The Evolving Film Industry

Started by wilder, April 28, 2020, 09:57:53 AM

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


This seems like an appropriate time to ponder such things:

All Bad Choices for James Bond: Should 'No Time to Die' Stick to October Release?

James Bond has survived some pretty tight scrapes over the years. He's been thrown out of an airplane without a parachute. Shoved in a swimming pool full of sharks. Had a laser beam aimed at his groin. But in the six decades since 007 first appeared on screen, he's never fallen into a more treacherous or diabolical trap: Next month, he'll be venturing into movie theaters in the middle of a pandemic.

Even Blofeld is biting his nails.

MGM's "No Time to Die," the 25th official Bond film, is, as of this writing, still sticking to its Oct. 8 release date in the U.S., even as other studio tentpoles — like Paramount's "Top Gun" sequel — scurry for the presumed safety of 2022.

The film, twice postponed because of COVID-19, had suffered a series of setbacks during production from Danny Boyle exiting the director's chair over creative differences to Daniel Craig's injury on the set requiring ankle surgery. After all that, it's understandable that MGM and especially the Bond franchise's producers, Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother Michael G. Wilson, would be chomping at the bit to finally get the picture onto screens.

Still, a month out from its debut, it's worth pondering the question: Is this a smart move? Because there are other choices, even if none of them are what could be remotely called good. Like every studio right now, MGM — which is currently in the process of being absorbed by Amazon — is doing its best to untangle a Gordian knot of distribution dilemmas. Theaters in the U.S. and Europe, where Bond movies tend to sell the most tickets, are only filling about 40% to 50% of their seats, and those numbers could easily drop as the Delta variant continues to spread (or the Mu variant emerges). On the other hand, going straight to streaming for a tentpole this gigantic could turn out to be an even bigger gamble.

So, in the parlance of the clandestine services, let's war-game out some of the various release scenarios and see if there's one bad choice that, like "The Spy Who Loved Me," is better than all the rest ...

1. Stick to the Oct. 8 release date
"No Time to Die" reportedly cost $250 million to make. According to traditional Hollywood mathematics, that means it needs to gross at least $750 million worldwide, or three times its production budget, to break even (since studios split ticket sales with theaters and often spend as much on marketing event movies as they do on making them). Before the pandemic, when "No Time to Die" was greenlit, that was not an unreasonable target. The 2012 Bond film "Skyfall" grossed $1.1 billion. 2015's "Spectre" made $879 million. Today, though, pulling that sort of box office with a theatrical-only release seems about as plausible as Bond hopscotching across a pond of crocodiles (see: "Live and Let Die"). It could happen, but it's highly unlikely.

Yes, Universal's "F9" came close to that number this summer, with a global box office of $700 million. But that $200 million movie arrived in theaters in mid-June, before the Delta variant, when for a few sunny weeks it looked as if the pandemic was over. Also, "F9" made a huge chunk of its grosses in Asia, which at that time had returned to pre-pandemic levels of theater attendance. Delta has since forced many of those theaters to close again. Another difference: "F9" is the sort of film that skews younger than Bond films typically do, and polling shows that younger viewers are more inclined to return to theaters than older ones.

Perhaps a more apples-to-apples comparison might be Disney's "Black Widow," which also cost about $200 million but ended up only grossing $371 million globally when it was released in July. Still — and this is something MGM might want to pay attention to — Disney was able to goose those numbers up a bit by simultaneously releasing the picture on Disney+ for a premium of $30 per download, raking in an additional $67 million in digital revenue in its opening weekend.

2. Move the Date Again

This could happen, but it's not likely. For one thing, the Broccolis have insisted that they aren't budging and last week even released the third and final "No Time to Die" trailer as if to underscore their resolve. The two previous release delays haven't merely been frustrating for the producers, they've been hugely costly to MGM, which is carrying and servicing the debt on the film without any ticket sales to pay it back.

There are other additional costs in keeping the movie on the shelf, as well. After already launching (and scrapping) two expensive marketing campaigns, then a third for October, nobody at MGM can be relishing the possibility of doing it for a fourth time. Plus, the studio has already reportedly had to go back into the print for costly digital touch-ups to the various product placements throughout the movie (the phones had aged into last year's less-cool models). Nobody wants to do that again.

