In a wide-ranging session with British Film Institute Deputy CEO Ben Roberts, indie biz stalwart Basner, whose blue-chip firm FilmNation has become a watchword for quality and international sales success, said of the current business, “There’s so much more opportunity today [in independent film], even if it can feel harder. There are so many ways people are consuming movies. Everyone’s talking about whether the independent business is over, but I see it as a boom right now. It’s going to grow, just maybe not in the way I expected two-three years ago.”
Basner, whose recent FilmNation slate includes Cannes hit Pain & Glory, LFF title The Personal History Of David Copperfield and upcoming Simon Kinberg action pic 355, said that streamers are increasing appetite for film.
“People are spending more time watching movies than they used to. We’re still delivering movies that belong in theaters but we’re also making movies for all these platforms. In today’s world you have to look at every film in a bespoke manner. The bar is so high for what people are willing to watch – whether it’s at home, on their phone, or in a cinema – you have to make sure that the movie is great.”
He continued, “Feature film is a growth industry, we’re going to participate in that, but it’s going to be different than times past. The door has opened to creativity and telling different stories from different people around the world.”
Basner admitted that a lack of data transparency makes it a challenge when trying to figure out what content will work on a platform, but that there are identifiable trends.
“We’ve been trying to find more romance films, they’re not working as well theatrically as they used to, but they’re working on the platforms,” he noted, adding that the young adult genre was another area that was “working well” and has an established audience online.
One challenge to arise from the proliferation of streamers, he said, is that finding competent, affordable crew has become more difficult. But overall the competition between growing and emerging platforms has created increased appetite for content and put more money into the marketplace.
“We would like the streamers to battle it out for many years to come, it would be good for everyone,” he added.
FilmNation has sold a number of Amazon titles and recently struck a deal to represent select territories on Netflix’s The Irishman.
Basner also discussed the perception and expectation challenge that resulted from the record-breaking $13M Sundance deal he struck with Amazon on Mindy Kaling’s Late Night. The film was one of the buzz projects of the festival but has underwhelmed at the box office, taking only $22M global to date.
Basner noted, “We love that film. We thought we’d have lots of bidders and sell it for a lot of money, all of which turned out, and we sold it for a record-setting price to Amazon. But never again was that movie talked about, or written about, without people mentioning how much Amazon had paid for it. All of a sudden it had to become a blockbuster to have success and I think that was unfair pressure on the filmmakers.”
During the London session Basner discussed his humble origins as a sales rep in his father’s business making women’s sweaters. After getting his film break as an intern at Ted Hope’s production outfit Good Machine, he went on to work at TWC before building FilmNation from the ground up into the revered sales, production and finance company it is today.
Quizzed on the future of the business by Roberts, Basner noted that the company had avoided getting into TV in the past, but that TV is now an avenue FilmNation is putting more resource into, including with the hire of TV executive Kirstie Macdonald to head up a new London office.
“We’re pretty late to television. A lot of our peers in the independent film world started to move to it when the independent model felt dead. Instinctively, when everyone is looking in one direction, I want to go a different way. We put $150M into making movies in [the space of] 16 months, and that paid off, but the truth is we should have done both,” said Basner, who noted that FilmNation has also expanded into podcasts and theatre.
The event was held during the BFI London Film Festival, which opened this week with a screening of Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History Of David Copperfield, and closes on Sunday (October 10) with the international premiere of Martin Scorsese’s Netflix feature The Irishman.
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