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With VOD and streaming services now bringing in almost as much money as DVDs once commanded, there’s a real need for transparency about the amount of business movies are ringing up in new media, the participants in an American Pavilion panel on the state of the industry agreed in Cannes on Saturday.
Moderated by Hollywood Reporter executive editor Matthew Belloni, who opened up the discussion by asking the panelists to address the dramatic changes reshaping industry, Tom Quinn, co-president of indie distributor Radius-TWC said “it makes no sense” that the industry doesn’t publish VOD numbers “in an era where everything is digitally accessible, almost in real time.” He pointed out that his own company began challenging that taboo a year ago by reporting its VOD numbers along with its box-office tallies each Sunday.
Attorney Linda Lichter explained that after the DVD market collapsed in 2008, studios cut back on budgets and what they were willing to pay talent and so now don’t want to admit that digital streaming is replacing those lost DVD revenues. “Studios will say the digital business has not made up for the DVD business, but I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “One reason there is so much mystification about this is they don’t want to tell you that they are actually making as much money from digital as they did from DVD.”
Quinn noted that he sifts through iTunes charts to get a sense of how his movies are performing, saying, “We put together a beautiful matrix to know what our movies are worth.” He was complemented on his efforts by attorney John Sloss, head of Cinetic Media, who said, “Tom’s a great self-promoter, but he’s also a huge champion of transparency, and he really deserves to be acknowledged for that.”
When it comes to transparency, Sloss also noted that “Netflix is more secretive than anyone, including HBO.”
In general, though, the panelists welcomed Netflix’s arrival on the scene. “I love Netflix. They are another buyer,” Sloss said. And even though a sale to Netflix usually means foregoing a theatrical release, Lichter observed that “some filmmakers like Netflix. They are not very hands on. They allow you to make your movie.” And she commented, “They are buying films that are riskier film, which I think is excellent.”
Although Netflix is now promising some filmmakers a theatrical release before their movies debut on line — the recent $12 million deal for Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation promises an awards-qualifying run — Quinn said of Netflix, “The reality is if they can bypass the theatrical release, they absolutely would, make no mistake about it.” And although Netflix may now be offering filmmakers lucrative deals that cover production costs and compensate for a lack of back-end profits, Lichter warned, “Once everyone wants to go there, they won’t promise so much — and, that, I think is the danger.”
The panelists also took up the question of the difficulty women filmmakers face.
Observing that “there’s a difference between studios and independents. The studio system has to be addressed in a different way,” Rena Ronson, who heads UTA’s Independent Film Group, cited how Elizabeth Banks was able to prove her ability to direct the current hit Pitch Perfect 2 by first helming a short PSA for the American Heart Association. Women also need to learn how to access the agencies properly, Lichter counseled.
Quinn lamented the fact that “women, unfortunately, are relegated to doing movies with female stars,” with usually rule out the big action-movie assignments that go to men. And that’s because, Lichter added, “When there’s a substantial budget at stake, the powers-that-be thank it’s got to be a man.”
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