Even if MGM did decide to move "No Time to Die," though, where would it move it to? 2022 is already looking pretty crowded. "Mission: Impossible 7," "Jurassic World: Dominion," "The Batman," "Indiana Jones 5," "Avatar 2" — there's hardly a spot on the calendar that isn't already crammed with competition. At least by sticking to Oct. 8, Bond has the field pretty much to himself.

3. Stream It like Netflix (or at least like Disney)

Netflix has no problem splurging $200 million or more on movies that will never see the inside of a theater — just ask Martin Scorsese. From the streamer's point of view, it's all about baiting subscribers and managing the brand and if it costs $200 million a movie, so be it. Whether this strategy makes any economic sense, nobody knows. Netflix won't even bother to say how many people watch its films (and has been particularly silent on Scorsese's CG-heavy "The Irishman"). 

But Amazon, which announced a $8.45 billion deal for MGM earlier this year that expected to close in mid-2022, has a different sort of game plan — it's as interested in selling paper towels as it is streaming movies. And even if $250 million is a mere rounding error for Jeff Bezos (or even his successor CEO, Andy Jassy), it's hard to imagine Amazon's streaming brain trust being so cavalier about "No Time To Die." After all, one of the prime draws of buying MGM was adding the Bond franchise to its catalog.

While MGM reportedly had talks last fall with Apple and Netflix about selling "No Time to Die" for as much as $600 million, no deal ever materialized. Still, it might make sense for Amazon to pursue a quick deal for "No Time To Die" that follows the Disney hybrid model: simultaneously releasing the film in theaters as well as offering it as a premium download for Amazon Prime's 200 million worldwide members (which, by the way, is nearly twice the number of Disney subscribers). Even if just 10% of those members decided to pay, say, $29.99 to watch the first 007 movie in six years from the comfort of their own living rooms, that'd be almost $600 million in fees, almost every penny of which goes to Amazon. If the film picks up another $300 to $400 million from global theatrical, the way "Black Widow" did, then we're talking real money. In fact, that would put "No Time To Die's" grosses right up there with "Skyfall" and "Spectre."

Alas, that's not likely to happen. And that's partly because the Broccolis, who have final say in just about all things related to the Bond franchise, don't want it to. "We are committed to continuing to make James Bond films for the worldwide theatrical audience," the half-siblings announced last spring when rumors of a possible streaming premiere first started circulating.

So far, at least, they are sticking to their guns.


In summary: the Befores Movies have to take an L sooner or later.


MGM's Michael De Luca, Pamela Abdy Underscore Commitment to Theatrical

QuoteMGM Motion Picture Group chairman Michael De Luca and president Pamela Abdy have stressed that the Hollywood studio remains a home for filmmakers who want to release their movies in the cinema.

Speaking at the Zurich Film Festival's industry event, the Zurich Summit – ahead of next week's theatrical launch of "No Time to Die" – the pair were interviewed on stage by CAA Media Finance co-head Roeg Sutherland. He asked how they convinced filmmakers to work with MGM rather than streamers "which are incredibly competitive about pricing."

"The good news is we don't really have to do a heavy sales pitch," replied De Luca. "The filmmakers that came with us prefer theatrical so it pitches itself. They're two very distinct experiences."

MGM has an impressive slate of films from leading directors coming up, including Ridley Scott's "House of Gucci," George Miller's "Three Thousand Years of Longing," Paul Thomas Anderson's "Licorice Pizza" and Sarah Polley's "Women Talking."

"If you're George Miller, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson or Sarah Polley, the people that we made movies with, they all to a person prefer that theatrical experience for their movie if given the choice," said De Luca. "And we gave them that choice."

"Our slate reflects filmmakers who preferred theatrical, even in the era of the pandemic," added De Luca.

When building its slate, Abdy said there was no specific genre that the studio favored. "We try to go after filmmakers first and foremost. That's what attracts us mostly...for us the directors are the IP."

