Toronto: Teddy Schwarzman Reveals Why Black Bear Pictures Isn't Looking to Acquire U.S. Distributor

Mia McDonald​

The film financier spoke to The Hollywood Reporter deputy film editor Tatiana Siegel about the changing media landscape and what the company's Julia Roberts drama 'Ben is Back' says about the opioid crisis at a keynote session at Winston Baker's Script to Screen Summit.

With a track record like producing the Oscar-winning Imitation Game, Mudbound and the upcoming Ben Is Back, you'd think Teddy Schwarzman, president and CEO of Black Bear Pictures, would see today as good a time as any to expand.

But the veteran movie financier and producer sees an uncertain and fast-changing media market offering good reason to hedge his bets. "Our mantra is diversify and survive," Schwarzman told Winston Baker's Script to Screen Summit on Friday as the Toronto Film Festival kicked into gear.

During a keynote session moderated by The Hollywood Reporter deputy film editor Tatiana Siegel, Schwarzman revealed that approach doesn't include acquiring a U.S. distribution outfit to combine with his Canadian film releasing arm, Elevation Pictures.

"It's just such a tricky time from a landscape standpoint. To go into a traditional model at a time when consumer behavior is changing so rapidly feels to me a bit penny wise and pound foolish," he argued. Schwarzman said Black Bear, like other players, kicks the tires on market opportunities that arise.

"But it feels like there's a bit of ego that comes alongside with people who dive into the U.S. marketplace. They think they can do better than anyone else. They have a new model, or new source of money. The reality is it's a very capital intensive, risky proposition," he insisted.

As a measure of the change buffeting film financiers and producers like Black Bear, Schwarzman said his company is suddenly, and increasingly, when analyzing scripts asking whether Netflix and other streamers are better options for a project than a traditional theatrical release.

"And if it is a theatrical film, who are the right distributors for it, are they bankrupt, or not? And if it's non-theatrical, how does this fit into whatever pattern we're able to discern from which streamers are most aggressively buying," he said of the variables suddenly added to the traditional theatrical movie model.

On the festival front, Schwarzman touted Ben is Back, the Julia Roberts drama Black Bear co-produced with Color Force, and which was recently picked up by LD Entertainment, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions for a U.S. release.

Written and directed by Peter Hedges, and also starring his son, recent Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Schwarzman praised Ben is Back for tackling the issue of drug abuse as it portrays a young man who unexpectedly returns to his family's suburban home on Christmas Eve morning.

That's as Ben is Back competes for attention in Toronto with other movies like Beautiful Boy, where Timothee Chalamet plays struggling drug addict, with Steve Carell as his dad, and White Boy Rick, which has Matthew McConaughey and newcomer Richie Merritt playing a father and son who find themselves ensnared in the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s.

"I think frankly it's nothing but a good thing to raise awareness. And from what I hear, the (movies) are all different, but hopefully they all focus people on a really important narrative, which is about how the opioid crisis is ripping families apart," Schwarzman said.

The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 16.