You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Bizzers optimistic about H’wood possibilities

Future of Film summit looks to digital marketing, Chinese potential

Above: Director-Writer Kevin Smith speaks onstage during a Keynote Conversation at the Future Of Film Summit in Los Angeles (Photo by Mark Davis/WireImage)

Investors are coming back. Digital sales are making a dent in the bottom line. Filmmakers are getting a grip on China, digital marketers are gaining traction with target auds, and emerging platforms are starting to deliver promising results.

After a handful of gut-check years in Hollywood, bizzers are feeling truly optimistic again, judging by the mood at the Variety Future of Film Summit.

“VOD dollars are starting to show up in ultimates reports,” said David Shaheen, managing director at JPMorgan Chase’s entertainment group, speaking at the morning session “State of the Film Industry.”

Tucker Tooley, president of Relativity Media, said investors are back in business as the industry and economic conditions that roiled it since 2008 begin to “normalize.”

“Over the course of time, we’re finding a balance,” said Tooley, one of more than 50 execs, investors, filmmakers, marketers and other bizzers assembled Wednesday at the Sofitel in Beverly Hills.

Missing from the daylong conversation was the notion of “cautious optimism” that’s permeated panels past; though the go-go days of peaking DVD are long gone, the sense is that Hollywood is humming again.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to fear.

“All I know is, we’re screwed when the Baby Boomers die out,” quipped Tom Bernard, co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics in a morning keynote conversation with Variety editor-in-chief Timothy Gray. Though his remark drew a big laugh, Bernard expressed real concern about the moviegoing generation that’s still holding up theatrical, particularly for “smart movies.”

Bernard said the upcoming generation of entertainment consumers, motivated by discovery and social sharing, will cause even more fragmentation of interests. “There are going to be a lot more movies made for these audiences,” he said, “and we have got to find those audiences.”

That’ll largely be the job of digital marketing teams, whose work is swiftly becoming influential up and down the filmmaking process.

“Regardless of what department you’re in, you should know digital,” said Elias Plishner, senior VP of digital media and marketing at Sony, speaking at midday session “The Social Marketing Revolution.”

The panelists acknowledged that actors with a big social footprint have a leg up when it comes to winning favor with marketers, who are now more involved in the moviemaking process than ever. Many now have “social amplification” duties written into their contracts.

But even as Hollywood gets on more solid footing with digital distribution, online content gains ground and social listening provides deeper reach and insight, maintaining an authentic voice — particularly to a generation that’s hypersensitive to phoniness — is still what’s most important, said filmmaker and afternoon keynote speaker Kevin Smith.

“The world is full of so much bullshit, so much spin, that to be truly revolutionary you have to be just a little bit more honest,” Smith said. “It’s connecting in a real way. The audience will always take you further than the people in power.”

Unless those people are in China, where a “sandstorm of political change is brewing, and no one knows where it’s going to land,” said William Yuan, chairman of Affinity Media Capital/Fortress Hill. Yuan said filmmakers eager to make Chinese co-productions need to be prepared to follow the letter of the law, truly collaborating with partners in China who can lend the booming country’s sensibilities to Hollywood-sized films.

Eric Mika, CEO of Magic Storm Entertainment, said it’s not up to Hollywood to come in and teach the Chinese how to do it; the brightest future lies in opening up the creative process as much as the financing component.

“Let’s not forget, there are brilliant filmmakers in China,” Mika said. “We need to come in and work with the best that China has to offer.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Alma Harrel Honey Boy

    'Honey Boy' DP Natasha Braier Took Nonfiction Approach to Fiction Feature

    The “Honey Boy” script that cinematographer Natasha Braier read prior to signing on with first-time narrative feature director Alma Har’el to shoot star and writer Shia LaBeouf’s intimate memoir-focused arthouse film was psychologically rich and emotionally fraught with no visual cues. It was a deep character study of the beginnings of his acting career with [...]

  • Queen and Slim

    AFI Fest Puts Nonfiction in the Spotlight

    Documentaries will play a more prominent role than ever before at the AFI Fest, which kicks off Nov. 14. While AFI Fest 2018 featured 15 documentary features playing in various categories, this year’s edition of Los Angeles-based fest will play host to 22 feature docs, 16 of which will screen in the fest’s new documentary [...]

  • Ayesha Curry and Stephen Curry attends

    Ayesha Curry Honored With Variety's Vivant Tastemaker Award at Napa Valley Film Festival

    The rooftop bar at the tony Archer Hotel in the heart of downtown Napa made a stunning backdrop for Variety’s Vivant party on Nov. 13. Vivant was launched at the Napa Valley Film Festival, which opened Nov. 13 with “Just Mercy.”  Variety executive VP of content Steven Gaydos introduced Variety Vivant Tastemaker honoree Ayesha Curry [...]

  • Dwayne Johnson

    Dwayne Johnson's 'Black Adam' Movie Sets Release Date

    Dwayne Johnson’s long-in-development “Black Adam” movie is slated to hit theaters just in time for the holidays. The New Line Cinema film film will debut on Dec. 22, 2021, five days after the release of James Cameron’s long-gestating “Avatar” sequel. Johnson has been attached to play the anti-hero for most of this decade. Jaume Collet-Serra, [...]

  • Sponge on the Run Trailer

    SpongeBob SquarePants Meets Keanu Reeves in 'Sponge on the Run' Trailer

    Millennials and Gen-Zers, say goodbye to the David Hasselhoff “SpongeBob” cameos of your childhood. According to the “Sponge on the Run” trailer, Keanu Reeves, or rather his floating head, will make an appearance in the upcoming film premiering May 22, 2020. The latest film in the SpongeBob franchise follows the yellow sponged hero and his [...]

  • CineAsia Conference Canceled Due to Hong

    CineAsia Conference Scrubbed Due to Hong Kong Protests

    Film Expo Group has scrubbed next month’s CineAsia conference hosted in Hong Kong, citing escalating violence in the city. “Due to the escalating violence and on-going anti-government protesting we felt it was in the best interest of all concerned to cancel the convention,” said Robert Sunshine, chairman of the Film Expo Group in a statement [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content