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Globally Networked Creativity, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

September 26, 2011

In our recent posts, we wrote about how corporations in sectors ranging from healthcare and energy to consumer goods and technology are learning to leverage the benefits of polycentric innovation by harnessing globally distributed talent to develop new products, services, processes, and even business models in a networked fashion. Now we see a similar collaborative phenomenon emerging in the creative sector and, in particular, the film industry.

Let us state at the outset that polycentric innovation in the creative sector is more than about cross-border financial integration, which has been taking place for several years and is now accelerating due to the lingering economic recession in the West. Indeed, big Hollywood studios such as 20th Century Fox and Warner Brothers are increasingly partnering with production companies overseas to finance and distribute regional films for local and global audiences. And lately, the production companies of Hollywood heavy hitters George Clooney and Brad Pitt have signed development and financing deals with India-based Reliance Big Entertainment, which also took a 50% stake in Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks for $325 million.

While this acceleration in cross-regional capital flows is by itself remarkable, the bigger story is in the shift we’re seeing in the film industry from mere financial (read: arms-length) partnerships to true creative collaboration across geographies.

Before we give you some real-life examples of polycentric innovation in practice in the film industry, let us explain the benefits of globally distributed creativity for the creative sector based on our own experience — as one of us (Simone) actually runs a cross-border media company: Blood Orange Media. We have seen how new solutions emerge when teams across borders share ideas about ways to solve a complex problem.

As a global media company headquartered in the US with teams operating in emerging markets, Blood Orange Media has consistently experienced that team members who grew up in more resource constrained environments (primarily in emerging markets) often find creative and cost effective ways to solve problems — by, for example, building a makeshift but effective camera dolly when confronting limited time and supplies during a shoot in a remote rural area. In general, we have found that the organizational skills of the Western world complement the fluid and improvisational creativity in the East. This is not to say that there is no turbulence in this cross-regional flow of knowledge — but these “creative differences” enable teams on both sides of the globe to better learn from each other.

Thankfully, the rapidly dropping cost of global communication has made real-time collaboration among creative artists across borders seamless. For instance, a director sitting in Mumbai can simultaneously review and even modify a film clip with a production designer in Hollywood via a shared digital asset management system.

A larger-than-life example of this cross-border creativity and collaboration is Enthiran, the most expensive film to come out of Asia ever. Produced by Sun Pictures out of Chennai (South India) Enthiran is slated for worldwide release on October 1, with HBO handling its global distribution. The film is the collective output of a truly international crew. While this sci-fi thriller features Bollywood-style songs by Oscar-winner AR Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) and kung-fu-style fight scenes choreographed by Hong Kong legend Yuen Woo-ping, it also boasts animation and special effects done by Stan Winston Studio (of Terminator and Jurassic Park fame) and costume design by Mary E. Vogt (who worked on The Matrix and Men in Black).

Enthiran is a creative embodiment of polycentric innovation, seamlessly blending Eastern talent with Western expertise to co-create a viewing experience that no single region could have conjured up on its own.

Enthiran lends evidence to the fact that the monocentric film industry of the 20th century where all the creative work (concept development, post production, 3D) was done in one region, usually in the West, is shifting to a polycentric world of the 21st century where new innovation hubs are emerging in India, Argentina, China and even New Zealand (remember The Lord of the Rings?). The creative workers in these emerging hubs augment the capabilities of their peers in established hubs in the US and European hubs by offering complementary skills, expertise, and mindsets as well as cost efficiencies and an international aesthetic.

As such a new collaborative business model is emerging whereby visionary media companies are starting to harness and integrate globally distributed creativity into a coherent and synergistic innovation network.

The race has already begun in the global media industry as to who will most effectively build these global innovation networks. Seasoned production houses like Disney and Pixar have been leveraging global talent for years, but primarily for the execution of animation work with less emphasis on concept development and pure design work. Today, new players are emerging who are practicing truly polycentric innovation. Here are three noteworthy contenders whom we have studied closely:

  • Reliance MediaWorks (which is part of Reliance Big Entertainment) is now offering integrated 3D services out of its Burbank, California facility, while also utilizing a team of more than 400 3D artists in India. The sheer number of talented visual effects artists that India can offer is very attractive for filmmakers who, in the aftermath of Avatar’s phenomenal success, are scrambling to integrate ever-more complex 3D and visual effects into their films.
  • Prime Focus, a boutique firm turned global post-production house, is also creating efficiencies through the complementary skills of creative teams located across India, the UK, Canada and the US. In particular, it leverages the technology strengths of its subsidiary, Prime Focus Technologies, which has developed cutting-edge proprietary digital asset management systems.
  • British visual effects expert Charles Darby (The Matrix, Harry Potter) has set up operations in Mumbai (home to Bollywood) by launching EyeQube Studios, financed by Eros International, an India-headquartered global production and distribution company. Darby strongly believes that EyeQube can produce high-quality VFX work that will easily rival that of any Hollywood or London studio.

The race among these players, and others yet to emerge, is far from over, but we can safely predict two things: 1) by 2020, the global creative industry will be organized, and operate, as polycentric innovation networks in which all hubs operate in parity and creative ideas seamlessly flow from one hub to another — very similar to how the technology sector operates today and 2) several of these networks will be operated by non-Western entities.

The future of the creative sector lies in sharing and blending not only capital but also talent and ideas across borders. While the playbook for polycentric innovation in the global film industry is still being written, what’s clear is that it is a win-win for all parties involved.

Do you agree? Tell us what organizational and cultural challenges you foresee in orchestrating these polycentric innovation networks. Can you think of other industry examples where globally distributed creativity is effectively being harnessed?

Navi Radjou is Executive Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge where Dr. Jaideep Prabhu is the Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business and Enterprise. Dr. Prasad Kaipa is a CEO Coach and a senior research fellow at the Centre for Leadership, Innovation, and Change at the Indian School of Business. Dr. Simone Ahuja is the founder of Blood Orange Media.

From → Creative, Innovation

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