Zurich Summit Mulls the Future of Film Distribution

Zurich Summit Mulls the Future of Film Distribution
Courtesy of Josef Brunner

Senior producers and distributors took to the stage at the Zurich Summit to debate the future of film distribution.

Amid the rise of the streamers, collapsing theatrical windows and the shuttering of cinemas during the pandemic, they stressed the need for flexibility when planning the best way to release movies.

Danny Perkins, the CEO and founder of Elysian Film Group, said: “There’s more change than ever. There is flux. There’s a need to be flexible within it. Because if something’s rigid, like a former theatrical window, it’s only going to break.”

Perkins added: “It’s very hard to see, but there’s definitely opportunity in distribution.”

The panel, which was hosted by CAA agent Maren Olson, also debated how independent financiers and distributors could compete with the resources and reach of the global streamers.

Fears of a concentration of power in the hands of the streamers were expressed by Totem Films co-founder Laure Parleani. “It’s more and more a monopolistic situation,” she said. “The worst thing that can happen to any industry is that there are a lot of people selling projects, but fewer and fewer buyers.”

Dan Steinman, co-president and COO of 30West, said it was important to work out if a movie was best suited for theatrical or streaming. He said while 30West strongly leaned into theatrical releasing, it was important to let the content determine the strategy. “If a movie can succeed theatrically, it ought to go theatrical.”

Complicating matters, he noted that sometimes actors involved in a project don’t want it to be released theatrically. “It’s sort of the opposite of how things were until very recently…they’d rather not have the pressure of opening weekend for all kinds of reasons.”

This echoed earlier comments by MGM Motion Picture Group chairman Michael De Luca at the Summit, who said that some directors preferred the streaming route for similar reasons.

Robert Walak, president of Anonymous Content’s AC Studios, backed up the point. “The biggest change that has happened over the past year is now filmmakers saying that they would rather go to a streamer than face the pressure of the actual release.”

The panel also debated the challenges of releasing a film at a time of collapsing theatrical windows.

Steinman said that a “huge issue” is aligning U.S. and non-U.S. distribution for movies. With windows collapsing from around 90 days to a matter of weeks, major European territories that are necessary for financing movies are having a hard time tying in with short U.S. windows.

“That means it’s hard to get the movies financed in this way,” said Steinman. “It often means that, by default, you end up going to the streamers. So that’s the kind of conundrum – it’s an economic problem. It’s a collective action problem. And I think it’s our responsibility to solve it over the next year or two.”

Perkins again stressed the need for flexibility. He said that traditionally, the U.S. release strategy and P&A spend would help drive value internationally for films. “But, in a world where films like ‘Dune’ go day and date, all bets are off. You can’t count on a window on any film.”

He said that international distributors also face time challenges in building campaigns for films if they are being released day and date in the States. “The traditional things don’t apply anymore. It’s just how fast can you get it out…and how can we find what’s special about this film and sell it to a British audience?”

Said Walak: “We’re very much at a period of flux at the moment waiting for theatrical to sort of swing back. It feels like whatever happens, we’re not going back to 2019. We have to find a way to work with streamers but also protect theatrical.”