Producers Dan Lin and Chris Miller spoke about the return of the theatrical release market during a conversation at the Produced By conference. Lego Movie co-director Miller presented his producer Lin with the inaugural Vance Van Petten Award for entrepreneurial spirit. One of Miller’s questions for Lin was: are movies back, in the wake of the success of Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World Dominion?
“The market won’t be as robust as it was pre-COVID, [but] I think it will be robust,” Lin said. “Certain films that are big events, like Jurassic, like Top Gun, will still justify a theatrical release. Unfortunately, that middle tier, or you have kids, I have kids, it’s just easier to watch at home.”
Lin clarified that the event movie threshold is not limited to big-budget studio movies. He said indie movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once can still become theatrical events. Miller said Everything Everywhere was an example of something so original it compelled people to go to the theater.
“You need to see [it] because it’s not an experience you’ve had 20 times before,” Miller said. Miller added that more formulaic movies make people think, “That’s something you want to see on a streamer at home, this feels comfortable.”
Miller said his upcoming movie with Phil Lord, Cocaine Bear, attempts to be so unique, it’s a must-see. It is based on the true story of a bear who found bags of cocaine and went on a rampage.
“The tone of it is unlike anything else, and so the gamble there is it’s a fun comedy with a crazy bear in the middle of it, and it doesn’t feel like anything else that’s been out there before,” Miller said. “That’s the guiding principle for our thinking: is this going to be a theatrical experience, or not.”
Lin added that theaters still turn movies into “cultural moments” more than streaming movies, which “come and go.” Miller noted that streaming movies are less ubiquitous outside of movie viewing platforms.
“They don’t spend their money promoting the movies the same way on streamers, because they let the algorithm push it to you,” Miller said. “You’re not seeing it on the Happy Meals and billboards and omnipresent bags of Ruffles that tell you there’s dinosaurs around. That’s part of why it doesn’t feel like it’s a cultural moment. Movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once also is not on Ruffles, but are so unique, they generate interest.”
Lin said streaming movies do offer benefits for the theatrical industry. Lin said streaming services can be a new training ground to discuss the next generation of filmmakers, who could make theatrical movies one day.
“Streaming has more volume,” Lin said. “It allows us to break the next generation of writer and writer/director. Streamers have been very open to diversity and inclusion, a very targeted audience that doesn’t have to make $100 million opening weekend.”
Miller also brought up the cost-plus model, in which streaming services pay more up front, but limit the talents’ long-term revenue share. Lin agreed cost-plus is a problem for creators. Lin said it will be important to reward the makers of quality content, otherwise you’ll lose them.
“One, you just have to have the material that allows you to break through with buyers with a very innovative back-end model,” Lin said. “No. 2, we all have to get together. The Producers Guild, The Writers Guild, The Directors Guild, they don’t have the jurisdiction, but they have the members. Agents are going to be a huge part of this. It has to change. It won’t change quickly. They’re not going to be happy about it.”
On a positive note, Lin said Netflix turning to ad sales may end up benefiting transparency in negotiations. Under their subscription model, Netflix has been able to hide ratings and demographics. If they’re selling ads, they can’t keep those secrets anymore.
“Buyers for those ads will want to know who’s watching that show,” Lin said. “If parts of it move to an ad-based experience, there will be more transparency. We may see deficit financing again. I can only have so many subscription services. What’s old is new again.”
Miller agreed, “I think that when you make something that becomes a giant megahit, you want everybody to reap the rewards for that. It’s hard to know what is a megahit when they won’t tell you what’s a megahit.”
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