Streaming’s dominance of the film industry is imminent, per producer Cassian Elwes, so we might as well get used to it, as companies like Apple, YouTube and Facebook are poised to invest in independent film-making. The producer made his statements yesterday at a Toronto International Film Festival moguls session.
Elwes reaped the benefits of a great streaming deal back in January, when he sold his Southern period film Mudbound to Netflix for $12.5M, the biggest deal at the Sundance Film Festival, besting Amazon’s pick-up of The Big Sick by $500K.
“The good news is that there’s a lot of money coming,” said Elwes about the future of indie filmmaking on streaming devices. “But should people see their movies that way? I don’t know. I hope enough people out there buy big screen TVs and hook their computers to them.”
“The drawback to all of this is that some kids watch films on their telephones and that’s a horrible way to watch films,” added Elwes, who acknowledged that Mudbound was meant to be seen on the big screen.
However, if there’s one media player who should properly commit to and charge for streaming films, it’s Google, says Elwes. “They’re the greatest pirate of our business. We literally had 11 million illegal downloads of Dallas Buyers Club. You can figure out the value of what those 11 million illegal downloads are. The primary purveyor of this is Google. You go to Google and say ‘I’d like to see Dallas Buyers Club for free. They’ll send you to 20 different sites to see any movie free right now.
“It’s ridiculous. It’s really bad for business. It takes jobs away from people and we make less movies and less money is coming in,” added the former co-head of William Morris Independent.
Elwes said that Netflix will release Mudbound on a few screens later this year to qualify for the Oscars. However, the film’s sale to Netflix cannot be deemed a failure, as “It’s in the win column because they paid a lot of money for it.”
Elwes told director Dee Rees that a greater audience will now be able to see the film on Netflix versus in a limited run at theaters. She plans in her interviews to encourage people to see the movie in groups at their homes so that a discussion occurs around the movie. Mudbound takes place in the south at a time that’s post World War II and prior to the Civil Rights movement. Blacks and Whites are pitted against another in an area of the country where flooding has greatly damaged farming.
Elwes had another experience with streaming another indie pic with the day-and-date release of Margin Call in the fall of 2011. The film sold out of Sundance to Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate for a little more than $1M. At the time, per Elwes, a day-and-date approach was “almost like a graveyard for movies.” However, Margin Call was embraced in reviews, and its release serendipitously benefited off the Occupy Wall Street movement making headlines at the time. On top of the pic’s near $20M global B.O., it also earned $5M in its first VOD run. Director J.C. Chandor’s original screenplay was also nominated for an Oscar.
Elwes mentioned that Netflix Chief Content Officer watched Mudbound before buying it with Adam Sandler, who was also blown away by the movie. Sarandos wanted to have the biggest deal at the fest and paid $500K more than Amazon’s buy of The Big Sick.
Yesterday’s session was moderated by Indiewire Editor-in-chief Dana Harris,who asked Elwes where Sarandos and Sandler saw Mudbound before buying it.
“He watched it in his condo!” said Elwes.
“So this is really interesting,” said Harris. “This gets to my question about the Netflix deal. So, you have the biggest deal of Sundance happened watching it on a computer, not watching it in a theater?”
Elwes responded, “I think they watched it on their telly, I think. I don’t know.”
For producer Elwes, his attachment to Mudbound began as a result of his wild ride on a zombie romantic comedy, Burying the Ex, with producers Carl Effenson and Kyle Tekiela. Essentially, Elwes was brought aboard Burying the Ex for a $250K EP fee. Three days before the shoot, the financing fell out. Elwes ultimately rescued the movie by getting Voltage to sell foreign. Given Elwes’s great feat with that movie, Effenson and Tekiela returned to the producer with Mudbound, a project they believed was Oscar-worthy.
In the course of telling the crowd yesterday about the types of smart films he makes, Elwes also made a point to slam Marvel movies, and that’s not uncommon, as he’s called Hollywood tentpole films “rubbish” during previous speaking engagements.
“I think their movies are fun, but I think they’re dumb. They make the same movie over and over again. Captain America is going to meet Iron Man and they’re going to go over here and beat up some men.” Elwes’s statement drew applause.
Elwes mentioned that in talking about Marvel movies with his friends, they can never pinpoint any memorable scene.
“Chinese food is much better than those films. They aren’t movies, they’re $150 million rides that you pay $10 for. They’re not movies. Young film-goers go to see these movies and think that’s cinema.”