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BritWeek Summit parses biz changes

Thesps Ian McShane, Ben Kingsley tell tales from their long careers

The BritWeek/BAFTA Film & TV Summit brought out industry heavy hitters, Brits and otherwise, on Friday to discuss the increasingly global nature of the entertainment biz.

Many speakers at the daylong confab, presented by Variety, at the BevHilton noted the transformation of film promotion and distribution through the emergence of new platforms, social-networking sites and entertainment mediums.

On the day that the world’s attention turned to London for the global TV spectacle of Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s nuptials, some Brit Week attendees found themselves in a nostalgic mood. That was certainly the case for thesp Ian McShane, who charmed the crowd with his luncheon keynote convo on his colorful life and career.

“It’s been an interesting 50 years,” McShane told moderator Nick Redman. “I’m still learning.”

On a lighter note, he gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse into his famous love scene with Richard Burton in the 1971 drama “Villain.”

“Richard said to me, ‘I’m very glad you’re playing this part’ before we shot the love scene,” McShane said. “And I said, ‘Oh, well that’s good.’ But then he went, ‘Well, you remind me of Elizabeth.’ ”

On the subject of the film biz, panelists reacted to the slew of headlines in recent months about game-changing licensing and VOD deals that are upending theatrical release patterns.

“The process of getting someone to see a movie is totally different than what it was four years ago,” said producer Michael London of Groundswell Prods., who spoke on a panel about film finance and distribution.

“A kid once said to me at a Q&A that going to see a movie on a Friday night will be like buying a CD in the ’90s” thanks to the myriad of available entertainment consumption options, London said. “So, theatrical distribution will become the equivalent of CDs in the ’90s — we need to take advantage of all those other ways that movies are being consumed, whether it be TV, VOD or Netflix.”

Hal Sadoff, head of international and indie film at ICM, noted that these new forms of consumption are already profitable. “Over the last year or so we’ve seen titles make real revenue off of VOD,” Sadoff said. “We need to educate filmmakers that it’s not a stigma to go to straight to VOD.”

Celine Rattray, prexy of Mandalay Vision and producer of “The Kids Are All Right,” mentioned that “within 30 minutes of screening your movie at the Toronto Film Festival, you have good or bad buzz” thanks to the onslaught of blogs, Twitter and other forms of almost instant communication.

The double-edged sword of online buzz may be a potential danger to film producers, but branded entertainment gurus like Hal Burg of Platinum Rye and Chantal Rickards of MEC take full advantage of these emerging communicative platforms as discussed on the panel devoted to “Branded Entertainment and Boosting TV Revenues.”

For Burg, transmedia is changing the branded entertainment game.

“Once you’ve expanded with all of these touch points, you can find many ways to monetize,” Burg said. Chad Bennett, veep of brand development and production at Reveille, observed that “the digital space has allowed us to get around certain network constraints.”

While Rickards warned that brands should not “meddle too much” in the creative material since they’d risk coming across as “crass,” Web initiatives, where pop-up windows are the norm, are becoming an efficient vehicle for branded entertainment with digital series and Twitter campaigns, she said.

The confab concluded with producer-director Redman engaging thesp Ben Kingsley in a wide-ranging chat about his career. Kingsley, who earned an Oscar for 1982’s “Gandhi,” flatly declared that he’s “never had a strategy.”

Kingsley cited “Gandhi” as a major milestone. He credited helmer Richard Attenborough’s son, Richard, for recommending him for the role of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi. The younger Attenborough had been impressed by his perf as Hamlet in a Royal Shakespeare Company production, Kingsley recalled. Playing the part of Gandhi was so engrossing, “I can’t recall Richard ever directing me,” Kingsley said.

In describing his childhood as “ghastly, affluent, middle-class and totally neglected,” Kingsley said some of his proudest moments onscreen have involved playing real-life Jewish figures — including Simon Wiesenthal in a 1989 telepic and Itzhak Stern in “Schindler’s List” — because he was aghast at the anti-Semitic views held by his grandmother. The thesp said he saw his triumphs in those roles as a means of proving her ignorance.

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