De Luca and Abdy's comments come, of course, just four months after streamer Amazon announced it was buying MGM for $8.45 billion.

De Luca addressed the deal only to say that because it is under review by the Federal Trade Commission, "we're still operating like two separate companies because until it closes that's just the normal course of business."

He added: "Neither of us will know what the integration might look like until we're on the other side of it getting approved and we're so far away from that."

Sutherland also asked De Luca and Abdy why they had "doubled down" on making movies during the pandemic while many other studios were stopping production.

"We're an independent studio, we don't have unlimited resources," explained De Luca. "Whenever you're at a smaller, scrappier company, you look to what the big guys aren't doing. We're very opportunistic about it...

"At that time, the word uncertain was being thrown around a lot – like 'theatrical has an uncertain future' – which the streamers definitely exploited to their advantage, which is fine. It's a competitive pitch for them. But we just thought, 'Okay, the studios are throttling back. Let's do the opposite.'"

As a result, said Abdy, MGM has been able to "build up an arsenal of films" ready to be released as the world opens up after the pandemic.

[edit]  Another angle


Netflix Leak Revealed How Much They Made On Their Biggest Show And It's Shocking

Quote...audiences have learned what Netflix has earned on Squid Game and how much they paid to make the show. The numbers are shocking. While the streaming service has declined to comment on the numbers reported, Bloomberg claims a lawyer for Netflix did attempt to dissuade the outlet from sharing the numbers, saying that it was "inappropriate". But share them Bloomberg has. According to their report of the Netflix leak, the streaming service paid $21.4 million to buy Squid Game. They've earned $891 million.

It's worth looking at how Netflix came up with that number. For one thing, it's important to note that only the streaming service itself measures their own viewership data, which is something they use when calculating their own show's value. According to the Netflix leak report, they then create a number based on "impact value". Based on subscriber viewing, which includes the number of people watching and how long they watch for, they calculate how much a show was worth to the streaming service.

These numbers from the Netflix leak reveal that the streaming service has put the value of Squid Game at more than 40 times what they paid for it. As the show's creator is currently in talks with Netflix for Squid Game season two and possible spinoff shows, hopefully, they can use this information to secure them a much higher payout this time around for their work. With this information made public, it's certainly something that both Netflix and the show's creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, may be asked about in the future.

Reports have suggested that the streaming service has already fired an employee they claim is responsible for the Netflix leak. Reportedly, this employee is one of the trans employees planning a walkout at the streaming service. It's been reported that one of the reasons behind the leak is that the employee wanted audiences to see what the streaming service paid for Squid Game versus The Closer, a controversial stand-up special from comedian Dave Chappelle.

The Closer is allegedly a transphobic special. It has caused a great deal of controversy both online and inside the company as employees reportedly brought up issues with the special before it was streamed. According to the Netflix leak, the streaming service paid $21.4 million for season one of Squid Game, which has become their biggest show ever and earned them $891 million in impact value. Meanwhile, they reportedly paid $24.1 million for the Dave Chappelle standup special, meaning they paid nearly $3 million more than they did for the nine episodes of Squid Game.

For now, it can't be said that the Netflix leak reveals all of the relevant information or that it is entirely accurate. However, Bloomberg is a respected outlet, and the firing of the employee responsible has been widely reported. It seems as though Squid Game has been an even bigger earner for the streaming service than anyone knew.

Bloomberg article


I will do my best to re-animate a post wilder made on Oct 31st - it was a valuable resource of independent filmmaking information and the structure of correlated articles wilder featured paint a neat outline of the OTT and Theatrical zeitgeist we were met with in 2021:

Some context for the following. Aga Woszczyńska on how she got her film
Silent Land made:


