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Transforming Hollywood conference to explore evolution of entertainment industry

(Katelyn Dang/Illustrations Director)

By Eden Yeh

Dec. 2, 2021 10:50 p.m.

Media is transforming on a transnational scale.

Transforming Hollywood is an annual conference that explores developments in the entertainment industry on a domestic and global scale with panelists in academia, visual effects, business and film production. Open to students, scholars and industry professionals, this year’s conference will focus on U.S. Streaming and International Co-Productions and will take place Friday. Denise Mann, the co-director of Transforming Hollywood and a UCLA professor of cinema and media studies, said the accelerated growth in streaming services has been underway in recent years, but its expedited expansion beckons further discussion into the importance of international co-productions to produce original content.

“With the introduction of highly competitive streaming services, … we’re seeing a massive uptick in production of original TV series seeking access to global or transnational audiences,” Mann said. “We grabbed three big territories – Western Europe, Central-Eastern Europe and Asia Pacific Rim – to document this much more expansive trend.”

The global perspective on streaming will be discussed in four panels covering the evolution of French media culture, international co-productions in Central-Eastern Europe, social dynamics among fandoms, and fantasy worlds created in Asia. Mann said that in addressing recent news and media transitions across the globe, the conference will embody a holistic approach to analyzing storytelling in the digital age.

[Related: ‘She Kills Monsters’ brings fantasy, drama to life in theater production]

While streaming services have impacted the traditional theater-going experience for global audiences, Mann said the need for high-profile, original content among streamers has introduced an even greater push for movies and series with high production values. The incentives for streamers to invest in international co-productions not only lie in the tax rebates and reduced regulatory controls, but also in the creative inspirations led by local mythologies and fantasy tales, Mann said.

“Tech streamers like Netflix and Amazon, but also the Hollywood streamers, really need original TV series with exciting, prestigious original content to keep capturing more global subscribers,” Mann said. “One of the tactics I found intriguing is this idea of the fantasy-history hybrid, and it seems to be the way that they’re able to overcome cultural barriers.”

The fantasy-history genre is becoming a popular theme among streamers given its roots in territories like Europe and Asia and its ability to capture the attention of domestic audiences, Mann said. While streamers are exploring opportunities for international co-productions, France is engaging in questions surrounding the impact streamers are having on the country’s established media culture, said Violaine Roussel, an affiliated scholar at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. These topics will be covered in her discussion on French productions in a world of streaming with panelists from Gaumont Television, UniFrance and Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Roussel said.

French media’s auteur nature and the country’s support for local productions through government subsidies are traditions that have faced recent challenges in light of global streaming, Roussel said. Rather than remaining unyielding to changes in the digital age, France is creating more local content with greater global appeal in a diversity of genres and capitalizing on streaming growth to share French cinema across the globe, she said.

“The goal is not just to make content successful locally, but it’s to make it successful everywhere where the platform is established,” Roussel said. “When the major streamers decided to really focus on developing their teams in various territories and making content locally, it opened up opportunities for local creators, filmmakers, (and) producers to become more visible globally.”

[Related: UCLA research initiative to screen film examining anti-LGBTQ+ policies in Chechnya]

The rising visibility of content from around the world is not only a goal of France’s cinema culture but also a natural reaction to the expanded digital connections made among physically separated communities.

Henry Jenkins, a co-director of Transforming Hollywood and USC provost professor of communication, journalism, cinematic arts and education, said content distribution is at the forefront of connecting global audiences. Thus, the conference’s third panel will discuss fandoms that arise in the transcultural landscape of streaming services and invite panelists with knowledge in Korean media, American audience viewership and piracy, Jenkins said. As fandoms in regulated territories continue to seek out their desired media, he said piracy and mechanisms controlling distribution will be topics of discussion beyond the scope of the conference.

“We will have a pretty good snapshot of these dynamics of circulation, of which the streamers are one key player when we look at the historic role of fans and pirates and diasporic communities – opening up a market for this international content,” Jenkins said.

The democratization of media is the focus for this year’s Transforming Hollywood conference and outside discussion happening among audiences, media scholars and industry leaders, Jenkins said. As streamers seek out original content to produce and distribute on their platforms, he said audiences and the formation of fandoms will adapt to these changes as well.

“The streamers have been really instrumental in their co-productions,” Jenkins said. “I personally don’t see this as a step toward a monoculture so much as a step toward a more cosmopolitan culture where we have a deeper understanding of each other through our popular media.”

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