Why Francesca Manno Left Rome's Minerva Pictures to Launch Summerside International (Q&A)

Francesca Manno H 2016
Mattia Balsamini

Francesca Manno H 2016

The veteran Italian dealmaker discusses the sexy side of international sales, the challenges of starting a company and why her market is wary of Netflix.

After serving for nine years as vp of Rome’s Minerva Pictures, the company responsible for bringing any Nicolas Cage or Steven Seagal film to Italy, Francesca Manno has decided to go off on her own.

Her new shingle, Summerside International, will focus on international sales and co-productions and launch? in Berlin as its first major festival with a slate of eight international films. Its lineup of director-driven projects range from an Italian comedy to a German drama to a Canadian thriller.

Manno also will partake in Berlin’s Co-Production Market as a producer and financier, where she’s hoping to further expand her slate. An experienced buyer and seller at Minerva, Manno, 35, also was involved in the company’s many co-productions, including such recent features as the road trip drama Just Like a Woman, starring Sienna Miller and Golshifteh Farahani, and Anna (Per amor vostro), which won the best actress award for ?Valeria Golino at Venice last year.

The executive sat down with THR in Rome to discuss how she plans on launching Summerside in Europe and beyond.

What did you enjoy most at Minerva Pictures?

I was involved in almost everything. But honestly, international sales always were kind of sexy for me — the way you promote? a movie, how you try to build? the life of a movie abroad. You need to know people, and the taste of each buyer, for each territory. Of course, you have to find something that is good for them, and makes sense for you, from an editorial point of view.

For my company now, I selected very specific titles focusing on human rights, children themes and women. And then I also took an Italian comedy, because the director is a very international director. So I hope this kind of lineup will give my buyers the idea of a very diverse lineup.

How did Minerva do things differently from the competition?

Minerva was kind of a pioneer ?in digital exploitation rights. We were one of the first to sign a deal with iTunes, for the digital exploitation on our current titles. So it was for all the titles coming from the U.S. [and] Europe and also for some top library titles, of which we had more than 1,000. Recently, we did not sign a deal with Netflix; it was a business choice.

Why not?

We preferred to understand where Netflix is going first.

How do you think they are changing the landscape in Italy?

I am not sure. I am not sure if Italy is ready enough for Netflix. First of all, because Italy is divided, the south and the central part and the north. For example, I come from the south of Italy, and I can tell you that the Internet connection is really bad. So how can you benefit from an offer like Netflix, or from other digital offers, in a place where the connection is not good? We need to improve our infrastructure. That’s the point.

Do you expect digital to play a big role with Summerside?

Berlin will be the first market for the company. I am really curious to understand where all these platforms are going. So of course, I will meet the buyers of these platforms. [But] I don’t like the idea of putting the titles in a mass digital space. There should be something more built, as an editorial structure. Otherwise, you put your titles there, and maybe the revenue is not what you were expecting.

What made you decide that ?Europe needed another international sales company?

There aren’t so many domestic international companies handling the sales for international titles, in my opinion. In Italy, there are many companies focusing on Italian titles. We see what is happening in France, and the French companies are No. 1 in the world. And they handle all kinds of movies coming from many territories. That’s why I decided to follow a different way, from the standard Italian way.

Do you find it difficult being a female executive working in Italy?

I think it’s more difficult. I mean, I see there are so many women in our business, so many CEOs in many big companies, not in Italy, but in the U.S., for example, or in France or the U.K. Yes, you can find women. But, in Italy, it’s still a bit slow.

Are you trying to change this?

I am trying to. For example, I am the managing director of my company.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge with establishing Summerside?

The most important thing is to have the right idea. Sometimes, you don’t have money, but you just have the idea. You know exactly how you want to pitch the idea. I think that with a computer and a good Internet connection, we can do everything right now. I don’t like people crying because they have no help from the government, no help from this and that. I have no help from anyone. I am investing my money. I’m investing all the energy I can put into these projects. That’s the challenge.