W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

AW: In Europe we don't have big studios that invest private money to finance movies. We have a system of public funding that includes national film institutes, film commissions and regional funds, which support the films I make — artistic, not exactly targeted at commercial success and huge box office. My film is a co-production between Poland, Italy, and the Czech Republic. The film was initiated in Poland; I'm Polish and so is my main producer, Agnieszka Wasiak of Lava Films. The film was shot entirely in Italy and the post-production was done in the Czech Republic.
During our filmmaking journey, we met other great partners: in Italy, Giovanni Pompili at Kino Produzioni, and in the Czech Republic, Jordi Niubo at I/O Post. In Poland, we received support from the Polish Film Institute, Łódź Film Fund, and from Canal+ Poland. In Italy and the Czech Republic the film was supported by their local public funds. In Italy, we also got great logistic help from Sardinia FilmCommission. Our Czech Partner is a post-production studio, so they also invested in the film with their services and facilities. We are supported by European supranational funding, too: Eurimages and Creative Europe Media program.
So it's all a patchwork of different funds and partners, and we were financing "Silent Land" for about four years altogether. It's been a long, arduous process but it was an amazing feeling when we finally closed the budget and could greenlight the production.

Channel 4 CEO Meets New U.K. Culture Secretary for First Time as Threat of Privatization Looms - Variety

Why Channel 4 should not be privatised
Financial Times
September 16, 2021
Bafta-winning film-maker Roger Graef, a board member at the channel's launch, makes the case for
keeping it public

Channel 4 is unique as a publicly owned channel that pays for itself through advertising. It is committed to creativity and risk-taking in cinema, drama, comedy, documentaries and current affairs. The UK government has been conducting a "consultation" about privatising the channel — selling it off. The document's preamble is full of praise for the channel's achievements and it proposes that its distinctiveness will be protected through privatisation. But this particular gift horse has very sharp teeth.

What is the market case? Commercial television is already well served in Britain. ITV has six channels. Channel 5 is aimed at the same viewers. They all compete with C4 to win advertising. Online, hundreds of channels recycle US-style fodder and old films to do the same. The big subscription channels hoover up viewers like giant trawlers with three-mile nets.

That competition is the rationale for a change of ownership. Yet Channel 4 is in rude financial health. It has a record surplus of £74m, announced in June. If privatised, this would go to shareholders instead of being seen on screen — currently, its profits are recycled into independent productions. In this financial year, revenues are expected to exceed £1bn for the first time thanks to increases from digital services, which now account for more than one-fifth.

The government is right about market uncertainty. But if C4 is sold off — the government's
"preferred option" — its new owners will be driven by shareholders' demand for dividends to make it more populist. Yet this is limited by the current remit requiring the channel to innovate and be distinctive. To attract buyers, the government plans to "modernise" the remit. Risk-taking will be the first casualty.

So if there is no commercial need or consumer demand, what is the real motive behind the current threat to the channel? You don't have to be Hercule Poirot to see it. This government is even more sensitive to criticism than its predecessors of all stripes. Privatisation is a way to draw its sting.

This is not a small adjustment — in the name of ensuring the channel is "fit for the future", it
will erase the commitment of the past 40 years to provide programming not available on other channels. It will also nobble its current affairs output, a major source of thorns in successive governments' side. Note Boris Johnson's refusal to appear on Channel 4 News during the election and ever since to avoid tough questions (as he has refused the BBC's Today programme and Newsnight and other forthright interviewers). More populist and less hard-hitting news and current affairs will erode into "infotainment" — the Dutch elm disease of serious and innovative programming.

Yet Channel 4 was a Tory creation. Its unique structure, at its launch in 1982, was based on the formula of public service risk-taking underwritten by advertising, at first sold on its behalf by ITV: it was a brilliant creation by prime minister Margaret Thatcher and home secretary Willie Whitelaw. As an independent film-maker and member of the original board of directors, I was among those delighted by the encouragement to be original.

The guarantee of a sufficient share of independently produced content on
C4 (and then the BBC) has created the thriving indie sector we have in the UK today. But this was based on finding new talent and serving new audiences, covering neglected
areas in society — not on playing it safe. If a giant such as Amazon takes over the channel, all but the biggest indies will go to the wall.

C4 is not perfect. It has pursued ratings like other commercial channels: in the 1990s its chief executive Michael Grade arranged for the channel to sell its own advertising, and since then Channel 4 has spent much time and energy shoring up audiences with shows such as Big Brother and The Great British Bake Off. This strategy has risks: the more commercially successful it is, the less the justification for continued public ownership.

