A star was discovered if not born at Saturday’s Produced By Conference. When the afternoon panel on the state of film financing was over, Sophie Watts was mobbed by audience members hoping to get a chance to speak to her directly, and many of them did, one after another, until organizers cleared the room. Watts, the president of STX Entertainment, wowed the crowd with her energy, optimism, and vision for great things to come, her head bobbing as fast as she talked about “weaponizing talent to mobilize ideas.”
The Cambridge grad urged the producers present to contact her fledgling studio and pitch their ideas. When a member of the audience told her that he couldn’t get agents to take his calls, she bounded out of her chair and, to the cheers of the audience, took his card. Watts, they could sense, was something different in a town that could use something different.
STX Entertainment, she said, has four films in the can right now and will produce half a dozen more this year. The new studio will produce at least that many films, in the $20 milion-$80 million budget range, each year going forward, she said. “We are building a movie studio from the ground up to provide a custom-made home for the world’s best storytellers. The intention has always been to channel those storytellers and their stories into a new medium – to create a studio of the future.”
With movie theaters under assault from Netflix, other streaming video platforms, and a range of other delivery platforms, Watts said that she believes that people still want to see movies together in theaters.
“I believe in the future of movies,” she said. “I am a strict believer that movies are not going away. Will Netflix kill the movie theater? No!” she said, to thunderous applause. Indeed, almost everything she said was greeted by a round of applause. “Movies are getting greater and audiences are getting more involved,” she said. “Audiences want to be swamped with visions they couldn’t come up with themselves.”
Her idea for getting people into the theaters is to reverse engineer the process -– to bring marketing and distribution into the process from the very beginning. That’s not exactly a new idea, but she said she spent a year cold-calling theater chains offering them all the movies her studio could turn out if they would give her the same number of screens and run time. They all agreed -– eagerly, she said.
For STX, she said, “Money is not the issue” -– the issue is good ideas. With backing from TPG Growth, the giant equity investment firm, she said STX has also aligned with partners in China “who are desperate to try and understand Hollywood.”
Panelists Jonathan Deckter, president of Voltage Pictures; attorney Elsa Ramo, founding partner of Ramo Law; Hal Sadoff, recently appointed CEO of Silver Pictures Entertainment; banker Adrian Ward from Pacific Mercantile Bank, and moderator Gary Lucchesi, president of the Producers Guild, all offered insightful commentary about the ins and outs of financing independent films, but it was Watts who stole the show.