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CinemaCon: Korean Immersive Format ScreenX Targets Hollywood and China

China these days is in love with all things culturally Korean, from TV shows to boy bands. Hoping to expand that trend is the cinema technology arm of Korean exhibition firm CJ-CGV, itself a sister company of the powerhouse producer and distributor CJ Entertainment.

Having previously launched 4DX, a successful reinvention of the moving seats and environmental effects concept, CJ-CGV is now doing business with ScreenX immersive technology. Next week it will take the kit to the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas for the second time. There it will be targeting not just North American theaters, but Chinese exhibitors in attendance who are currently opening thousands of new cinemas per year.

China’s Wanda Cinema Line has been one of the first companies outside Korea to adopt ScreenX and Chinese smash hit “Mojin: The Lost Legend,” which Wanda co-produced with Huayi Brothers and Enlight Media, was one of the first foreign movies to be engineered for the ScreenX experience.

ScreenX delivers a 270-degree immersive experience by using two additional side screens in addition to the cinema’s existing main screen. Depending on the size of the theater, each of the side walls are lit by up to five projectors which display content that wraps around the viewers.

The package of projectors and control center, which together cost some $400,000, can either be retrofitted into an existing theater or be part of an original installation. And it still leaves theaters conventionally 2D and 3D capable when they are not showing ScreenX content. CJ-CGV foresees exhibitors adding one or two ScreenX auditoria into a multiplex as a way of offering cinema-goers more format choices and of encouraging fans into multiple visits.

Adapting movies for ScreenX may be done either at the production stage, or later in post. The images on the side walls can be original content shot by the film director or a second unit, or a matter of background extensions and CG extension graphics.

“We really hope that as the format becomes better known that filmmakers will appreciate the possibilities and increasingly shoot original material at the time of principal photography,” said Choi Byung-hwan, ScreenX executive VP.

For the first two years of its existence ScreenX was only available in Korea, where CJ-CGV is the largest exhibitor. Of its roughly 1,000 Korean theaters, 75 are ScreenX auditoria. In the last year it has begun to sell the kit abroad, lifting the total to 90 today. China leads the way with 10. Thailand’s Major Cineplex has been an early client and there are currently two in the U.S., in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

The technology unit is as ambitious as its parent, which has a stated goal of operating 10,000 screens worldwide by 2020. It is targeting a global installed base of 1,000 ScreenX facilities by 2020.

To get there it will have to call on the range of operations of the CJ group and offer different solutions adapted to clients and markets. ScreenX is offering three different business models for the technology package from outright sale through to revenue sharing or cost-sharing joint ventures.

Available content will also have to increase. Recently there have been four commercial movies from Korea delivered in the format, including the chart topping “Himalaya,” two major pieces of original content and “Mojin.”

Although Wanda and CJ-CGV compete as exhibitors in China, Choi says “Wanda was very supportive” of “Mojin.” “The visuals of the film lent themselves perfectly to ScreenX and they used a Korean CG company, which made it easier to generate the sidewall images,” Choi says.

Other Korean producer-distributors including Showbox and NEW are understood to be readying movies that will use the format. And there is strong interest from China, where local movies are rapidly improving their visual quality and tech skills – and where a number of recent Chinese hit movies have been remakes or adaptations of Korean films, several made as Korean co-ventures. Choi says the company is talking with China Film Group, Huaxia Distribution, Wanda, Legendary East and Bona Film Group among others. Hollywood will be another step and Choi reports that early talks are ongoing with all the studios.

“ScreenX need not be limited by the genre of film. It is not just about B-movies,” says Choi. “Over time and as more companies get involved and film makers become familiar with the concept, we expect the range of films made in ScreenX to grow.”

And with CJ-CGV expanding its own international footprint – in the last week it has announced the acquisition of Turkey’s Mars Entertainment and an increased stake in Indonesia’s CGV Blitz – the CJ companies have the chance to bring in film-makers and audiences from around the globe.

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