Imagine partners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer both take an upbeat view of the changes reshaping Hollywood, arguing that streaming has unmatched global reach even though it has altered theatrical releasing.
The pair kicked off Toronto’s five-day industry conference section with an hour-long conversation. They hit on topics like the remaking of Imagine, the streaming revolution, their parting with Universal, and their growing interest in documentaries and tech innovation.
“Hardware and distribution are always in a state of evolution,” Grazer said. “There is some beauty in this new distribution model in that it enables us to have a wider palette.”
The emerging convention of releasing films theatrically for just three or four weeks before putting them on streaming platforms — an approach taken by Netflix and Amazon — is “a pretty great model,” Grazer added.
Howard said Hillbilly Elegy, the forthcoming adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir that he is directing for Netflix, will wind up reaching more people through the streaming giant than it otherwise might have. “I feel like more people will come and see the film” despite its likely tight window, he said.
The “nature of the film, which is a “character-driven story” that is “not a tentpole-type of movie” made Netflix a logical home, Howard said. The streaming company, he said, had the “right marketing strategy, point of view, reason to make it.”
The terrain of the book, which recounts Vance’s upbringing in Appalachia and his extended family’s struggles with violence and abuse, was a determining factor as the filmmakers met with buyers. “I felt that with a difficult subject matter, dark and difficult and tough in places,” Netflix was best positioned to champion it. “I feel like there’s a chance that more people will see it faster, more water-cooler discussion than if we rolled it out in a typical theatrical pattern, particularly in this climate.”
Image itself has had to evolve dramatically to match the changing landscape, Howard and Grazer said. The company ended its 30-year business relationship with Universal in 2016, though it continues to make some projects handled by the studio.
Beyond having to raise money and self-fund more projects, the move also coincided with an effort to streamline the organization and reduce hierarchy. “We’re trying to take away these infrastructures and empower creative people who are passionate,” Grazer said.
At the same time Imagine has gone through a revamp, Howard said, the industry has also evolved. “It’s ever more competitive, which is a little bit unexpected, in a way. You would think that it would make it easier to get things done. But each company is a brand and they’re trying to guard that brand very carefully and very methodically. That part of it leads to this quagmire and this slow process. That’s not always the case.”
Grazer gave a particular shoutout to a young producer at Imagine named Julie Oh, who spearheaded the company’s effort to make a film of Tick … Tick … Boom! The original stage musical was written by Jonathan Larson, the late creator of Rent. Oh managed to get Lin-Manuel Miranda attached as a director of the project, Grazer said. Netflix has committed to making the film, which stars Andrew Garfield.
The dramatic changes rippling through the industry have worsened the already imperfect system of developing material, Grazer said. “The slog within the bureaucratic systems has become a malignancy,” he said. “It slows down your project so much.”
At Imagine, doing away with silos and hierarchies has become the priority. “We have to change this vertical power system,” Grazer said.
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