It has been a tricky period for theatrical, but as a panel of leading European (and American) film industry experts highlighted today, change has been in the post and the cinema biz will need to adapt to survive.
Speaking during an event at the MIA Market in Rome, Michael Weber, MD at German indie The Match Factory, argued that there are simply too many films being made.
“There is an unbalance between what is produced and what the market can absorb, even with all these platforms. This is something we all have to think about,” he commented. “The last 18 months was an acceleration of what we’ve seen before, we have tried to prepare ourselves for it. For us it’s about identifying films that can still find an audience.”
Weber pointed to his recent hit Drive My Car as an example of a film that ticks that box. The three-hour Japanese movie, which comes from a relatively unknown director and doesn’t feature stars, has been a success in European cinemas since a buzzy Cannes premiere, where it won the screenplay prize in the fest’s main competition. The film has grossed $1.5M in France and more than $100,000 in Italy despite the ongoing challenges, a result that Weber said proved that the formula of being selective works.
Marc Gabizon, COO of Wild Bunch, explained that audience habits have changed since lockdown.
“The reflex of going to see a movie is not completely back. At the moment, audiences very carefully select the movie they want to see and it’s only that specific one. More and more you have a ‘winner takes all’ situation. You have one or two dominant pictures in each section – family, mainstream, arthouse – and it’s very difficult to emerge if you’re not the ‘must-see’ movie. As an independent, you can’t always be that movie,” he commented.
Asked by host Andrea Occhipinti, Founder and CEO Lucky Red, if the evolution had made him more conservative in his choices, Gabizon responded “definitely”.
“You try to diversity. We are expanding into production so we can control the types of movies we release . Movies are so volatile,” he added, explaining that this current moment was particularly tricky because of a backlog of releases and that he hoped “the air will clear a bit” next year.
The panel also covered how companies utilizing more traditional models, including theatrical releases, can compete with the streamers.
“You’re competing against companies that don’t have to recoup, how do you do that?” Posed Jonathan Kier, who recently left his role as president of Sierra/Affinity to launch a production company backed by Constantin that will focus on local-language production.
“I don’t have the answer,” he admitted. “Streaming data seems to be more valuable at the moment than box office.”
“We need a well-balanced collaboration with platforms,” chimed in Rémi Burah CEO, ARTE France Cinéma. “That will protect independent producers – they don’t want to be line producers. We [in France] are working on a new model with Netflix and we will probably do it with the other platforms.”
The aforementioned model, currently being debated in the French biz, will likely include new legislation around windowing, which is strictly enshrined in French law at present.
“Every major seems to be coming up with a different chronology. In the U.S. there doesn’t seem to be consensus yet [on windowing]. A lot of the independent distributors are experimenting. It will depend on the genre and the film. The distributors are going to want to maintain flexibility. How much leverage are the theaters going to hold?” Asked Kier.
“What the majors have been achieving in the U.S. they’re now trying to impose in Germany. There are two battles: the windows and the [revenue] split. The trend is pretty clear – windows are going down and movies will be available sooner on other platforms,” said Gabizon.
“It’s about giving audiences more choice, they want it,” added Eve Gabereau, CEO at UK and Ireland distributor Modern Films, who noted that her company has been trying out a 31-day theatrical model, followed by a ‘virtual cinema’ release, i.e. a premium VOD release, and then 45-days to TVOD/SVOD.
“We need to keep having different viewing options. For the cinema, we need to be more event-driven. Why is someone going to go to the cinema rather than staying home to watch a film? It’s super important that the cinema lives up to the choice,” she continued.
“We have no intentions of leaving the theatrical space,” noted Gabizon. “We want to offer our filmmakers the chance to have that experience. But that doesn’t mean a Netflix or Amazon experience is not good. There is space for both.”