But C4 is still innovative and distinctive by contrast with other terrestrial broadcasters. Just
last week it showed Black to Front — a day and night devoted to programmes and adverts featuring black people. The following day it cleared the Saturday night schedules to show the US Open tennis final. Amazon charged the Earth for the rights. The channel showed it without ads. That is public service broadcasting. The remit has been eroded by pressure to gain viewers but it is not yet fully destroyed. Privatisation would administer the coup de grâce.

The so-called "consultation" about privatisation ended this Tuesday. But the government had already rejected new board candidates unless they supported privatisation, so the outcome is hardly in doubt. The whole exercise is a cynical charade. The channel does need protection — from its "protectors" in government.

Channel 4 privatisation 'could shut up to 60 production companies' - The Guardian

Quote"If Channel 4 wants to grow at some point it will need cash. It won't be able to compete with the streaming giants..."

QuoteAn analysis of those 200 production companies found that almost 140 relied on Channel 4 for half or more of their TV production work.
"Regional production companies are more likely to be reliant on Channel 4projects," said Broughton."
"A reduction in spend on original productions could jeopardise 50 to 60 small production companies," said Broughton. "And potentially more if a buyer is particularly risk averse and looks to commission more from larger producers."

From Brian Newman's mailing list. Not gospel, but worth considering.

Follow the Money
October 27, 2021

The phrase "follow the money" usually means to follow the money to find the real dirt on someone or something, especially in politics. But what I mean here is that filmmakers should follow the money if they want success in today's film world. And if you don't follow where the money's going, well... it ain't gonna be easy for you, but more power to you Super-Indie.

Exhibit A. This past week, Variety had an article on Story Syndicate - the powerhouse production company behind Becoming Costeau, and a ton of other docs, founded by Liz Garbus and Dan Cogan. It's a great intro to the company if you don't know them (most people know one or both of the founders, and full disclosure - I like them, and think they're doing some of the best work in the business), and it explains how they work, how it was set up and why. That last part is the most interesting to me, and it speaks to following the money. Co-founder Dan Cogan readily admits the company was  founded because he saw the writing on the wall, and:

"I was paying attention to the fact that the streamers were buying fewer and fewer films and
instead were making (their own) docs and docuseries," explains Cogan, who serves as co-president
along with his wife. "So, it seemed clear to me that the future was going to lay in actually making
films and series for the streamers as opposed to making and financing them independently and
selling them, which is what I was doing at Impact."

I've written about this a few times before (Bye Bye, Equity Pie, and The New Rules), but I'm glad to see this so clearly articulated for those who never seem to believe me. Sure, Cogan and Garbus also wanted to work together, and had some other reasons; but they're also smart, and could follow where the money was going – from one business model to another – and made the move before it might have been too late.

It's really simple – while the doc/nonfiction/unscripted space is booming, most of this is in
originals, not acquisitions. There are exceptions, but for the most part, the buyers don't want to buy your completed doc. In fact, it's become such a strong trend that one former sales agent recently confided that the sales agents don't even want these films, because they know that gig is up as well. Everyone is focused on pitching earlier, and earlier, and only moving forward on production of stuff if it's being "commissioned" and has a home on one of the major streamers or broadcasters (those that still exist are really becoming hybrid anyways).

This is also true in the fiction world – fewer films are being acquired after being independently produced. Which means – follow the money – you need to also be following their lead in the fiction space as well. Of course, this is easier said than done – you need contacts, great ideas, a track record, and the right project at the right time. But it's not like raising indie equity was every all that easy either, or that you don't need those same things to "make it" in the indie space. So this is just another new thing producers need to learn and focus on for success (and it's what's old is new again, as this was the case a long time ago, and has been in foreign films for quite some time).

