Showbiz players examine the issues of the industry

Hollywood’s best and brightest meet today at Variety’s Future of Film Summit in West Hollywood to discuss the multiple choices confronting the entertainment biz. Produced in conjunction with Digital Media Wire, the event focuses on issues such as raising money after the recession, the impact of digital technology on film distribution, the stubbornness of piracy, the promise of mobile marketing, the prosects for 3D in the home, and finding future franchises and tentpoles.

Execs like Dreamworks Studios’ Stacey Snider, Hyde Park Entertainment’s Ashok Amritraj and Pandemonium Films’ Bill Mechanic will mingle with the likes of NATO topper John Fithian, actress Illeana Douglas and attorney Lindsay Connor in a daylong series of keynotes, panels and socializing.

Here’s a preview of opinions from five Summit speakers.

Are rising marketing costs making it harder to get financing for mid-budget films?

Bill Mechanic, Pandemonium Films: Yes, they’re making it harder, but it’s about the material. If you want to release in June, July or December or if you intend to release a smaller version of a larger film, then you’re at a competitive disadvantage. If you’re doing something that’s new and original, it’s different. If you’re “The Town,” you’re okay. It depends on the movie. Something like “Slumdog Millionaire” can break $100 million with nothing behind it, so marketing isn’t everything. It’s about the uniqueness of the product. When you have an idea that cuts through the clutter, it doesn’t take as much to market it.

Is film financing bouncing back or has it been permanently damaged by the recession?

Lindsay Conner, Manatt Phelps & Phillips: It’s bouncing back but it’s not bouncing back as fast as it went down. It’s on a solid uptick. You have to look at what caused it to go down. It’s not simply a reversal of what caused it to go up. The worldwide recession was a key cause. The number of banks that financed film dropped from 45 to 10 and those that remained… became much more conservative. Equity is coming back in two forms — in the form of expansive state incentives, and classic investment by investors around the world. I am optimistic about the future of film finance but it will be years before we get to back to the type of financing atmosphere that existed five years ago.

In the future, how much movie marketing will be done via portable platforms like mobile phones and tablets like the iPad?

Rex Cook, Avatar Labs: For the 14-25 demographic and younger, a lot of movie marketing will be done there. This is a group that wants to go deeper into the world the movie sets up. It works because they spend more time with the property and then they tweet about it or text about it and get other people interested. This audience wants to have its opinion heard so they’ll use social networking to tell their friends what they think about a movie. It’s a natural fit for science fiction or action-adventure films.

Will future tentpoles come from existing properties or is it still possible to create original material that can turn into a franchise?

Jeff Gomez, CEO, Starlight Runner Entertainment:I’m biased because I worked on “Avatar.” I definitely think we’re going to see brand-new tentpole franchises. We’re going to see new original properties because there’s now a new rich and fertile source in multiplatform storytelling. You have people like Tom Hanks and his Playtone company launching a property like “Electric City” on the Web with another company in India (Reliance Big Entertainment). Young creators are operating with no rules. They don’t have to sit there and think about what their movie or TV show has to be to fit into the Hollywood establishment. They can take it to the audience using Twitter or Facebook or YouTube.

How will 3D migrate from theaters to the home? Blu-ray? Stereo TV? The web?

Steve Shannon, RealD: I think that 3D is going mainstream. The audience has been primed by the marketplace. They’ve seen the ads and they know what it is from their theatrical experiences. This wasn’t the case for HD, so getting people excited for 3D is easier. There’s a disproportionate amount of 3D in Internet video because that’s where you find a lot of early adopters. There’s a lot of 3D content in production now and a lot of that content will start to appear in 2011. People will learn more about it next year. By 2012, 3D will really take off.

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