Frontieres Genre Filmmakers Weigh up Streamer and Theatrical Options

The Occupant
The Occupant

With cinemas closed in much of the world and viewers watching films via streaming platforms, genre filmmakers at this week’s Frontières could be forgiven for primarily looking to OTT services to distribute their projects.

Genre films, of course, have increasingly found a home in recent years on SVODs. Mainstream platforms like Netflix have enjoyed success with the likes of sci-fi thriller “Bird Box,” while specialist platforms like AMC Networks-owned streamer Shudder, which features horror, thriller and supernatural fiction titles, have emerged as significant buyers at festivals and markets.

Yet, despite the inexorable rise of streaming platforms and the struggles of theaters amid COVID-19 cinema shutdowns, many of the producers and directors pitching projects on June 25 at Frontières – the annual Cannes Film Market dedicated to genre film – say they remain keen on a theatrical release alongside streamer distribution.

“We’re keen to find the best home for our film, first and foremost,” says Raymond van der Kaaij, producer of Dutch sci-fi thriller “The Occupant” which is looking for financing partners at Frontières. “Of course streaming platforms have become a very important place for distribution and audiences reach…but we also consider theatrical as a great way to reach audiences.”

A desire for films to be seen by a large audience on the big screen looms large in the minds of many. “A live audience has always been part of our plan…this is a film that ought to be experienced by a group of viewers,” says director Jen Handorf of her project “The Change,” which tackles the taboo subject of the menopause through comedy and horror.

Maria Ivanova, the Russian director of “In Her Head” – a co-production from Russia, Lebanon, Georgia, France and Lithuania – admits to having “rather conservative views” when it comes to distribution and screenings. “It’s true that we don’t have any alternative now apart from watching films on the internet,” says Ivanova. “But I hope that our movie will have a full theatrical release, and I’m pretty sure it will deserve it.”

Others cite drive-in theaters, which have experienced a resurgence during the pandemic, as a possible big screen outlet. “The films doing well at drive-ins during the pandemic often seem to be genre films, which shows the communal viewing of these films continues to be a great source of entertainment,” says Clique Pictures’ Lauren Grant, producer of “Coming Soon,” about a series of bizarre murders inspired by classics 80’s films.

However, for those projects without well-known talent in front of or behind the camera, it remains difficult to find distributors willing to commit to the expense of a theatrical release for a genre film. Says Frontières executive director Annick Mahnert: “More and more platforms are acquiring genre films.”

Expectations among filmmakers have changed as a result. “When I first started out, it was so important to get a theatrical release,” says Alyson Richards, the writer and producer of “The Retreat,” about a lesbian couple who end up fighting off militant serial killers while on a remote cabin retreat. “That of course has been changing rapidly for years, and now with the pandemic, theatrical is playing even less of a role.”

The possibility of global distribution through an OTT player is also a lure. Richards says a filmmaker’s goal is to get the largest number of people to see a film, “so certainly there are advantages to selling to a global streamer.”

One Frontières project, Nordic horror “Breeder,” secured funding from SVOD platform Blockbuster, which is active in Scandinavia and has taken rights for the region. Producer Amalie Lyngbo Quist of Beo Starling says the filmmakers are “very much aiming for theatrical releases where possible,” noting that VOD rights in the rest of the world are “really important to us.”

Meanwhile, many of the six completed genre projects, like “Breeders,” taking part in the Buyers Showcase at Frontières sound optimistic about their chances of securing distribution, particularly given the shortage of new content due to COVID-19 production shutdowns.

U.S. Kung Fu action comedy “The Paper Tigers,” for example, completed production before COVID-19 lockdowns hit. “With the pandemic, the demand for content in the genre market has actually gone up,” says the film’s producer Al’n Duong, who adds that audiences stuck at home “are much more willing to explore new titles that they usually would not watch.”