Sure, there will be exceptions. Especially if you think you've got that perfect project that will attract those higher prices later. Or if you just don't have access, but have a film that just must be made. Or that falls outside of the commercial needs of the buyers – but at this moment, with all eyeballs on the streamers, you should also consider whether this is the time for things they won't be buying. There's also a good case for hybrid models – reducing your equity exposure by bringing on soft money (grants, donations, foreign co-productions, etc), going to the smaller-ish distributors earlier (because they need films that are being lost to Netflix, et al.), and when appropriate, looking for brand funding, which can also bring marketing support. As I've said before – zig when others zag and build a new model.

But the smartest thing you can do right now is to follow the lead of folks like Story Syndicate,  and follow the money to where the current business model actually is, not where we might wish it were.

Winds of Change

October 21, 2021

It's become increasingly clear that things are not going back to normal anytime soon. You can make that as a general statement about the world today, but of course I'm focusing on the world of film. A few articles caught my eye this week, each of them showing some aspect of major, lasting change in the business – none of which bode well for arthouse/indie/specialized film (and I'd argue for brand funded films either, for those of you in that business too, like me).

First up was an article – one that actually launched last week in Filmmaker Magazine, but after I had pressed send on my newsletter – from Dan Mirvish – co-founder of Slamdance, filmmaker, author, multiple-hat-wearer – titled The Year of the Hybrid: 9 Ways to Make the Most of a Hybrid Festival Premiere. Dan takes a look at the current state of film fests- most going hybrid in some fashion due to Covid - and in his cheery, subversive way, proposes many ways that a filmmaker can take advantage of the situation to have a great premiere and festival run. He also proposes some new rules for how to evaluate a festival: are the Q&A's live or taped?; can you meet other filmmakers in person or online?; what else can you get/make out of this festival?

He also proposes that critics and distributors think differently about festivals as well, namely, in not relying solely on the big fests to set their agenda. As Dan writes, "To adhere to the same festival schedule and rules that guided us for the last 40 years is to deny the earth-shattering realities of how the festival world has changed around us." True, but I am fearful that all parties are too lazy to change their habits. Most are just trying to get by and keep hoping some semblance of normalcy will come soon. And sales agents/distributors are as lazy as festival organizers are hardworking. Plus, they're moving more towards paying attention to even less film fests – and building their own market platforms to bypass the festival system altogether – more than they're including them in some new reality. The top film fests are now slightly good for discovery, mainly good for industry press/buzz, and all of those below that level are mainly (and rightfully) there for building local cinephile buzz. Which is what Dan did, quite well, so the article is worth a long read. But it also points out that a lot of the changes that hit the festival world are here to stay – and it's up to the filmmakers/rights-holders to make them useful for your success, because no one else will be there to help you.

Second up, and more depressing was Anthony Kaufman, once again at Filmmaker Magazine, with Arthouses Adjust to a Reconfigured Landscape. Kaufman takes an in-depth look at what's happening in the US arthouse market, and while often filled with portraits of innovative hope, it's got a lot more doom and gloom. From folks closing down, to others programming more mainstream fare so they won't go bankrupt, to many
contemplating smaller runs for even the best films - there's a lot of change going on. I'm pretty bullish on the survival of theaters, usually, but this article started getting me worried. And once again, it pointed out that the most indie of indies are going to need to fight for their success in
this new marketplace.

Of course, the pundits will say – but that's because everyone has shifted to streaming, and the rest of the market needs to adjust. Amen brother, but that's not working out so well either. Because next up was a series of articles focused on new research and charts released this week from ComScore and Lightsaber Lightshed about the state of the streaming market. Here's one of the better summaries of the data, but all you need to do is look at these two charts:

Everyone and their grandmother have spent the last year or two trying to launch a new streaming service of some sort. All of them are trying to get in the game of peeling a few eyeballs away from Netflix and YouTube, in the hope that somehow, they'll establish a direct connection to audiences/fans and build the riches. This has started the content wars, where everyone is trying to aggregate services, libraries and new "content," in the thought that this will somehow help them compete. On the giant side of the spectrum, this means Discovery/Warners, or Amazon buying MGM. On the small fry side, it's seen every day with places like Cinedigm launching new/rebuilt channels, or FilmRise buying up libraries for niche channels, or Struum giving you ClassPass access to all of them.

