The rules of engagement between U.S. studios and streamers and European producers are starting to change.
That was a key takeaway from the Locarno Film Festival’s StepIN think tank on the state of the indie film industry, where on Wednesday some 50 European and international invited industry players participated in a daylong event involving working sessions to exchange thoughts on practices and business models and propose new ideas and strategies.
“The old model that the global streamers used to apply of ‘all or nothing’ and wanting to own everything forever has really now developed into a much more flexible approach,” said Carlo Dusi, head of London-based Endor Productions, who was the notetaker of the round table on New Opportunities for Film Financing and Production, presenting his group’s conclusions.
They are now open “to look at ways in which to acquire or co-commission against multiple territories, taking licenses instead of ownership in perpetuity [and] sharing rights and revenues in more flexible ways,” he added. Which of course does not mean there isn’t plenty of room for improvement.
“We talked a lot with our U.S. studio representative [veteran acquisitions and production exec Sejin Croninger, who is executive VP of worldwide acquisitions at Paramount Pictures and was also among the event’s keynote speakers] about the fact that there is an acquisitions model that is becoming increasingly flexible and enabling the studio sector to participate in films that might to be financially viable for them to produce, but still have a place within their production pipelines, particularly as those pipelines are developing across theatrical, television platforms, and streaming,” Dusi went on to add.
Wolf Osthaus, who is Netflix’s director of public policy for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, was also among this closed door session’s participants.
“That said, as producers, we do benefit from having a wide array of choices as there are certain cases in which taking your content to a one-stop shop can allow you to finance something really quickly, rather than undergoing the pain and the costs of a multiparty transaction,” Dusi also noted.
Dusi also pointed out that “all participants in the global content ecosystem have confirmed how essential the independent production sector is to the success of their business, and acknowledged that the ability to create and own IP is an essential element in the creation of a sustainable independent industry.”
After a taking a break last year from its strictly business focus to zero in mainly on mental health and envisioning a more humane work environment, the Swiss fest’s unique initiative, now in its 10th edition, was back to delving into the industry’s most pressing operational issues and what lies ahead.
Here are other StepIN takeaways:
At the session on the theatrical ecosystem, moderated by Neon’s president of theatrical distribution Elissa Federoff, it was pointed out that “many theaters in the U.S. are just expecting people to come back and not doing enough to bring them back,” the session’s notetaker, MUBI director of marketing Irene Musumeci, said, presenting their conclusions.
And the theatrical situation in Europe is similar.
“In France, cinema has replaced the church but even there the market share is now minus 20%; in Italy it’s minus 60%. It’s a catastrophe! Basically, the core audience in Europe, which is aged over 55, has not come back,” Musumeci said one participant pointed out.
Similarly to the U.S., in Europe blockbusters have also recovered very well at the box office; but the arthouse sector remains very difficult. Audience trends are changing and it “definitely feels that OTT is a threat,” she said.
Federoff during the session, and also during her keynote prior to the round table, struck an upbeat note saying that “there have been enormous changes, but they are cyclical. Everything eventually will come around again.”
Basically, Federoff’s take is that, going forward, people might watch movies in different ways, but those who like watching films in cinemas will continue to do so.
That said, it’s inevitable that the theatrical footprint will be much smaller in future. “In essence we shared that we think the theatrical space will change and possibly shrink a bit, but it won’t die!” Musumeci concluded.
The gender equality and social impact roundtable moderated by Think-Film Impact Production chief Danielle Turkov Wilson, who was also a keynote speaker, underlined that not only is there an internal skill gap that needs to be filled, there is also an external audience demand on the part of millennials and Gen Z who have a spending power of over $360 billion, by her count.
Think-Film’s Amy Shepherd, who was this session’s notetaker, pointed out that “Data is inherently biased in the way that it is collected and presented. Even some of the reports that exist around gender equality or what audiences want are missing a vital piece of the puzzle.”
Furthermore, “there is also a gap in that we need straightforward implementation of legal provisions that already exist,” she added.
This group also came up with the drastic and controversial proposal that one way to fill this gap, in its various forms, are quotas, which could be a viable way “to redress an imbalance that does exist,” she said.
These quotas could “range from behind the camera personnel, to quotas for film festival inclusion,” Shepherd specified.
“We all want film festivals to be showcasing the best of the artistic quality; but if there is such a small amount of films submitted to festivals that are directed by women — for example — then there is always going to be an imbalance,” she noted.
“So there needs to be a quotient at festivals to have a certain number of productions from female directors, so that they [films directed by women] can get off the ground in the first place,” Shepherd added, cautioning that “this is something that requires a much, much deeper conversation.”
At a ‘film festivals and markets in the hybrid era’ session “the overall feeling was that hybrid is the future,” reported notetaker Marge Liiske, managing director of the Tallinn and Baltic event which is the industry side of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
“But it’s not going to work the same way for every festival because every festival and market are different,” she added.
Liiske pointed to one very alarming piece of data, according to which “roughly 80% of films screened at a festival do not reach theatrical distribution. Therefore, many physical festivals are the only way the filmmakers can meet their live audiences,” Liiske said.
So, even after the pandemic, virtual or hybrid screenings being set up by festival brands “are cultivating new audiences,” she said, which is a definite positive.
Another interesting observation that emerged is that festival audiences are ageing. “There are signs that more than half of festival goers are over 60 years of age,” Liiske said. “Festivals and markets have to work with younger people by bringing more young people onto their teams. Only the young generation can understand how to reach and attract the TikTok generation.”
Attendees at StepIN also included Killer Films chief Christine Vachon, Eurimages fund chief Susan Newman-Baudais; Rotterdam Film Festival chief Vanja Kaludjercic; Oscilloscope president Dan Berger; Jiyong Kim, who is president of South Korea’s AK Entertainment; and Alexis Hofmann, head of acquisitions at France’s Bac Films.