EXCLUSIVE: Sky has picked up an impressive trio of movies for its nascent day-and-date distribution push in the UK, which sees films debut on Sky Cinema the same day they open in theaters.
New to the Sky Cinema ‘Originals’ slate are Dan Fogelsman’s romance-drama Life Itself, starring Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening, Samuel L Jackson and Antonio Banderas; Steven Knight thriller Serenity, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway; and Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile, starring Zac Efron and Lily Collins. Life Itself and Serenity will have fall releases stateside via Amazon and Aviron, respectively, but the trio have yet to be dated for the UK.
Moonlight and Amy distributor Altitude will release the high-profile titles theatrically after already handling family animation Monster Family, Rob Cohen action pic Hurricane Heist and Clive Owen thriller Anon for Sky earlier this year. Monster Family reached 137 screens (despite not having buy-in from some leading chains), taking $490,000. The fourth film in the day-and-date push, Scott Mann action-thriller Final Score starring Dave Bautista, has just been dated for September 7 in the UK.
Sky remains the single biggest investor in film in Blighty thanks to its long-running studio output deals. The pay TV giant has 23m subscribers across Europe (the UK accounts for the lion’s share of subs) and a content war-chest of more than $9B for sport, TV and film.
A la Netflix and Amazon, Originals are increasingly important: high-profile Sky drama offerings in that vein include Britannia and Riviera. Competition from Netflix is fierce, but that didn’t stop the two services agreeing a deal earlier this year for premium Sky subscriptions to include Netflix access.
We spoke to Sky Cinema Group Director Ian Lewis about the company’s push into ‘Original’ movies, the scope for in-house film development and production and whether Fox and Comcast takeover talk is impacting strategy.
You’ve picked up some high-profile movies for your next wave of day-and-date releases….
Ian Lewis: We’ve been working on our Originals strategy for a couple of years now. We announced the day and date element in January. It’s currently a UK drive and we’re doing different things in other markets.
In terms of the films we have coming up, Dave Bautista does a great job in Final Score. We’re very excited about Life Itself, which we picked up from FilmNation. We came on very early. We screened the film internally last week and I have to say it’s the first time I’ve seen so many colleagues crying. It’s brilliantly written and directed and will probably screen at a fall festival. We’re still working on the UK date. Dating, and its importance, is something we are learning about more and more and we talk to Altitude quite a bit about that.
Serenity with Matthew Mconaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke and Diane Lane is still in post-production but it’s getting a lot of festival interest. We have a very broad customer base at Sky Cinema and we want to deliver different types of films. It could go out late fall or early next year.
The third movie is Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile, which we just agreed in Cannes with Voltage. We’ll see whether the title remains the same. This is also in post but it will be Zac’s best performance in years. He is brilliant in it and portrays a dark but magnetic character. The film doesn’t gloss over Bundy being one of the most heinous characters in recent American history but it also considers his charisma and is told from his girlfriend’s perspective, which is an interesting new take. We first started talking to Voltage about it when they launched the script at AFM last year.
We’ve been getting involved in these movies earlier and earlier. With Life Itself, the first discussion we had on the movie was at script stage in early 2016. We loved it from the get go.
And Altitude will release all three?
That’s the plan. They have been great so far and we hope the partnership can continue for the foreseeable future. These are Sky acquisitions but we don’t currently have our own theatrical team and I don’t feel the need for one at the moment.
Monster Family was your widest release so far. Will these new ones go wider?
Exhibitors will play a part in determining that. We have spent millions of pounds this year on our releases and many theaters have come on board.
The UK’s three largest multiplex chains, Vue, Odeon and Cineworld, have not opted in. What’s the plan there?
We’ve spoken to them on multiple occasions. I don’t know if they’ll join us but hopefully at some point we can find the right model and films that work for both of us. I’m very sure that the quality of these three films will be of appeal to their customer base.
How have the results been so far on your service?
We’re very pleased. When I look at how the films have performed on the Sky service they have played at least as well, if not better, than similar movies we’ve had through our studio or independent partnerships. We have almost 30 years of viewing information about our viewers and we use that data to make sure we are chasing the most appropriate films for our audience.
We have also been in discussion with UK producers about a number of British films at an early stage. We have had input on cast and scripts and I hope that we’ll have news on those in the coming months. I’ve been very enthused by the quality of those projects which are bigger budget and better than I was seeing in the past.
These movies are all being branded as Sky Originals, right?
We’re calling them Sky Cinema Original Films as a simplified label for our customers and as a way to differentiate them from our existing offering.
How many movies will you be taking on in this vein going forward?
In 2018 we’re probably looking at 4,5 or 6 films. 2019 probably around 6-7. I hope it can grow over time.
The UK distribution space is tough. The likes of Lionsgate and Studiocanal have been pulling back from third party acquisitions. Did that provide and opportunity or hasten this push?
I’m not sure we have approached it like that. If you look at people’s interest in movies as a genre, there is no evidence interest is waning. But there are definitely signs that some areas of the business are more difficult. Look at the DVD market, for example. The motivation for us was to offer a better service to our customers. Some companies in the sector have embraced our new strategy, others are more afraid of the unknown.
Will in-house development and production be a thing going forward?
It’s a potential in the future. We did look at producing family movies a few years ago but the in house development on those was ultimately handled by our drama commissioning team. Some of the projects did materialize — The Last Dragonslayer, Fungus The Bogyman — but they went on Sky One rather than Sky Cinema. They were good quality TV movies.
We don’t need a development team at the moment because there are enough projects out there for us to get involved in. As we grow I’d like our slate to be bigger and the size of the movies to be bigger. We’ll need to grow our team at that point.
Are you happy with the Sky Cinema proposition as it is now?
Sky started in the movie business in 1989, even before sports were a core part of the offering. We remain in a very good place. We wouldn’t be investing more in content — we are still the UK’s single biggest investor in film — if we weren’t driving subscriptions. Alongside our core offering, Sky Store revenues have grown in the last year as well. We’re optimistic that the business we have built there is a good companion business.
Is all the Fox and Comcast takeover talk impacting your strategy at all?
Fox? Disney? I haven’t heard anything about that [laughs]… Everyone knows it’s there. It’s flattering to know the company is in high demand but we will just focus on what we do well. If and when we have new owners I’m sure they will want to talk about Sky Cinema’s offering but I’ll think about that when we get to that point.