But it's not working. As everyone should have learned in the decade and a half since the long-tail theory was popularized– there's no riches in niches, it's all in the hits. Ok, there's some money in them hills, but not what everyone thinks, and in the grand scheme – the one that matters – they are barely making a dent. None of the aforementioned services even make it into the above charts - they are mixed in with "other."

As you can see from the charts, no one is getting close to stealing eyeballs from Netflix and YouTube, and the new services seem to just be peeling a few eyes away from Hulu and Amazon. Sure the "other" adds up to 18%, but you have to own all of other for it to matter. And the news is worse for the biggest players of all – the Disney's, Hulu's, Peacock's and Pluto's of the world – heck, even for Amazon.

This is not sustainable. I call it the (soon to come) great streaming implosion of 2023. I give it about two years; a smart friend of mine who knows this space gives it three to four. But it's coming. It will implode on its own – from overspending, from consolidation in hopes that a merger will save the day (it won't), and more likely, from consumers getting fed up and cutting the new virtual cord(s) and just sticking with TikTok or some new competitor. The little folks will just disappear, or be absorbed into the big guys, but with at least half of their libraries jettisoned due to the reality of how few people watch their library shows/films.
The biggest will get bigger.

But "discerning" consumers/audiences will undoubtedly find themselves stuck back in cable-land days, with a big bill, but little they want to watch. Because streaming is just like TV – it starts with big ideals, and ends up looking like Bravo, or Discovery. Heck, you can see that trend already in the bigger streamers – there's a reason Netflix doesn't want your arthouse film, but does want another true crime series. And if you look closer at the charts and the articles, most of the growth for Netflix was from outside of the US, which has been stagnant in subscriber growth for a long while now. This, of course, will lead to more popular fare (and often some good shows end up there too, by accident) to attract new, sizable audiences, and less films, especially if you're trying to distribute something other than a Blockbuster or a facsimile of one.

And that brings me to the last two articles to hit my virtual desk, the first being the fact that Magnolia being for sale is no longer a private-matter – Cuban saw the prices for Hello Sunshine and SpringHill and is ready to try to get some mega-bucks for premium indie/genre fare (they also own Magnet). Don't think for a second that any buyer will keep their focus on the same level of quality going forward. The second article was Bloomberg reporting major cuts at Discovery – with them getting rid of star-driven shows/films, proving that as consolidation steams ahead, quality pick-ups and commissions will dwindle (And also showing that the Discovery/Warner preparation for a sale is
right on track).

As I've said many times since this virus started – just like 1918 gave us consolidation leading to the big studios, killing off a lot of indies – we're going to see more consolidation and changes to the film world as coronavirus kickstarted trends already underway before we had this flu. We're right in the middle of them now, which is pretty darn fun to watch, but it's scary when you start to think about what it means for the future of the kinds of things you probably like to make and watch if you're still reading this newsletter.

The New Rules

May 12, 2021

Seems to me that as we round some kind of corner in the covid maze, we've figured out some new rules. I think we all know them, but I haven't seen them listed in one place yet, so here's a go.

1. Streaming has won. The war for attention, most importantly. The war for talent. For paying
attention to DEI. For eyeballs. For Wall Street. For setting the rules by which we all must live by. Any measurement. I'm not saying people won't still go to theaters, but we are in the streaming world completely now.

2. Global, Localized Content is all that Matters to Streamers. That and MCU sized spectacles. As this article shows, as streamers look for new subscribers, they need content from the local community, and that content travels just fine.

3. For Indies/Arthouse/Specialized cinema, they only want two things – auteurs and/or DEI behind and in front of the camera. If your story isn't diverse, or isn't created by a diverse creator, or isn't somehow touching on something that will appeal to a DEI audience, it's not of interest to them. I want to be clear – I think this is the best development in Cinema, and am not bemoaning this fact. It's about time. But anyone who hasn't woken up to this and is pitching another white boy coming of age film, good luck with that.

4. Acquisitions are dead. Yes, there will be exceptions. They will mainly be found at Cannes,
Sundance, Toronto or Telluride. Of course, the occasional super low budget, or major cast, or Funny/Scary/Smarty/Arty genres will have some surprises. But for the most part, the streaming world is about originals, pre-buys and commissions, and the "do it on spec" world is dead.

