Dialogue: Andrew Cripps

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At the beginning of this year, veteran international distribution executive Andrew Cripps became president of the newly formed Paramount Pictures International. After decades in which Paramount's foreign releases went through United International Pictures, a company jointly owned by Universal and MGM, he now faces the challenge of creating a new organization that will distribute all of the studio's pictures abroad on its own. Cripps recently spoke with Stephen Galloway for The Hollywood Reporter about this challenge and how it fits in with the changing international landscape.

The Hollywood Reporter: What's the biggest challenge ahead for PPI?
Andrew Cripps: The biggest challenge we are facing is in setting up a new company that will be expanding into new territories that we have got to open over the next 18 months. We are in seven territories at the moment, and we are going to open offices in Germany, Italy, Spain, Benelux and Russia within the next 18-24 months. It is a challenge, but it's an opportunity at the same time. Nobody has done it since (the Walt Disney Co.) did it in the early '90s.

THR: What lessons can you learn from Disney?
Cripps: Disney has been terribly successful in what they did. They have retained staff and had a huge stability in the company, and that is something I would like to see ourselves model on. But the market has changed, and we need to look at distribution in a different way: Do you need offices everywhere? In 2007, communications have changed so much, and they change the way you do business now. You have got to look at how you interact with your customers, first and foremost, going back to the basic infrastructure of how you set up your company. Instead of having people sending out hundreds of thousands of invoices, a lot will be done electronically, so you can put your human resources into areas that affect how a film is marketed and distributed. A lot of it is consolidation of back-room functions, mainstreaming those processes and allowing you time and flexibility to market and distribute product. This is a real opportunity to set up a 21st century distribution company.

THR: Will digitalization help that, too?
Cripps: Unfortunately, I still think it is quite a ways off. The U.S. is far more advanced in terms of digital installation in cinemas and figuring out how to deal with that in exhibition. Europe, being a lot more fragmented in its distribution structure, is going to take more time. I believe in the digital future, and that is how we will release our films; but whether by digital hard drive or satellite or cable, only time will tell.

THR: How will that help you in your work?
Cripps: It will make it far easier to physically distribute films and give you far more flexibility in the time frames you look at. It is amazing -- we have been doing things the same way in this industry for 100 years, shipping prints all over the world, an incredibly inefficient process. How you react to things in the marketplace is limited by that factor. Digital will give everybody the chance to react much quicker.

THR: Why has Europe been so slow to embrace this?
Cripps: In the American landscape, you have five or six distributors with 90% of the market. In France or Germany, there are another 10-15 distributors, easily -- there are a lot of distributors. The majors have only a 50% market share in France as opposed to 90% or whatever in the U.S. There are digital cinemas in place in Europe, and people are supplying digital product, but not on the size and scale of the U.S., and the industry has had trouble coming up with what the (economic) model is because you have the gamut from small to major distributors, and everybody has got different economics.

THR: Exhibitors refused to release "Night at the Museum" theatrically when Fox tried to shorten the window between theatrical and home video. Were they right?
Cripps: I can't comment on the rights and wrongs, but I am a strong advocate of proper windows. But there has to be flexibility built into the system, and I don't believe you can create rigid rules that nobody can violate. I do think there should be a good reason why a distributor would erase the window -- like at Christmas or Easter. If the reasons are crucial, they can't be ignored. Largely, people seem to be operating on a four-month window at the moment throughout most of the world. Somewhere in the four-month region seems to be probably a pretty good time period.

THR: Is there any advice you would give to the members of the National Association of Theatre Owners?
Cripps: There are a number of challenges facing all of us. The foremost is piracy. I would love to see theaters do far more to combat piracy, and I would love to see that outlawed in every country, which it is not. Some circuits have put programs in place, and they incentivize ushers to catch camcorders. Unfortunately, in a lot of countries, it is still not illegal, believe it or not -- like in the U.K., for example, where there is very little you can do, even if you find somebody camcording in a theater.    
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