Hollywood looks to older auds to pump growth

Exex speak at Variety's Future of Film Summit

The future of Hollywood includes focusing on older auds and emphasizing the importance of a global view, according to panelists at Variety’s Future of Film Summit.

Meanwhile, the easing of the global recession and continued appeal of Hollywood fare is creating guarded optimism about the features biz.

“I think people still want to share the cultural experience,” said DreamWorks topper Stacey Snider in a keynote address at the day-long event held at the London West Hollywood Hotel. “There’s no better way to do that than going to the movies.”

That sentiment emerged from a number of panelists. “We are seeing the first signs of spring after a long winter,” said Lindsay Conner, partner at Manatt Phelps & Phillips. “There’s renewed interest on the foreign side; banks are coming back in, though it’s not a stampede; and we’re seeing a lot of revival in distribution with the Weinstein Co. coming back and FilmDistrict starting up.”

Hal Sadoff, head of international and independent film for ICM, asserted that the feature biz is undergoing a healthy “rationalization” after too many pics were put into production in the pre-recession era.

“Actors and directors are willing to work at lower fees because that’s the reality of the marketplace,” Sadoff added, noting that actors’ quotes have largely disappeared as studios ratchet back the number of films they produce. “I think VOD is going to be a very important part of the independent film business going forward.”

Sadoff also said high net-worth investors outside the U.S. are showing more financial support for the film business — with the clear understanding that major successes are few and far between.

Bill Mechanic of Pandemonium Films said Hollywood needs to address the shifting demographics of moviegoing. “Audiences have aged dramatically and movies generally haven’t,” he added.

FilmDistrict head Bob Berney cited “The Expendables” and “Red,” both targeted toward older demos rather than the traditional focus on young men, as proof the biz was beginning to adjust.

Hyde Park topper Ashok Amritraj reminded the audience that the biz needs to continue expanding its global view, noting that one third of the world’s population lives in India and China — even though filmmakers are often prevented from making pics in the latter market over concerns about sex and violence. “It’s important to have a much more global perspective,” said Amritraj, a native of India who came to Los Angeles four decades ago as a pro tennis player.

IM Global’s Stuart Ford asserted that Asia will be a rich source of future funds. “Film rights are undervalued in Asia but the lack of a structure will help that part of the world lead the way as everything shifts to digital,” he added. “What’s not clear is the extent to which the Chinese government will loosen the grip on film distribution,” Ford continued. “What I think is certain is that the economic model for exploiting films within China will evolve very rapidly. Once VOD becomes the biggest revenue stream and you have 1.6 billion people who can watch a movie at the push of a button, how could that not become a huge, huge pipeline?”

“The only growth in the business is overseas,” agreed Mechanic.

Snider, who was interviewed by Variety exec editor Steven Gaydos, said the majors will continue to rely on mega-budget tentpoles despite their breathtaking costs. “Blockbusters are what translate into cultural events, although every now and again you’ll get something like ‘The Blind Side’ that will play forever,” she said. The desire to aim for tentpoles also has been pushed by studios facing the tough task of maintaining profitability in gross-participation deals with A-list stars.

Snider noted that DreamWorks, which has a distrbution deal through Disney, has two tentpoles prepped for next year: Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys and Aliens” and Shawn Levy’s “Real Steel.” Snider described the current DreamWorks’ personality as “nerdy and hard-working.”

Snider also admitted that she’s grappling with finding ways to maximize revenues amid a declining DVD market without cannibalizing the theatrical market. “The pressure is on to figure out VOD,” she added. Snider said she’s hoping to continue support for specialty pics, such as her studio’s “The Help,” and expressed strong support for the Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech.”

During a panel on blockbusters, Warner exec VP Greg Silverman said the studio’s hoping Christopher Nolan would direct and produce a fourth “Batman” and a second “Inception” — even though he admitted those scenarios are far from certain. “It won’t stop us from begging,” he added, eliciting one of the bigger laughs of the day.

Jeff Gomez, topper of Starlight Runner Entertainment, said studios need to provide far more than two hours of film when they release franchise pics. “If the fans like the world of that film, they are going to want a lot more content,” he added. “Franchises are determined by the size of the audience, not the size of the budget.”

Silverman admitted that Warners hadn’t been able to take full advantage of the strong audience responses to “The Matrix” trilogy and “300.” “We weren’t quite prepared to give them more,” he added.

(Rachel Abrams and Lauren Zima contributed to this report.)

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