McGurk issues upbeat forecast for film biz

Cinedigm topper gives keynote address at AFCI Locations show

Pointing to the vitality of the indie sector, Cinedigm topper Chris McGurk has issued a bullish forecast for the film business at a time when many are gloomy over the future.

“If you listen to a lot of the so-called experts, you will be convinced the end is nigh,” McGurk said during Saturday’s keynote address for the Los Angeles Film Festival as part of the AFCI Locations show at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“In this regard, these negativists are actually following in one of the grand traditions of the movie business,” he added. “For 100 years, Hollywood has thrived to such an extent that today Entertainment is America¹s second greatest export. But, throughout this century of success, the only thing Hollywood has done better than building an industry is predicting its imminent demise.”

Indies, McGurk asserted, are crucial to the industry’s health because of their ability to engage moviegoers — and alter the approaches of the Hollywood majors from what is safe and predictable.

“After a ‘Reservoir Dogs’ comes along, it¹s hard for a studio to ever again make a heist film in the same old tired way,” he added.”Indie films remain the creative lifeblood of the business, and without regular infusions, the entire industry¹s health and vitality will suffer terribly.”

McGurk acknowleged that pessimists can cite disturbing trends, such as competition from entertainment in the home and on mobile devices and the reduction in the number of independent studios. “Most troubling of all, there¹s the decline in the DVD business, which has hurt indie films particularly hard,” he added.

McGurk offered seven reasons why there’s hope at this point, however, starting with the declining costs required to make a quality film.

“One of the great oddities about the film industry today is that as production costs of major studio films have skyrocketed, the actual threshold cost to make a theatrical-quality movie has plummeted,” he said. “It used to be that to make a studio-quality film, you needed a studio. Today, equipped with a Red camera and a computer, any filmmaker can cheaply and quickly produce a motion picture suitable for theatrical release.

He also cited new forms of distribution in the digital realm. “Digital is the friend and not the enemy of the filmgoing experience,” McGurk said.

Additionally, he asserted, demand for filmed entertainment has been exploding — driven by digital distribution.

“Just look at the film ‘Margin Call,’ which was released last Oct. 21 on just 199 screens,” he said. “That same day, it was also released on VOD, allowing in-home viewing for about $8. Two months later, it was put out on DVD. The movie cost $3.5 million to make and took in $4 million on VOD, $5 million in domestic theaters and another $5 million internationally. So it was solidly profitable before it even went into other ancillary markets — something that rarely happens with major studio releases.”

He noted that major talent has been coming into indies such as “Margin Call,” which starred Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons; “Bernie” with Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey; “Hysteria” with Maggie Gyllenhaal; “A Dangerous Method” with Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen; “Melancholia” with Kirsten Dunst; “360” with Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins; and “The Paperboy” with Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey.

That trend has taken place as the majors focus increasingly on tentpoles and less on big name actors. “When you¹re counting on Thor to open a movie, you don¹t need Tom Cruise,” McGurk added.

Since actors want to act, they often still want to take on the challenge of indie films, he asserted.

“So, many are willing to take serious pay cuts for the chance to play a more complex, challenging and less mainstream role,” McGurk said. “All of this increases the viability of independent films.”

He also said North American theater chains need more independent film and alternative content to address flat attendance. “Exhibitors are so eager for independent films to address their capacity problem that, last year, the two largest theater chains — AMC and Regal — jointly created a new indie studio, called Open Road Films,” McGurk said.

As a remedy, he called for exhibitors to now allow shorter windows on DVDs for indie films that are released on only 250 screens, adding, “These films need quicker transition to ancillary markets in order to survive.

McGurk said the growth of event programming (such as sports and concerts) into theaters is another positive sign. “Once you narrowcast into a theater, it is invaluable to then use targeted marketing to make the right people aware that the right programming for them is in their local theater,” he added.

McGurk also contended that social media has an enormous potential benefit for distribution.

“For distributors, instead of spending millions on blanket TV ads and billboards, we can target our messages much more efficiently, so that every marketing dollar has a high probability of putting a butt in a seat or a download in the cloud,” he added.

McGurk concluded the address by asserting that history is about to repeat itself for the film business.

“In the past, whether it was the arrival of sound or TV or home video, each time new technology came on the scene, it was initially viewed as the enemy,” he said . “Instead, each time it led to new paradigms of

success. I am confident that the same will be true of digital technology and the sky will continue to remain right up there where it belongs.”

McGurk’s message comes with the indie sector having seen the most success this year from Fox Searchlight’s comedy “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which has cumed $35 million domestically and nearly $120 million worldwide. Other indie standouts include Focus Features’ “Moonrise Kingdom,” which has cumed $6.8 million after four weeks domestically; CBS Films’ “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” with $9 million and Roadside Attractions’ “Friends with Kids” with $7.2 million.

Meanwhile, Focus and Sony Pictures Classics try their luck the weekend of June 22 with “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” and “To Rome With Love.”

Searchlight launches Sundance hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild” midweek on June 27, followed two days later by Magnolia’s “Take This Waltz.” Other specialty summer highlights include Fox Searchlight’s “Ruby Sparks” (July 25), LD Entertainment’s “Killer Joe” (July 27) and Sony Classics’ “Celeste and Jesse Forever” (Aug. 3).

More Film

  • Myst Computer Game

    'Myst' Film and TV Rights Sell to Village Roadshow

    “Myst,” the influential video game that helped usher in the CD-ROM era, may inspire an ambitious multi-platform film and television universe. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the Australian-American co-producer and co-financier of the “Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” franchises, has acquired the rights to the first-person graphic adventure. For those born post-90s, “Myst” was wildly popular and [...]

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

  • monty-python-are-fifty-in-2019

    Previously Unreleased Monty Python Audio to Get Airing for Troupe's 50th Anniversary

    Michael Palin will exec-produce series of radio specials containing never-before-released audio from Monty Python as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the iconic comedy troupe. They will play on the BBC in the U.K. and then go out in the U.S. Palin and his fellow Pythons – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content