On the heels of its film “The Fifth Estate” launching the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, Participant Media topper Jeff Skoll has offered a thoroughly bulllish vision of how his nine-year-old company will look in 2023.
“Ten years from now, I’d like Participant to have 2,000 employees and be producing content in every country of the world,” Skoll said Friday at the festival’s keynote industry panel at the Glenn Gould Center. “I believe that in 10 years, the majority of our content will be in languages other than English.”
The company currently has 219 employees and has produced about 45 films. It also announced Friday that it had partnered for a sixth time on a film with DreamWorks on “The Hundred Foot Journey”; in addition to “Estate,” that association has brought hits “The Help” and “Lincoln.”
Participant CEO Jim Berk asserted that companies have to partner in order to survive in today’s complex marketplace, adding, “we’re better because of DreamWorks.”
Berk stressed that Skoll, a Canadian native who made his fortune as president of eBay, has been willing to bankroll Participant’s expansion. “He’s always asking what would I do if I had another $100 million to spend,” he added.
The Participant execs stressed during the 90-minute session that their company will remain focused on social issues as a way of engaging audiences while placing a premium on storytelling and entertainment. (Berk admitted that Participant had not been able to do so on Matt Damon’s fracking drama “Promised Land,” which grossed under $8 million for Focus.)
“It’s all about the story first,” Berk noted. “We were wrestling with how to make ‘Promised Land’ not be seen as an ‘issue’ film.”
DreamWorks production chief Stacey Snider provided a measured response to a question about the summer misfires by high-priced studio franchise films in the wake of warnings by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas against continuing to greenlight mega-budget films.
“I think that everyone is doing a lot of serious soul-searching,” she said, adding that the criticism from Spielberg, DreamWorks’ co-founder, was aimed at urging studios to offer more diversity.
Other panelists included Sony Classics co-topper Michael Barker; Magnolia Pictures executive Matt Cowal;, Pablo Cruz of Canana, a partner in Participant’s Panamerica venture; and director-producer Ava DuVernay, whose 2012 prison drama “Middle of Nowhere” was released by Participant.
DuVernay said the climate is improving somewhat for African-American filmmakers such as herself amid the successes of films like hers, Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” (which won the Sundance directing trophy last year) and Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.”
But DuVernay also said there’s an unfortunate tendency to not consider these instances part of a growing trend.
The event was moderated by Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos.