience that I won’t be able to replicate at home. However, not every film is meant to be experienced through IMAX. For example, a comedy, horror, or drama; you don’t need to experience in IMAX 3D. Also, the inconvenience of going to the theater, dealing with parking, noisy people, overpriced concession, and inconvenience is just not worth it for some movies. Also, consider the sick, elderly, handicapped, families with toddlers, people who live too far from a theatre, those who don't like going out into public. There is a huge market that would prefer XCINEX.”

“You see, these executives are confused. The movies are not the best place to socialize. It’s all about seeing the movie. For the price of 2 tickets and concessions ($50), a couple can go bowling, mini-golf, painting, pottery, zip-lining, paintball, tubing, rafting, etc. Don’t take my word for it, just visit GROUPON and see for yourself. So, it’s not about going out. It’s about watching a movie. XCINEX is about bringing the content to your home and making it easy for you to access it anytime as long as you are willing to pay-per-viewer.” 

VS: Although that billionaire knows more than any other millionaire about Piracy since he kind of started it.

CA: “Absolutely and we respect Sean Parker for revolutionizing that technology back when the moneymakers were too lazy to innovate or even give Sean the time of day. I have also reached out to him to congratulate him on the Screening Room, which really just validates what we are doing here at XCINEX. However, at the end of the day selling a $50 ticket for a two-day viewing will hurt the industry because it does not replicate the per-viewer model. What it does is give the consumer the opportunity to periscope and pirate that content, it gives consumers the opportunity to watch that content 4 times over, with several different people at a time. Overall their goal is the same as ours and I respect that, I wish them the best of luck in their mission. However, as far as a solution, they’re not quite there.”

YK: “To be fair, concept-wise, we are not the first ones. Prima Cinema is actually the first application to deliver brand-new movies playing in theaters at home. However, the targeted audience is not the everyday consumer since it has a price of around $45.000 for installation and around $500 a movie. It’s tailored for the super-elite who can’t go to a public venue. XCINEX changes all that and offers everyone the option to watch from home.”

VS: Which is too high-end.

YK: “Exactly, so why deal with all of that? We basically created a cost-effective system for the masses, avoiding the exclusivity ploy that Prima Cinema uses to target the elite 1%.”

VS: Your model is undoubtedly a challenge to the industry like Netflix was when it started. However, you’re taking on also live events, including sports, which is what I would like to talk about right now. The pay-per-view business is not as ‘alive and well’ as it was before. WWE for example, which had a good chunk of that market, moved to over-the-top subscription service. UFC right now is the biggest business pay-per-view wise, has their revenue heavily connected to whoever is featured in the event. And, of course, there’s boxing. So, my question is, which kind of events XCINEX would cover beyond these two?

CA: “Obviously we will not cover regular weekly sports like NBA and FIFA, because they are not following the pay-per-view model. We will cover the pay-per-view event. We will be additive to the industry because we target people who would rather stay home and not pay $100 for pay-per-view because they are alone or with just a few people, or they don’t want to go to a sports bar.

Fight wise, I think XCINEX would help. As you know, the pay-per-view business is struggling (at least $49.99 for standard definition, with some exception like Mayweather vs Pacquiao, marketed at $99.99), because they currently base the price on how many people would watch it together in the room, which is a guestimate. Thanks to our technology, we are able to offer a product to those consumers who are slipping away. XCINEX would generate more sales for the fight because it could bring in more viewers. A $10 ticket per-viewer would ensure everyone watching is paying to witness this epic fight as well as provide accurate analytics. If there is a large group, pay-per-view would be a more economic choice so we are really not competing with pay-per-view. We are additive to it.”

CA: “When it comes to concerts, here’s the thing: let’s say Beyoncé is going to the Staples Center, and it sells out. So the millions of people who want to see the concert are out of luck. Why not sell the streaming for $10-$15 per viewer? Or whatever the performer wants to charge per viewer. If she wants, she will be able to stream the concert to the whole world for $15 a person. Guess what? Her revenue would skyrocket and her concert would probably make history as the concert seen by the largest live crowd in the world.”

VS: What are some kinds of additional features you guys are going to offer?

CA: “Well, the trailers of content will be available. We will also allow the purchase of any tie-in product (action figures, hats, shirts, etc.) through our system. Digital downloads of the movies, which won’t be available until the theatrical release is finished, will be downloadable on any device. The soundtracks will also be available right away to enjoy on any device. So in time, XCINEX Members will have built their own library of content; accessible from any of their devices.”

“Our subsequent patent will revolutionize TV programming as well. Because of our tech, we can provide TV programming on an individual a la carte basis. For example: Imagine having a TV Guide with all the channels and when you pick a channel (HBO), it says this channel is $0.10 per-person-per-hour. This model allows you to pay for what you watch and never pay for bundled channels. Our long-term goal is to become a global content streaming platform. Our models are designed to maximize revenue and exposure while keeping everything affordable for mass consumers. This feature will also allow advertisers to market more precisely since we will be able to tell them exactly what kind of audience (demographics) are watching their ads.”

YK: And, just to be clear, all the content presented on XCINEX will only be available through XCINEX. If it’s available through YouTube, Netflix, or anywhere else, it will not be available since it would defy the concept of XCINEX itself.

CA: “A feature that we are planning to add is a section called XCINEX Community. XCINEX Community will give professionals an opportunity to create a channel and grow their brand. For example, let’s say you are a certified personal trainer and you want to make training videos to grow your audience base and exposure. With XCINEX you will be able to have your own channel to stream your training sessions and charge per-viewer.”

VS: Your goal is obviously to arrive to a global presence, is that correct?

CA: Absolutely.

VS: In the end, what is your overall goal?

CA: “To entertain the world, of course, but also to keep the balance in the industry. Right now, there are some issues with the exhibitors being ‘all-powerful’. Then you have the studios that are getting their ass beat by the exhibitor because the exhibitors have a chokehold of the industry. So, we had to create a way to integrate this concept and seamlessly cut in the exhibitors, which was for us very simple. Our solution is to let the consumer make the decision.

When you are finalizing the transaction for a ticket, a pop-up comes up with a list all the local exhibitors (remember, this is just for theatrical movies). To complete the transaction you have to pick a theater from the list, which would most likely be the exhibitor you would go to if you weren’t using XCINEX. Then, 20% of the ticket goes to that exhibitor. Doing this puts more control on the consumer’s end and will give the exhibitor added revenue. Exhibitors can potentially generate revenue 24 hours a day with XCINEX and from content that they may not be even playing in their theaters.”

“XCINEX will expand the audience for a movie – not shift it from the cinema to the living room. It does not play off studio against theater owners. Instead, it respects both and is structured to support the long term health of both exhibitors and distributors – resulting in greater sustainability for the global film industry itself.”

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