Freelance writer Cari Lynn is a Deadline contributor based in Los Angeles.
Lionsgate has had a very good year and Vice Chairman Michael Burns, speaking today at the PGA’s Produced By conference, attributes this to staying nimble, embracing social media and banking on Jennifer Lawrence — all of which he says they’ll continue to do. The studio’s biggest hit The Hunger Games hit $400 million domestically this weekend. “The dream of any studio is to have franchises,” he said, looking to the opening of Hunger Games in China on 60 to 70 Imax screens. He’s also banking on the sequel to do even more since the book trilogy is catching on internationally. “We mitigate our risk with foreign pre-sales,” he says. Russia is also becoming a big market. “Several years ago, if someone had said Russia would be a giant territory, I’d have said, ‘have you been smoking weed?’ It was the same with China.” But asked if Lionsgate was going to move into worldwide distribution, the answer was a definitive No. “English-speaking is a place we like.” Foreign can be “too difficult. In some countries, for example, we can’t fire or hire people.”
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Burns is also bullish on digital content, citing Weeds creator Jenji Kohan’s upcoming Orange Is The New Black for Netflix. “As long as you control quality content, it doesn’t really matter what platform — digital broadcast, cable on demand, Netflix video streaming – create good content and it just doesn’t matter.”
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But when it comes down to it, Burn’s philosophy for a successful film still resonates of brick-and-mortar: “Know who is going to show up opening weekend. This business is punishing right now, it’s the haves and the have-nots, and you’ve got to get one segment or quadrant to show up opening weekend. … Take a look at the Saw franchise. Tyler Perry movies are not expensive to make. It’s not about size or budgets, but about a marketable hook.” One area Lionsgate plans to avoid for now: “Big family movies are highly unlikely. Last year, we spent $30 million releasing Warrior, it was an awesome movie, but we couldn’t get anyone to go.” It grossed $13 million domestically.
Burns contends that the best writing in the business is on television — and that TV is more profitable. “If I were a writer or producer or producer-director, I’d be focussing on television. On cable, you can write what you want.” Although Burns declined to talk about Mad Men, for fear of a Matthew Weiner reprisal, he mentioned the upcoming The Expendables, which he speculated could also be a TV series; the conclusion of The Twilight Saga; Ender’s Game, which he sees as a potential franchise; and he’s certain Lionsgate “will do something else with Jennifer Lawrence. We believe there is enormous opportunity for female leads.”