Cannes: Participant's David Linde on China, Netflix and That Amblin Deal

Tahir Daudier
David Linde (left) being interviewed by THR's Matt Belloni

Fresh from the Oscar success of 'Spotlight,' the indie production veteran outlined his company's strategy at the 7th annual Winston Baker Film Finance Forum in Cannes.

Since joining Jeff Skoll's financing and production outfit Participant Media last October as CEO, veteran film executive David Linde has seen his new employer win its first-ever best picture Oscar for Spotlight and launch its biggest-ever production deal, bankrolling Steven Spielberg via the new production and distribution joint venture Amblin Partners, in which Participant could invest up to $200 million.

Amblin has a distribution deal with Universal, and its Focus Films label handles distribution and marketing for approximately four to seven Amblin Partners films each year domestically and in certain international markets.

Speaking with Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter, at the 7th annual Winston Baker Film Finance Forum in Cannes on Friday, Linde said both Amblin films and “some Participant movies as well” would go through Universal under the new deal. But while Participant is sticking to its strategy of making or financing message movies with box office potential, such as Spotlight or Spielberg's Cold War drama Bridge of Spies, he said the company wouldn't be applying the same rules to Amblin.

"We would never mandate something like that, no one could tell (Spielberg) what movies he should do,” Linde said. "But it's important to understand we are very distinct in what we do. We aren't just a production financing company. We want to create real social impact with our movies. But to do that, people first have to see your movie."

Asked about Netflix and its strategy of bypassing theatrical distribution to bow films day-and-date worldwide, Linde was quick to support the SVOD giant.

“Take a look at documentaries, where theatrical ... has become a much more challenging business,” he said. “Yet Netflix has found a way of creating identity and exposure for tens upon tens of documentaries ... For a company like us, [which] wants our movies to also inspire people to take action, Netflix will adapt themselves to the market and will adapt themselves to what is best for films. They're something we are really excited about."

Linde said he even sees opportunities for making Participant-style films in China despite state censorship and a market tilted to splashy big-budget event films.

“There's certain stereotyping of the Chinese market, [but] I made a film called Coming Home with Gong Li there, about a husband, arrested during the Cultural Revolution, who comes home, and it grossed $50 million-$60 million in China. And that's a movie about something,” Linde said. “We don't make Marvel movies here, it is unlikely that we will make big fantasy Chinese movies. But we are going to try and find opportunities to support filmmakers in the unique way we do.”

IM Global founder and CEO Stuart Ford was the other keynote speaker at the Winston Baker conference, detailing the challenges facing the global film business, with an emphasis on the indie sector.

THR is the media partner on a series of film finance events organized by Winston Baker.