$800K and Up: Is Venice Film Fest Worth It for Studios?

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
The Excelsior Hotel Venice

For studios and indies alike, a trip to the Lido isn't cheap, and insiders wonder how much bang they really get for their buck (or euro).

When A Star Is Born premiered alongside Venice titles Roma and The Favourite last year, it marked an escalation of the awards-season run for the festival that has included Oscar winners La La Land, Spotlight, Birdman and Gravity. But while Venice in recent years has bolstered its reputation as an Academy Award launchpad, a trip to the Floating City comes with a particularly heavy price tag.

For a big title like A Star Is Born, bringing in talent and hosting events on the Lido may have cost Warner Bros. upward of $800,000 — on par with the price tag for a launch in Cannes. Telluride, arguably the most important launch for an awards run, costs less than the European fests but more than Toronto, another key Oscar stop that runs about $350K for a studio film.

"Venice is amazing and ridiculous, and one of the most expensive places in the world," says one awards consultant. "Every time you walk on a boat, it's 150 euros [$167]. The boats are what kill it."

A studio title can easily rack up five- or six-figure sums just shuffling talent back and forth between Venice's main islands and the festival on the Lido. Booking a water taxi in advance can cost up to $250 an hour. Venetian luxury hotels are among the priciest in the world. The festival will pay to put up talent — a film's director plus three or four stars — in the Hotel Excelsior, but most A-listers demand swankier accommodations. Suites at the Hotel Cipriani (George Clooney's favorite) run $8,000 per night. The Bauer Palazzo, another VIP haunt, charges $8,500 a night for its jaw-dropping Royal Suite ($10,000 with breakfast). The Redentore suite at The Gritti Palace, with its prime view of the Grand Canal, can be yours for $10,600 a night.

For an indie film, it's a difficult calculation. On a non-studio title like La La Land, Venice expenses are shared among the producers, the international sales agent and often the local Italian distributor. "At the top end, it could cost $400,000 or more, with everyone contributing," says one industry insider. "It can be a lot less, if the festival covers costs for the talent and you get sponsorship for a party. But it's never cheap."

For indie titles, premiering in Venice is as much about generating sales interest as it is about becoming part of the awards conversation. Most independent producers try to play the fall festival trifecta: Venice for the glamour, Telluride for the awards buzz and Toronto for the distribution deal.

"You can get press attention for a movie on the Lido and then take it to Toronto, where you sell the film," says Claudia Tomassini, a Berlin-based PR agent. "It's expensive, but if you have the right film it can work."

Ariston Anderson contributed to this report.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.