Paul Davidson is executive VP of film & TV at The Orchard, which had two of its biggest indie film hits with last summer’s “The Hero” and “The Dinner.”
By Gregg Goldstein
You’re the first distributor to partner with MoviePass on this year’s $3 million Sundance acquisition “American Animals.”
Every six weeks the industry changes. It sounds like a joke, but that’s how fast things are moving. When we can try a new model, that’s data for us. MoviePass is not only an equal partner — they leverage their understanding of their consumers and how to reach them. And they have the right demo: younger people who typically don’t go to the movies, who understand all-you-can-eat models. They can tell you what percentage of people who saw an ad on their app actually bought a ticket. That’s valuable information. We want to be one of the first [distributors] to understand what that might look like and what the advantages are.
It’s an equal partnership from an acquisition and investment standpoint in marketing and releasing the film, so they are fully invested in the success of the movie because they are equal partners in that success.
You’ve been one of the most consistent Cannes buyers since your theatrical film division launched in 2014. How are you adapting to the marketplace?
Over the last four years, we’ve increased the size and scope of the films that we’ve acquired and distributed. There have been some points in the last couple of years where we’ve been more aggressive and gotten in earlier on movies, especially in a marketplace where there is a lot of competition, and you have to make the choice between picking up something early or getting into a bidding war for something in the midst of the festival.
A year ago it was super-competitive. Everybody was buying finished product, and prices were significantly higher than a year or two prior to that. Last year we pre-bought Deniz Gamze Erguven’s “Kings” based on a promo and a script. But based on where the marketplace has been going this year, we’re more focused on finished product. There are only three movies in [Cannes] competition that have a [U.S.] distributor attached, far more that do not. That’s an opportunity for us to find great films.
How do you determine what you’ll buy and how you’ll release it?
Our focus going into Cannes is: can we find one or two foreign-language films that we think have potential to succeed domestically? Last year we picked up “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” which was a very well-regarded film that we were proud to distribute. We also pre-bought “Thelma” from Joachim Trier around Cannes. The previous year we picked up “Neruda” by Pablo Larrain, which also fit that category for us. They all represent what I would consider to be [a model of] progressive foreign films.
We have to fill a slate of eight to 12 theatrical releases a year — [for those], you’ve got to wake people up and “eventize” experiences around the films that get people off their couches, away from their devices. That can include driving a discussion with the cast and filmmakers to engage people, which is always the first stage in driving awareness and word-of-mouth. And from there, if you can catch lightning in a bottle, that word-of-mouth can turn into unpaid marketing and impressions.
We’re acquiring another 30 to 60 films a year — a lot of those could be in theaters in New York and L.A. and then digital. When we look to movies that we might acquire, we want to ensure that they make sense for the theatrical experience. For example, in the last year or two, we’ve been very cognizant about evaluating whether or not documentary films make sense as a theatrical or a digital experience, because so much documentary content is being made available on streaming platforms that are the first stop in their life cycle. People consider documentaries television material, so when you look at the ones that have been super-successful at the box office, like “Jane” or “I Am Not Your Negro,” they create an impression that’s larger than life, [and sometimes] become a social experience for the community to be a part of.
What’s your opinion on Cannes banning Netflix films from competition and Netflix withdrawing its films this year in response?
The shared experience of seeing a movie in theaters with an audience is second to none. It’s so hard to focus in this world today. I get frustrated myself, sitting at home, multitasking all the time instead of just closing everything else down and watching a movie. So I don’t want to see that experience go away.
I understand the instinct to protect that window. Domestically, we have 90 days, and then the movie is made available in myriad of ways for people across all different platforms. As a distributor, I find that to be beneficial —the windows are not too far away from each other, so they all kind of benefit each other.
Whether or not the window needs to be three years before it is shared with consumers. . .
With respect to what’s happening in France with Netflix, I think there’s probably a good compromise somewhere in there — splitting the difference, so to speak. Because I think it’s important for filmmakers to have their films experienced with audiences in that shared experience, and I think great art needs to find the widest audience possible.