“People truly want to get out of the house,” said distribution president Elissa Federoff during Monday’s Future of Film Conference at the start of the virtual American Film Market.
She was interviewed by Brent Lang, executive editor of film and media for Variety, a few hours after pharmaceutical company Pfizer said early data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective. The news jolted the stock market with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining more than 800 points.
“We know that audiences will come back to movie theaters, that the theatrical landscape will be vibrant again,” Federoff said. “This is very exciting news about the vaccine because potentially it makes the span of time a little shorter.”
“We’ve always projected we would be back and our movies would be in those theatres,” she added. “We love the cinema so much. It is the best way to see a movie I truly believe there is no virtual offering, there is no streaming equivalent there’s no digital equivalent to being in a movie theatre with an audience having a completely immersive experience in the dark, no phones, no talking, no distractions and of the audience being a character in that film. That really changes the whole dynamic.”
The session took place on the heels of a weekend when Focus Features’ drama “Let Him Go” led an otherwise sluggish box office, opening with an estimated $4.1 million at 2,454 locations. Major studios have been reluctant to open major titles and many potential moviegoers have been skittish about venturing into multiplexes.
Federoff said Neon plans to launch romantic drama “Ammonite,” starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, in theaters this weekend, followed by a Dec. 4 release on PVOD to help keep it in the conversation as an awards contender. She noted that it’s a similar approach to how the label handled “Parasite” in the months leading up to the Oscars, where it won best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best international film. Federoff pointed out that “Ammonite” will be Neon’s first PVOD release.”
“It’s launching over the holidays,” Federoff said. “That’s how we’ve handled prestige films. We’re hoping that it stays in the conversation. We kept people engaged for months with ‘Parasite.'”
The Future of Film Conference also featured a conversation with Mark Gill, president and CEO of Solstice Studios, and Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro. Solstice distinguished itself in mid-August when it launched the Russell Crowe thriller “Unhinged” as the first wide release since the pandemic started. “Unhinged” wound up with $20 million domestically and another $20 million internationally, and Gill acknowledged that Solstice had taken a considerable risk.
“Our instinct was that it was going to work and it turned out to be right,” he noted.
“Our idea was that we could be first and probably elevate a film of an otherwise modest budget of $33 million against Tenet which is hundreds of millions of dollars or ‘Mulan’ and that we might have an opportunity to elevate the movie,” Gill added. “And that is actually what happened. But it wasn’t for the faint at heart because we had five release dates. Every time we thought it was done another outbreak would happen somewhere in the U.S. or theatres wouldn’t open or Tenet would move. It was just the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve been doing this for a long long time.”
He said the continuing pandemic has muddied the prospects for a recovery, adding, “Something has to be done to get the caseload under control. My hope is that it can improve but it’s looking really tough.”
He noted that male moviegoers appear to be less reluctant than women to attend and that the situation has caused major studios to re-think their strategies for upcoming slates — presenting an opportunity for independents like Solstice.
“You’ll see the majors making fewer movies for theaters in the next few years,” he added.