Distribution honchos look to balance risks

AFM panelists say innovations will keep auds in theaters

“Basically, we’re looking for films with a little more muscle than we were a few years ago,” said Summit chief financing officer Ron Hohauser, a panelist on Monday’s AFM studio finance and distribution panel.

That was the running theme — a then vs. now mentality — among participants of the confab’s distrib discussion, which included 20th Century Fox senior veep of domestic distribution Chris Aronson, Universal prexy Jimmy Horowitz and Steve Bersch, prexy of worldwide acquisitions for Sony.

Though Hohauser spoke mainly for independents, the panel’s studio honchos expressed similar viewpoints of change, particularly with the shrinking homevid market, theatrical windows and the importance of overseas box office revenues.

Horowitz said most studios are no longer taking gambles just to fill out a slate. “We’re paying the same people whether we have 20 or 25 films,” Horowitz added.

Instead, he said they’re looking to production companies like Relativity Media and its partnership with U to balance growing industry risks. Studios also are behaving more like indie labels, according to the panel, with fewer high-risk pics.

Summit’s Hohauser said there is a higher bar set for greenlighting films, which allows for more breathing room with a lighter load.

He also compared the minimajor to indie companies, because of pre-sold international rights and on-location shooting meant to benefit from local tax incentives.

Panelists described a film’s international component as another major factor in greenlighting pics. “People want their films to work for a worldwide system,” Horowitz said, referring to specific genres like comedy that don’t typically play well overseas.

On the acquisition front, Bersch said studios are more “genre agnostic,” noting that Sony’s sci-fi pickup “District 9” was a worldwide hit.

Horowitz noted that theatrical windows also will impact specific genres, saying, “The theatrical experience isn’t going away, but there might be some movies that audiences choose to see in other formats.”

“There’s something for everyone, and everyone wants to view their content differently,” he added.

Fox’s Aronson, however, argued that continued theatrical innovations “will help continue to protect the theatrical experience.”

Most of the panel agreed that selling films on both the studio and indie levels has become more challenging.

“We’ve all had to come up with different ways of marketing a film,” Horowitz said. “We just don’t have the same resources anymore.”

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