When it comes to an independently-financed movie, is it meant for a theatrical release or streaming?
It’s a question that The Imitation Game Oscar-nominated producer and Black Bear Pictures CEO/President Teddy Schwarzman assesses frequently in the current climate, and he expounded on that at Winston Baker’s Script to Screen Summit today at TIFF.
In regards to his independently produced films, Schwarzman has had equally great success on the big screen and streaming. The Imitation Game off a $15.4M net production cost became Black Bear’s most profitable theatrical release off a global gross of $233.5M. He also saw his Sundance 2017 premiere title Mudbound sell to Netflix for $12.5M who “turned it into event cinema that the Dee Rees movie deserved to be” yielding four Oscar nominations, half of them for Mary J. Blige in the supporting actress and original song categories.
“There are so many outlets to getting your content created,” said Schwarzman, “being in the game right now as a producer is a really interesting time, but as a financier, it’s a little bit tricky because the economic models are shifting and they aren’t all completely quantifiable yet. ”
After finding a diamond in the rough out of the 2,2K feature scripts Black Bear covers a year, and assessing the commercial prospects of a property in regards to its talent versus budget ratio, “a question we should have been asking last year and one that we’re now asking every day: Is this a theatrical film and if it is a theatrical film, who are the right distributors for it? Are they bankrupt or not? If it’s not theatrical, how does this fit into whatever pattern we’re able to discern from the streamers who’ve been the most aggressive in buying? And yet you really can’t finance a film unless it’s pre-bought based on the model of a streamer coming into acquire on a completed film-basis because there’s just no valuation in the traditional sense that’s tied to performance; it’s tied to a subscriber-based model. It complicates how you function as a financier,” said Schwarzman.
When it boils down to an independent film selling to a theatrical or streaming distributor, sometimes that deciding power isn’t solely in the hands of the financier. A pic’s talent (and their reps) can have considerable sway on where a title lands depending on whether the stars want to promote the feature or not. We asked Schwarzman about this type of sales scenario today.
“I think talent is always involved in domestic distribution discussions even though they may not actually have approval rights. It’s much more standard to have meaningful consultation rights. In rare circumstances there are certain talent that have approval rights over that deal. And you’re now contracting for a different language based on whether it’s a theatrical deal or a streaming deal and how any buyouts or different revenue streams might work for the talent or bonuses would work in those cases,” explained Schwarzman.
This year at TIFF, Black Bear Pictures has the Peter Hedges-directed movie Ben Is Back making its world premiere. Starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges, the pic follows a young boy who returns home from rehab on Christmas Eve, and he might be coming home too early. Roberts plays a mother who over the course of 24 hours aims to provide all the love and support and care that the family needs to stay together, yet protect her son against dangers that are simply out of her control.
There was “a substantial offer from Netflix” said the producer, and that “would have been the most successful thing financially, but we all made this for a reason and we think it deserves to be seen in theaters. Julia gives a crushing and devastating performance and that I think is really helped by being in theaters. It’s something people can talk about. There’s a flood of content on these platforms and it’s easy to get lost.”
Ben Is Back premieres Saturday night at the Princess of Wales Theatre at TIFF. Roadside Attractions will be releasing the pic on Dec. 7.