Atrium Productions president Ria Jankie reflects on how the business has changed since the early 80s and the challenges of the digital era.
Ria Jankie has been involved in the entertainment business for 30 years. She started her career in the early 80s as a banker in The Netherlands, working alongside Frans Afman at the Dutch branch of Credit Lyonnais. During this period, she was involved with the financing of films such as Rambo, Terminator and Dances With Wolves.
In 1991, Jankie began working in the foreign licensing business. Atrium Productions KFT, which is based in Budapest but The Netherlands, specialises in maximising foreign distribution revenues from countries such as Japan, Korea, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong and Germany. Atrium and its affiliates also work very closely with Hong Kong production companies and sales agents. The company has helped with the licensing of such pictures as Monster, In The Mood For Love, Crash, The Black DahliaandSaw.
What was it like working in the business in the wild west days of Golan and Globus; and how did you start in the royalty business?
We started the entertainment business in the early 80s at the bank (Credit Lyonnais) with a small team of people. We set up the entertainment division for the financing of independent films. We were one of the key players at that time. We had big hits, Oscar nominations and Oscar winners. The business has been very successful for the bank.
When Mr. Parretti (the controversial Italian financier who bought MGM) became a client of the bank, both Afman and I left the bank early 1991, and other colleagues from the entertainment division followed shortly.
We became financial consultants for other banks. One of my clients Carolco (who had hits like Terminator, Rambo, Basic Instinct) had offices in Japan and Australia. They asked me if could take over these companies. Lots of revenues were coming out of these countries. I did…and then I started the royalty business.
How has the industry changed since the 80s?
It is completely different. It is much harder to cover your film budget now. In those days, in the 80s, it was much easier. The producer made a deal with (for example) HBO and some foreign sales to finance his/her project. Distributors at that time were making real money.
That was a blossoming market and we did lots of business. And indeed our portfolio contained some colourful and interesting people.
It was a pleasure working with them. Good memories.
We’re in the video on demand (VOD) era. The DVD market is contracting. What are the challenges today?
To find other media/ways to recoup the investment. At this time it is hard to get sufficient presales in time to fund the picture.
What are the services that Atrium provides beyond royalty collections?
I try to play an advisory role, giving support to both the sales agent/producer and the distributors.
If there are issues with regard to delivery, money not arriving on time, I try to play an active role to satisfy both seller and buyer. This is where I believe I differ from my competitors and other collection institutions. Our business is a very personal one, more of a boutique business. In view of our smaller operation we can act very quickly. Of course my financing background is very beneficial too.
What changes have you noticed over the last couple of years?
My clients want me to be more aggressive in the collection account business. I guess this has something to do with my financial background. The business is getting tougher and the financing banks need more security.
You work with both bigger, more mainstream companies and with arthouse outfits. What’s the difference?
When you work with a company involved with art movies like, for example Fortissimo, you become almost part of the company. I really enjoy working with such companies. I love both the creative and financing side of the movies. When I travel abroad to the various markets I want to hear how the business is doing in that territory and to which extent the market is changing.
Distributors do appreciate it when I time the time to visit them. Of course bigger companies need our assistance too. Everybody wants to maximise their revenues.
Next to that , I am also the prime interface for a few buyers in Europe.
What do you do at markets like the AFM and Berlin?
I am trying to assist in closing deals there. If needs be, I hop from one booth to another to sign the contract. So indeed we take a very active role, especially during the markets.
How robust is the market today?
Renegotiation of contracts is a fact right now. In view of the decline in DVD sales distributors are having a hard time. Of course other media like internet, VOD, etc. are becoming more important.
Are you optimistic?
Yes, we have to be. I hear Mipcom was a good market and Cannes was far more upbeat than I expected. People always want to see movies, either in the cinema, or at home, or on their mobile. It is a different ball game now but I believe we have the worst behind us.