Thessaloniki.- The Greek-American director of Fox Filmed Entertainment, Jim Gianopulos, concluded the 50th TIFF masterclasses series held on Sunday, November 22 in the John Cassavetes Theater. The event was occassioned by the “Great Ideas” incentive by Fulbright Program in cooperation with Stavros Niarchos Foundation and supported by the USA Embassy in Greece.
The masterclass was attended by TIFF’s president George Corraface, director Despina Mouzaki, US Consul General in Thessaloniki Catherine Kay, Fulbright Executive Director in Greece Artemis Zenetou, teachers and participants of Salonica Studio/Four Corners (TIFF’s Agora incentive in cooperation with MEDIA European programme); moreover, participants included 13 American students from the American College of Thessaloniki, currently taking part in an educational overseas student programme, in the framework of a TIFF and Fulbright cooperation.
“We would like to welcome again, two years after his award with the Golden Alexander in the 48th TIFF edition, a distinguished Greek, a man who has managed to transform Twentieth Century Fox and is behind dozens of the greatest box office hits of all times,” said TIFF’s director Despina Mouzaki in her opening speech, giving the floor to Ms Zenetou.
“At last the cooperation between Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the Fulbright Foundation, which has administered more than 4,500 scholarships to Greek and American students, is a reality. We would like to welcome you at the concluding lecture of the “Great Ideas” incentive, which started in 2006 in order to promote the dialogue between Greeks and Americans, inviting distinguished personalities from various disciplines of the arts and sciences,” remarked Ms Zenetou.
Next, the representative of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation took the floor, noting: “This is my 26th consecutive Festival attendance. You are familiar with Jim Gianopulos’s career in Hollywood, however, many of you may not be familiar with his equally successful activity outside cinema. He has been discreetly devoted to charities against reckless gun use, protection of minorities civil rights, and fighting diseases. Similarly, since 1996 our foundation has materialized or financed 1,740 programs pertaining to health, social welfare, education and arts and sciences over 88 parts of the world.”
Next, Jim Giannopoulos opened the masterclass, which was coordinated by graduate students Toby Lee, Fulbright scholar and PhD student at Harvard, and Danai Mikelli, one of the first degree holders of Film Studies School, Faculty of Fine Arts, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Jim Gianopulos referred to James Cameron’s new motion picture, Avatar, the first one filmed in the new 3D digital technology about to be screened. “After 15 years of perfecting 3D technology, this motion picture has finally become a reality. It has been a great journey and the outcome promises a wonderful experience for the audience. In Avatar, which has actually been filmed in a room like this one, there is nothing real, however everything looks absolutely natural. But the most important thing is that this film has a proper plot and characters, it’s not just another special effects triumph. It will be enjoyable even in two dimensions, even more so in 3D,” he argued adding that “the experience from 3D motion pictures of the 1960s is radically different. Back then, this technology was utilized in horror films and in fact used a certain trick: The monster looked like stepping out of the screen and attacking the viewers. Now, we aim to achieve the opposite effect: 3D technology draws viewers completely into the screen, into the film’s ambience. Great directors, such as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and George Lucas have already expressed interest in shooting their projects using this technology, which is gaining ground really fast. Until last year, the USA had less than 1,000 3D screens, but this year the number has rocketed to 4,000.”
Jim Gianopulos underlined that human expression cannot be ideally rendered by computers yet: “The greatest difficulty lies in arresting and digitally creating the expressions of the human face, because we spend our lives observing faces around us. Digitally constructed faces have always given the ‘impression’ of beng artificial. However, you will see that Avatar is much better than anything else in the representation of human expression. Naturally, there is bound to be further improvement in the near future.” Talking about 3D technology, Jim Gianopulos stressed: “The old 3D system, iMax, imposed serious creative limitations on the director, as he had to simultaneously move two caremas the size of a refrigerator. Nowadays, there is much more flexibility. Furthermore, thanks to 3D technology the viewer is offered a much more intense cinematic experience, by wearing multifocal glasses of grey lenses. In order to achieve the 3D effect, 48 frames per minute will be projected by two synchronized cameras – 24 frames for each eye interchangeably.”
Furthermore, Jim Gianopulos talked about the reaction of Hollywood’s film industry to the economic crisis. “In the past, new investors flowed in, asking to invest their money in cinema. The studios used to deny, because we already made the maximum number of films possible. I was wondering whose money it had been, sitting around waiting to be invested. Nowadays, we know that it hadn’t been real. To be fair, some of the films not embraced by the studios were made with that money. However, when we say ‘no’ to a project, it is because it’s not probable to succeed either artistically or financially.” And he added: “The impact of sudden capital investment in Hollywood was to increase big studio films by 50% or over, reaching 650 motion pictures per year. This resulted in cut-throat film competition and an escalation of marketing costs in order to advertize one at the expense of the other.”
Regarding his suggestions about Greek cinema, Jim Gianopulos remarked: “If I ever manage to shape Hollywood’s film industry, which I highly doubt, then I will tell you what should be done in Greece, too! However, it is important to develop the infrastructure for the exploitation of digital potential. I am not saying we should film 3D motion pictures, but I believe that a digital filmmaking facility could be established, like Peter Jackson’s WETA in New Zealand, a country less populated than Greece. I can’t argue that in the past everything was difficult and now it’s just a walk in the park. The only substantially easier aspect is the technologic ability in filming a motion picture. A student can film his idea in high definition video, using a 200 dollar camera and a computer to edit it. It opens many opportunities for young filmmakers.”
Talking about the aims of a film and the qualifications of a young filmmaker, Jim Gianopulos pointed out: “One aspect is to educate young people in film schools and other bodies. The development of the filmmakers’ abilities and talents is the single most important thing. The other part is defining the kinds of films you need to make: Will they be targeted at the domestic or the global market? It is my personal belief that the first choice should be a top priority, without disregarding the second. On an international level, you have to compete with 5,000 films annually.”
Commenting upon the exploitation of Greek natural resources in shooting foreign productions, Jim Gianopulos clarified: “I would be proud and happy if foreign capital was channeled in Greece, but it is a costly enterprise. Transporting personnel and equipment in Europe costs millions of dollars for each day of shooting. Even when this happens, nevertheless, the production understandably prefers a country like Bulgaria, which offers better economic motives and cheaper labor.” When asked to comment why most Hollywood motion pictures are targeted at a male audience, Fox Entertainment director replied: “It is partly a myth to believe that boys bring box office success. However, there is some truth in it. Girls are thinking over and over –for days and even weeks – about watching a film they know they will like, while boys queue at the box office on Thursday, before the film’s premiere!”
On the consequences of film piracy over the internet, Jim Gianopulos argued: “Today’s model, where every Hollywood motion picture costs 65 million dollars, is harder to maintain than ever. Because of online piracy, 10% to 20% of the income is channeled elsewhere. The excuse that one can find films on the internet for free, seems totally absurd to me – the young simply make up excuses in order to steal. The DVD market, by now a mature market with huge profit potential, witnessed a decrease in sales by 13%. If the percentage escalates, then it is definetely something to worry about.”
Finally, when asked about the film proposals he receives every year, Jim Gianopulos said: “We receive over 10,000 film proposals per year. About 200 of these projects are initially selected to eventually shoot 20 films. Let me just say that the Outcast remained in this preliminary stage for ten years and would have been rejected, hadn’t Tom Hanks insisted on it.”