The imminent collapse of the independent sector, loudly predicted at last year’s Berlin, has not only failed to materialise; this year’s festival suggest is may even benefit from the crumbling studio model.
The industry mood in Berlin this week was warmer than the icy temperatures that made Potsdamer Platz so treacherous to walk around. After a 2009 full of loud proclamations that the independent business was dead, the realisation was filtering through to the buyers and sellers in the marketplace that the Hollywood studio business model is in far worse shape and that the independents might benefit from the imminent reduction in Hollywood studio production.
The 2010 studio release schedule looks packed but not so in 2011. All six majors are cutting down on greenlighting movies and focusing on surefire tentpole properties as their annual output is slimmed down to the mid-teens from the mid-twenties.
But these companies all have global distribution organisations hungry for volume of product to feed their theatrical pipelines, TV deals, DVD companies and libraries. And that is where independent and international films can come in.
It’s no coincidence that the studios have been furiously building their local production and acquisition units over the last few months. They need movies in multiple territories and multiple languages to feed the beast.
It emerged in Berlin that ex-Universal studio chief David Linde is building a company, with the provisional name of Lava Bear, that will finance and produce two to four films a year with backing from a studio thought to be Universal and some key international partners.
What studio wouldn’t snap up deals with talented executives like Linde who can bring in their own financing and has talent connections strong enough to get commercial movies made. And Linde has no plans to return to the international sales business, instead focusing on alliances with well-capitalised independents or media companies as potential partners.
That pool of independent distributors is stronger than the last year’s proclamations of doom would have it. DVD isn’t collapsing as swiftly as was imagined, the digital distribution landscape is picking up and theatrical cinema-going is at a high around the world, boosted by the success of Avatar.
At a panel hosted by Screen, Commerzbank and the European Film Market earlier this week in Berlin, three vital independent distributors spoke about their strategies in this changing landscape. Markus Zimmer of Concorde/TMG in Germany has stepped up aggressively to buy US product which this year will include the second Twilight sequel, Shutter Island, Iron Man 2 and all the product of CBS Films. Samuel Hadida of Metropolitan Filmexport continues to buy the best the market has to offer – including recent Mel Gibson-starrer How I Spent My Summer, Matthew Vaughn’s eagerly awaited action comedy Kick Ass and Paul Haggis’ thriller The Next Three Days. And Zygi Kamasa of Lionsgate UK has all the Lionsgate and Lionsgate International titles as well as a slew of pick-ups from across the market.
All three have local production initiatives and Metropolitan has in fact teamed with Lionsgate UK on its first UK production, Blitz starring Jason Statham. Both Lionsgate UK and Concorde/TMG bought territorial rights on Hadida’s production The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus directed by Terry Gilliam. In fact Lionsgate UK was the first distributor in the world to release the film, ahead of Hadida’s home country of France and the US.
In many cases, these distributors are looking at using their considerable resources to work to avoid dependence on an increasingly dysfunctional US market. They can’t depend on a US release as the locomotive for their distribution plans anymore especially now that so many US distributors have been closed down and others – The Weinstein Company and Overture among them – are ailing.
WME Global agent Mark Ankner was keen to stress on the panel that the US was poised for recovery as Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad, Tom Ortenberg, Mark Gill and others look to fill the gap left by the specialty-label vacuum.
Whatever happens in the US, European distributor/producers like Hadida, Zimmer and Kamasa and several others are moving nimbly to keep their own pipelines supplied. They are working closer together and increasingly following each other’s release strategies rather than turning to the US as the lead territory each time out.
As the studios themselves start sweeping the globe for product, their biggest competition will come from fast-to-move companies like Metropolitan or Concorde which are going beyond the role of traditional territorial distributor and becoming media companies to reckon with.