Indie Producers on Why Exhibitors Encourage Piracy, Oscar Campaign Value

Piracy is threatening the financial underpinnings of the movie business, but theater owners are partly to blame, a panel of independent film producers argued at Saturday’s Produced By: New York Conference.

“The real criminals here are the exhibitors,” said John Sloss, a film sales agent and the producer of “Boyhood.”

Sloss argued that hoping 20 year olds will either see films in theaters or opt to wait four months until they hits DVD “is a joke.” Already films such as “Snowpiercer” and “Margin Call” are opting to be released on demand and in theaters simultaneously, causing their profits to swell.

“You have to make the theatrical experience work on its own merits,” Sloss said.

“We’re creating bad habits,” he added. “I don’t think people steal content because they want content for free. They just want it when and where they want it.”

Tom Quinn, co-president of Radius-TWC, agreed that theaters would be better served to improve the way they present movies to consumers, rather than simply rely on a rigid delineation between when a film screens theatrically and its home entertainment debut.

“They need to deliver a show, deliver a pre-show and deliver a post screening Q&A,” said Quinn, citing theaters such as the IFC and Alamo Drafthouse as ones that inspire a great deal of loyalty among core customers.

But other producers disagreed that the theatrical experience has an expiration date, arguing there is something about a movie theater that is utterly unique.

“People want to go in and have a shared experience … and you can not duplicate that in your home,” said Donna Gigliotti, the producer of “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Reader.”

The bigger threat to the health of the theatrical experience is the movies themselves. Last summer’s box office downturn was directly attributable to a lackluster slate of offerings, Gigliotti argued.

“There will be a disintermediation of the theatrical experience if people do not make any good movies,” she said.

The exhibition industry wasn’t the only sacred cow the producers attacked during an expansive discussion on the opportunities and drawbacks of streaming and digital distribution. Quinn also took aim at the independent film industry’s reliance on the Academy Awards as a way of drawing crowds.

“I don’t really understand what the Oscars are worth,” Quinn said. “There’s a lot of money that’s wasted every year chasing these awards. For me, it’s money that could be used onscreen.”

He quipped the industry would benefit from “campaign refinance” reform.

Hawk Koch, the producer of “Wayne’s World” and “Primal Fear,” disagreed from the audience.

“The biggest marketing tool that any film has is the nomination for an Oscar,” he said. “If it says nominated for an Oscar, it enlarges every other platform. … How many of you go to a film because it won a People’s Choice?”

Forgoing a traditional theatrical release in favor of emphasizing digital sales potentially hurts an Oscar campaign, the producers noted. But that may eventually change.

“There will be a day and date release that wins Best Picture,” Sloss predicted.

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