Screen Media's David Fannon on Why the Indie Film Sector Will Survive: "People Want Quality Content"

Dave Fannon- Screen Media - Publicity - H 2020
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The distribution veteran discusses how the industry has changed, the challenges of reaching audience in a crowded market and why he's not worried about Virtual Cannes dealmaking: "I do believe it will be a robust market."

Screen Media Ventures President David Fannon will be attending this year’s Cannes markets by way of Connecticut. He is, like so many of the now homebound buyers and sellers that plan on making the most of the Virtual Cannes Market, working from home offices, basements and kitchen tables.

But that doesn't mean he won't be missing the croisette. “The Cannes market, it can’t be replaced," says the fest veteran. "I mean, digital is great but it’s never going to be the same." The Screen Media team will be selling the Nicolas Cage title Willy's Wonderland and looking to pick-up content for theatrical, VOD and for their sister company Crackle, also owned by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment. 

Fannon talked to THR about the virtual markets, the glory days of Blockbuster Video and releasing the Orlando Bloom-Scott Eastwood war drama The Outpost over this July 4th weekend into a theatrical market slowly opening up amid the COVID-19 crisis.  

What is a Screen Media movie? 

The amazing thing about Screen — and I have been at Screen for 15 years — is we have been around since 1999. And as an independent in this space, to be still a viable, profitable company after 21 years I think says a lot. The idea [for the Cannes markets] is that we’re going to find what we feel works. We’d love to get those big, big ticket items that are going to be a blockbuster but I’m not banking on that. I’m banking on eyeballs and finding quality films that a certain segment of the population is going to like and that we are going to sell and make money off of.   

In the age of the internet and digital marketing, everything is almost a niche. And you’ve got to find that corner. Robert the Bruce has been a VOD hit for us, but we have focused on Scottish Americans. That was who the original campaign was built around, the Scottish American Foundation and trying to get Scottish Americans to come out and see this great movie about one of their most famous kings. And it has resonated across the board. 

As you mentioned, you’ve been with Screen for 15 years now. 

I had hair when I started. [Laughs

In that time, how have you seen audience tastes change when it comes to the indie market? 

I’m not going to say the eyeballs have changed, it’s how you get those eyeballs. When I first came to Screen it was the DVD era. If you had a great DVD cover, that’s all you needed. On Friday night everybody would walk into the Blockbuster store with their ice cream cone and walk up and down the aisle. That was Screen’s specialty. You could sell a movie simply by great artwork. The DVD business made people, I think, a little bit lazy.   

Then [it was] the dawn of the digital age. I thought, “this is gonna be great, because now the studios can’t control the shelf space. We’re all gonna get equal shelf space, it’s going to be a utopian society for all.” And it turned out to actually be the reverse, because the shelf space in the digital area is much smaller than in the Blockbuster video store. So the eyeballs haven’t changed but getting to those eyeballs, now that’s changed. Now, you’ve got seconds. The title is really important, the artwork and then you’d better have a good trailer. The overwhelming choice limits people’s ability to choose.  

Do you think COVID will affect the types of films that will be sold?

No I don’t think [so]. People want good quality content. They’re not going to the theaters but they’re finding it at home. Content still is king. And that’s what this market is about. So, I do believe it will be a robust market. I also believe it will be a robust market for people pitching content for projects that are in the works because there’s a lot of things that have kind of been put on hold right now and they are going to start opening up. Production is going to get really ramped up very quickly. And everybody is going to need content for first quarter, second quarter of next year.  

Do you think there are any genres that particularly lend themselves well to on demand viewing? 

I think action adventure. It’s a common denominator. I wish I could say that a slow moving drama would always work with a great cast but that’s still a tough sell. You can have this great wonderful movie that gives you the meaning of life and touches your heart strings but you’ve still got to figure out how you’re going to sell it to the consumer.   

Screen Media is in a unique position, because you are an independent and will have one of the first movies — The Outpost — to go into re-opened movie theaters following the lockdown. How has that process been?   

That’s been difficult. We were expecting certain things to go a certain way. AMC and several other theater chains are not going to have a lot of their theaters open, so we were disappointed by that. This was always going to be a short window theatrical release, then to VOD. Day and date, essentially. But we wanted to have the opportunity to get it out in theaters, and we’re still working on that.  We’re bringing it out July 4th weekend. Some theater chains are not going to be open. We are hoping to be in more theaters, and that is still a fluid situation right now as we try to gauge which theater chains will be open. We were hoping to be one of the first movies out but, nonetheless, we are going to hit drive-ins, we are going to hit as many theaters as we can — and there will be several — and then it will be on VOD.   

Was a July 4th release always the plan? 

You’re always looking for a good time in the calendar when it works. When we were picking up this movie we thought of July 4th, we thought of Memorial Day as well, but July 4th just really worked. It fits and it’s a great, great American story. And I think I’m really happy with the date. I think it will coincide with everything that’s going on in the world right now.