Indie film stalwart Stuart Ford has warned that the lack of “audience accountability” creators have when making content for streaming platforms may, over time, have a “creeping diluting effect on quality”.
Speaking at the MIA Market, which runs alongside the Rome Film Festival, the AGC Studios founder said that he had an “existential fear [that] if our industry becomes overly dominated by [the streaming] model then over a period of time the mindset of the creative community becomes business to business”.
He added that the mentality of creatives could shift to “as long as we can sell it [the content] we have done our jobs” rather than “we have to make something so great the audience responds”.
Ford made pains to assure the audience that he is not anti-streaming. In fact, AGC has multiple projects in the works for streaming services.
“I’m not one of those that says everything they [the streamers] do is crap,” he explained. “I have a number of friends who work for the streamers who want the content to be great. It’s not that they’re not focused on quality, it’s that nexus between the actual creators and the audience.”
The executive credited the digital giants with “fuelling much of the growth in production activity”, which has led to a “boom” for producers. He said that U.S. content continues to be the “most popular form of entertainment” being commissioned but noted that “they are also by and large putting tremendous focus on generating local-language product to help fuel subscriptions in strategically important territories”.
“It’s a golden period for local producers,” he added.
Addressing the ‘producer for hire’ model – often levelled at the streamers as a negative aspect of their business strategy, with creators benefiting from large initial fees but rarely being able to hold onto IP – Ford said there was nothing wrong with that setup but it depends who, as a producer, you want to be.
“The hamster wheel of making film and TV for the streamers is a lucrative hamster wheel and it’s speeding up,” he commented.
However, for AGC the priority is to “build an entity of corporate substance, a balance sheet” and to do that “you need more than revenue generation from fees, you need assets, you need to own at least some portion of what you’re making”.
“The only way to do that in the current landscape is to self-finance or co-finance, or sell rights when you’re far enough down the road with a project that you have leverage,” he continued.
One of the greatest challenges in the biz right now, Ford noted, is the lack of availability of talent.
“[Tentpole] movies take actors out of the market for six months at a time, and then in the remainder of their time they want to do a streamer movie or TV [because of the level of pay]. It has squeezed us all,” he said. “I think there’s a consensus that it has never been harder to assemble on screen talent and top end writers and directors.”