There was lively discussion on the state of the film and TV industry during a panel at the Winston Baker UK Summit today which included Dan Steinman, Co-President and COO of 30WEST; Solstice Studios President & CEO Mark Gill; See-Saw Films COO Simon Gillis and Twickenham Studios Managing Director Cara Sheppard.
Among the topics addressed were “fake packaging,” a term Steinman sort of regretted using but also elaborated upon; the future of theatrical windowing; and the “minefield” that the pandemic era has created for agents and producers.
On the subject of “fake packaging” — think movies that are brought to markets, perhaps with a director or talent attached, but then never see the light of day — Steinman told moderator Sara Curran of Tricycle Talent and Tricycle Media, “It has been my experience that at times these packages come together with people involved in them not really thinking that they will get made. If you really think about the interests that the various people involved in these packages at the time these packages are getting put together, it’s not necessarily assessing with accuracy and analysis and honesty the likelihood that the packages will eventuate into movies.”
He added, “I really wouldn’t suggest attachments are fake with any kind of ill will or bad faith… Really what I meant is the packages, or so-called packages, that get sold into the marketplace as future movies don’t become movies in the future and had the tires of those packages been kicked hard enough, it could have been predicted that they were not likely to come into existence… When I’m assessing whether a package is a so-called ‘fake package,’ all I’m trying to do is to figure out whether it’s worth putting time into.”
It’s important to make sure talent is really committed to a project in question, Steinman elaborated. “That’s a classic sensitivity that needs to be looked at when you’re deciding whether to board a package as a financier or as a distributor in one territory or another.”
Gillis chimed in, “There are certain actors that are known amongst us in the industry — it’s not they haven’t read the script or they don’t want to be in it — but they do attach themselves a bit more loosely than other actors. That’s really important to know as first-class producers. If you’re taking something out, you’re staking your reputation on the fact that it will actually get made and that’s really important and that’s why distributors are willing to pay a premium for that.”
Gillis further added that it’s been an “amazing few years with high-end TV,” which nevertheless has made it “tougher for film because they’ve been taking a lot of that talent who back in the day wouldn’t have worked in TV, but now that’s the real payday.”
Looking to the future, Gillis said, “As the lockdowns hopefully are a thing of the past next year, there’s just going to be this crunch for all of the talent.” And that’s not just on-screen, but directors and heads of departments. “Everyone is just going to be fighting,” Gillis cautioned. “Springtime is going to be absolutely insane, which is great for everyone, but already high-end TV was pushing up the cost of films because of the huge amount of demand for a limited set of talent.”
What’s more, added Gillis, “No longer will agents be able to hire up those back-to-back gigs for the star actors with these very limited stop dates because there’s always the risk before the vaccine really takes effect that there will have to be multiple pushbacks to schedules. It’s a bit of a minefield for the agents and producers to get their heads round.”
Solstice’s Gill, meanwhile, warned of a contraction at the studios in terms of how many movies will be released in cinemas going forward. “You can just see the majors shifting… You can see it happening at every studio that there will be less. It feels to me like the budget levels, if anything, are probably going to have to go up slightly because the pricing pressure from TV, streamers and so on — it’s not going to be easy.”
Said Steinman, “I think there will be kind of a cleavage between the highest end movies that also may attract large enough audiences to support large budgets, but then many other movies getting made at lower budgets because of technology and flexibility on the part of above the line talent… I think there’s going to be a sort of dueling phenomena in the future.”
Windowing in and beyond the pandemic era was also addressed, and in particular the fact that so much of the independent business overseas has historically been contingent upon North American distributors being the anchor in the foreign sales-driven model (ie guaranteeing a release on 1,000 screens). Because of the “unreliability or unpredictability of the theatrical window,” Steinman said, “it’s going to be hard to promise distributors in other territories that the U.S. release will look a certain way.”
Said Gillis, “So much of the traditional ecosystem has been based around those U.S. release commitments and there’s a number of territories like Germany and Lat Am where the amount the distributor earns under its output deal was pegged to the U.S. box office. It will be interesting how long it takes all of those three-to-five year deals to catch up with this new landscape and whether we’ll start to see a situation where the rest of the world is no longer held back to the U.S. as the starting gun.”
Steinman added, “Theatrical windows are all over the map right now and we’ll see how they evolve over time. I don’t think they’re going to settle into fixed amounts any time soon. I think there’s going to be some movement, some flexibility and some sorting out.”
With regard to co-productions, Steinman suggested, “It’s probably more useful than ever to have your major partners on board as early as possible so you can figure out the strategy. This is going to be a massively complicated period.”
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