Given the studios’ obsession with sequels and remakes, some producers have come up with an idea to improve the flow: Instead of waiting a few years to create a sequel, why not quickly make five or six at the same time? And make them in different languages aimed at different markets?
A new financing and distribution entity called Globalgate is aggressively pursuing this mission and has raised a lot of money for the cause. The company’s formation underscores another phenomenon as well: While most nations around the world are stepping up production of films aimed primarily at their domestic audience, the U.S. may be the only country that aims its pictures primarily at foreign filmgoers. When I was part of the studio decision-making process, the box office potential in the U.S. came first. I remember Paramount’s chief of overseas sales getting shouted down for predicting that The Godfather wouldn’t do well in Europe and hence opposing the project. But now Hollywood’s view of the world has shifted; American ticket buyers are taken for granted.
Which brings us back to Globalgate’s aims and motivations: The market share of local-language films is on the rise around the world – 40% in France, 55% in Japan, 90% in India, 60% in Turkey. There are two major reasons: Local filmgoers prefer familiar themes and casts and are starting to get bored with Hollywood’s superhero fare, and secondly, Hollywood is turning out fewer films as a result of its dependency on franchises.
Enter Globalgate, which is busily turning out versions of movies titled Instructions Not Included, Fack Ju Goehte, and Fuenf Freunde in China, Mexico, Brazil and other territories. The company would like to make at least 25 films a year on this basis – partly funded by Globalgate, partly by a consortium of local distributors. The theory is simple: If a storyline works in one territory, why wouldn’t it work in another – especially if adapted with local casting and a modest rewrite?
“People are starving for good stories,” asserts Paul Presburger, a key player in the consortium who also is CEO of Pantelion Films, which focuses on the Latin American and the Latino market in the U.S. Two of the key architects of the initiative are Jon Feltheimer and Patrick Wachsberger of Lionsgate, who are eager to increase Lionsgate’s international presence. Among the 11 local entities are Gaumont, Televisa/Videocine, Kadakawa and Nordisk.
American majors like Warner Bros and Fox have long been active in the local product business, partnering in as many as 25 films each in concert with local players. The Globalgate project is distinct in that it intends to take the initiative in identifying “hot” intellectual property and replicating it promptly and globally. Not that the intellectual property is especially intellectual — high-concept comedy is its focus.
Instructions Not Included, for example, is about a playboy who unexpectedly finds himself with a baby to care for. He desperately tries to find the mother, an ex-girlfriend, but ends up raising the child. That film is now being developed for India and China and already has made money in France and Turkey. Fack Ja Guchta has been a hit in Germany and is now aiming for Mexico and perhaps the U.S.
Directors of art films will not be thrilled with Globalgate. They’ll argue the initiative will channel resources into commercial films and away from projects that truly reflect the cultural sensibilities of the countries from which they emanate. But Globalgate’s backers will argue that their product at least embodies local themes and employs local talent. Hollywood studios, they point out, have radically altered their schedules to focus on projects that will play abroad.
Since taking over at Sony Pictures, for example, Tom Rothman has prioritized star-laden thrillers like Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Rothman has promoted Sanford Panitch as a key executive – Panitch has long specialized in the overseas market. Rothman has also summoned foreign marketing and distributing executives for intense strategy sessions at the studio, as Michael Cieply reported on Deadline last week. In doing so, Rothman clearly will not be left behind in Hollywood’s thrust for international clout.