Spreading a lifeline for the independent film industry – The Hollywood Reporter



Famous Polish director and President of the European Film Academy Agnieszka Holland has expressed growing fear in the world of independent cinema: that global streamers will kill theatrical cinema.

Speaking via video link at a Cannes Film Market panel on Thursday, Holland called streaming platforms a “great unorganized black hole where our most fragile and personal products can go and go.” Instead of having films “only organized by algorithms,” Holland said independent filmmakers “need real curators, festivals, academies, critics. We need producers who will fight for a unique, rare, ambitious and empowering voice. “

But for many in the world of cinema, including the independent producers and distributors who make up the bulk of the Cannes market, streaming has been a lifeline, making it possible to fund a range of films that would otherwise be almost impossible to achieve.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters around the world and sent viewers rushing to streamers, mid-budget indie films struggled to get theatrical releases and even more to earn money. ‘money with them. But the increase in streaming – and increased competition for content with more online competitors, both broad and niche, in the international market – has changed the math.

“We have a whole list of movies, little action thrillers, horror titles, that we’ve been able to make in the last 18 months because they don’t need to go to theaters, they can’t be. only released online and still have value, “says Jeffrey Greenstein, president of Millennium Films.” Before, you had to go to theaters to value a movie in the ancillary markets, but for those kinds of movies, it was a starter product. With these mid-size action movies, our buyers couldn’t make the numbers work. Now they can.

“As we have seen SVOD develop, there is a growing need for high-quality, high-profile entertainment movies, especially those star-focused action and thriller films,” says JJ Caruth, President. of national marketing and distribution at The Avenue, the Highland Film Group cross-platform distribution arm was launched last year. The Avenue’s first release was a day and date arc of an indie martial arts sci-fi movie Jiu Jitsu, with Nicolas Cage and Tony Jaa.

At the Cannes Virtual Market that preceded the festival, Netflix struck a multi-million dollar deal to take the global rights to Curs> r, a horror film about a cursed computer game, which stars Asa Butterfield (Sex education), Eddie Marsan (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), Robert Englund (Freddy) and newcomer Iola Evans (The 100). Anton managed the sales of the film with Endeavor Content co-representing national rights.

In the niche space, targeted SVOD players like arthouse platform Mubi or AMC Networks horror-focused streaming service Shudder are actively buying the genre of independent film hosted by festivals. in Cannes and elsewhere.

Ahead of the 74th Cannes Film Festival, Mubi secured all rights in the UK and Ireland for the Leos Carax opening night film. Annette and the competition title of Mia Hansen-Løve Bergman Island. Mubi plans to release both in theaters as well, but the company’s primary audience is its online subscriber base.

Shudder recently acquired Filip Jan Rymsza’s psycho-thriller Mosquito state, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year, for release in North America, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

“We’ve found that we can get the same brand awareness, press, and marketing attention by releasing online, without a theater,” said Emily Gotto, director of global acquisitions and co-production at Shudder. “Especially if we are dealing with genre titles, we can put it on our service and also go through our release partnerships to put it on physical material goods – DVD, Blu-Ray, in some cases even specialty VHS, while making the film available for download to own, on Apple, on iTunes, on Amazon Prime, this is an opportunity for the film to be seen and for the filmmaker to be seen.

The group also funds its own genre titles, including V / H / S / 94, a fourth installment of the V / H / S collection of horror shorts, the first three of which were released in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively.

“We tailor the approach to each movie, so if we think it’s very important that a movie is in theaters, we’ll go that route when the theaters return,” said Craig Engler, Managing Director of Shudder. “But what we found out was that as Shudder grew in size and stature – last year we passed one million subscribers, and we’ve got a lot more than that. now – we can bring the necessary awareness to films on our own. “

Like Mubi, Shudder is an organized platform, which Engler says is key to preventing lesser-known films from disappearing into the “great black hole” that Holland warned about.

“People can’t find films [on non-curated platforms], Engler said. “It’s a common complaint that we see: that no one can find anything. We are therefore very attached to thematic programming. So we could make werewolf month. You may have heard of The howling, say, then we are going to use The howling as a way to get you checked out Ginger biscuits and other great werewolf movies you might never think of looking for.

The world of independent cinema has also discovered the new gold mine of ad-supported video on demand (AVOD). In June, the loyal Cannes-native Wild Bunch launched his own online platform, an AVOD channel called Wild Side TV, which will feature titles from Wild Bunch’s extensive catalog of independent films, including that of Abel Ferrara. Bad lieutenant, James Marsh Shadow dance, and 7 psychopaths from director Martin McDonagh.

“We believe the world of retail will change more and much faster. The experience in the United States has been very striking, ”said Vincent Grimond, CEO of Wild Bunch, noting that the day and date where all versions of the platform, currently the exception in Europe, will become commonplace. . If independent film companies are to survive, he argues, they must tap into online revenue.

Grimond also fears that if European companies do not launch their own platforms, the industry risks being overwhelmed by US giants in their home markets, which is already happening in many territories. “We believe it is important that services are generated outside of Europe,” says Grimond. “We want to prevent only big American companies running the show. “



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