Skydance Media President and Chief Operating Officer Jesse Sisgold was on a Produced By panel today titled “The Keys to the Kingdom: Financiers & Distributors.” In discussing Skydance’s streaming and television ventures, Sisgold brought up the Jack Reacher series and why Skydance is going the streaming/TV route.
Tom Cruise played the title character in two films. The 2016 sequel, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back under-performed, so a third film was unlikely.
“We’re just being realistic about the landscape,” Sisgold said. “For us, those straight down the middle, awesome action thrillers in that mid-range budget, they just seem to lend themselves to an episodic experience. It’s not the old days [of television], where you had to limit it down to a pretty low scale.”
Also discussed during the gathering was the challenge of selling movies at this year’s Cannes market.
“Basically, take whatever you thought you could do 10 years ago and wipe out the bottom 2/3 of it,” said Solstice Studios CEO Mark Gill. “It’s not happening. It’s become a light-switch market, which is either they want it and they’ll pay well for it, or they don’t want it and it’s not a discount or maybe half if you do it with a lesser actor or reduce the budget. It’s zero.”
“Our financiers at Ingenious CK Hedge Fund said that was their perception of Cannes, which was the haves and have nots,” he added. “If you have what they want — that could be an art film, a
documentary, a $150 million Roland Emmerich film, we had a Russell Crowe film, Unhinged, which is $29 million, not that big a movie. Those things worked absolutely fine. They tend to be very easy to market. They tend to be reasonably provocative in some fashion and distinctive.”
One surprising factor to Gill was that quality scripts have become a bigger factor.
“They tend always, and this is the shocker for me, to have to have a really good script,” Gill explained. “That didn’t used to be true. It used to be ‘here’s the poster. We’ll write the
script if you buy it.'”
For some context to how tough Cannes 2019 was, Gill compared sales to previous years.
“In Cannes there used to be 20-30 movies that would sell out,” Gill said. “This last market, there were five. It’s just fewer and bigger and better. Bigger is wrong. Better could be a small scale, but for commercial movies, they don’t need that many and if it’s not exactly what they want, they’re just going to wait, or pass or not bother.”
One reason foreign markets have gotten pickier is that their own film industries have gotten stronger.
“In most countries, there is a very vibrant local language production community,” Gill explained. “Even in countries like Spain, who have been hurting economically since 2008, are starting to come around, most of those distributors are making four, five or six Spanish language movies a year and they’re working great.”
Foreign markets are investing in developing their own local language business.
“Part of it, they will acquire something here and there. Most of it is, they don’t need 15, 20, 30 movies a year anymore on their slate. If they have 8-10, they’re fine. By the way, if those 8-10 are good ,they’re way better off,” Gill said.
Whether they sell at Cannes or not, movies still have to play in the U.S. But with Disney acquiring Fox, they control a seemingly unbeatable number of assets and have major tentpole releases opening every month of the year.
Skydance’s Sisgold agrees that Disney is daunting competition but there is hope for independent studios and producers of original films.
“I do think folks are realizing the market share that Disney has,” Sisgold said. “We shouldn’t hide from that. If you look at the release schedule the next three years, Pixar, Disney animation, Lucas, Marvel, you have a behemoth coming every other month and you have to be aware of that. I think they are looking to find competition for that, especially with Disney+ coming.”
Disney’s streaming service will also have Marvel and Star Wars content that will keep viewers at home. So to make a film that drives people to theaters, and not to see an existing franchise, takes a specific vision.
“That leans into big swings,” Sisgold said. “I also think you have to either reinvent IP in a really serious way or be willing to take a calculated but big swing on something and launch your own franchise. I think the majors are still very hungry for that and they are looking at what’s working. Quality has to be higher because the audience has more choices.”
Solstice is aiming to take big swings too.
“The movie business is just about all sequels and remakes or has to be IP,” Gill said. “We have no choice. We don’t have any IP. We don’t have sequels to anything else. I happen to like things that are original anyway. There’s a lot of stuff out there that nobody else is touching.”
There is also a limit to how far Disney can milk its assets. The live-action adaptation of Disney animated classics is finite, Gill said.
“There is a point at which you can’t just keep retreading things and making it work,” Gill stated. “They’re getting to that point. I’m sure they’re smart people and I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’re going to have to start doing original stuff because there will be nothing left and nobody will care. How many more animated movies can you take the script and populate with real people and shoot it and call it live-action?”
Streaming services have cut into box office, and more streaming services are coming. Not only Disney+ but Warner Media Streaming and more. Theaters are correcting though. Subscription services are getting people back to the cinemas.
Moviepass isn’t working, but services that AMC A List are.
“Our theory is basically the theatrical experience, far from being broken, is maybe a little more competitive and is in better shape than usual,” Gill said. “[According to] a study published a week and a half ago, the average number of movies Americans are going to has ticked up. You start seeing it with theater chain subscription services. These are starting to work. They’re discounting the ticket, and make the difference on concessions. It’s basically asking people to buy a 12 times a year habit. None of these things is going to turn movies back to what it was in the ‘70s but it’s going to help make it sustainable.”