5. And that's when they even think about films, because as we all know, the action is in series. Heck, talk to any film festival programmer for more than ten minutes, and the conversation will probably veer towards their favorite shows more than the movies.

6. Festival Buzz... was just coming from the free champagne. Who am I kidding, beer. I am loving the experience of watching 20 films from my couch at home, instead of traveling to some film fest. But there used to be a sense that festivals contributed some kind of buzz that helped lift a film and let it rise above the noise to enter the cultural consciousness. That isn't happening in the virtual or even hybrid festival world (again, outside of Sundance, etc.), and I suspect it never
was. You just thought it did because you were jet-lagged, drinking free booze and subsisting off canapes, so it felt like some kind of buzz.

7. Outdoor is here to stay. I used to be on the board of Rooftop Films, and we were among the few who figured out that outdoor movies were the future. Everyone has caught up, and this space is only gonna keep growing, even as people venture back indoors. Because it's more fun, less risky, and it can bring in new programmers and audiences.

8. Docs Rock... if they're rock docs. Or murder mysteries. Or about some Chef or cuisine. Or are super flashy, loud, American (redundant) and of broad appeal. But investigative journalism? Thoughtful social impact film? Artful doc about an artist? Cinema-verite slice of life? Not so much. Sadly, because some amazing work is being done in all of the other spaces not being bought by the Streamers, but how does it get seen? We have a problem here that few are acknowledging, and I fear most artful and/or social issue docs will become good for college entrance essays – or to get teaching jobs – but not much else.

9. Everyone has figured out that the easiest path to the Oscars is via the Short categories.
Unfortunately, that means every publisher and platform is putting more money into those campaigns than it cost to make all of the films, combined, so it's an arms race now, and closed to truly indies.

10. Brands are the new investors. And they should be investors, not sponsors or donors or sole funders. And smart ones are getting in at the development stage, because you have to sell early – per 4 above. Only a few have caught on to this, but it's a growing area, and the right way to go. Of course, they're also marketers, and can help get eyeballs to these projects so they rise above the fray, which gets us to the most important/hard rule.

11. It's nearly impossible to break through the noise. Almost no one has figured out how to do it (Neon, A24, and... who else below the Studio/SVOD level?). I know this much – buzz only seems to exist anymore in the social media sphere, but only those two distributors and Netflix have gotten that memo, and everyone else acts like it's only useful for snide remarks and vitriol. Hopefully someone else figures out how to use social media to break through the noise before social media is the only media left for us to consume.

Of course, as I hinted with the Baldessari rules above, the rules are made to be broken. And just last week, I noted that one should zig when everyone zags. I may be missing some rules in the above list, and almost included "no jerks" based on the Rudin exposé, but then I started laughing cereal through my nose, because the film world has hundreds if not thousands more that are being tolerated, and I've worked with at least ten of them. So to me, these seem to be real rules that we have to live within to some extent right now.


I'm wondering where the Saturation Point will be with new content/services/platforms.  At some point there will be literally too much to consume.  Wonder what will rise to the top and where the line will fall in terms of getting our attention?


Does this belong here?

Quentin Tarantino is selling seven unseen 'Pulp Fiction' clips as NFTs
Quentin Tarantino is getting involved in non-fungible tokens by selling seven never-before-seen scenes from his classic 1994 film as NFTs.

QuoteAlmost three decades later, Tarantino is bringing the film into the digital age, announcing that he's auctioning off seven uncut and unseen scenes as Secret NFTs (as IndieWire reports). They'll be available via the NFT market OpenSea for anyone wealthy enough to consider buying them. And with Pulp Fiction being probably Tarantino's most beloved film, there should be a lot of eager fans in competition for the seven NFTs.

Tarantino's NFTs will also "include the uncut first handwritten scripts of Pulp Fiction and exclusive custom commentary from Tarantino, revealing secrets about the film and its creator."

The director released a statement explaining his decision to enter the world of NFTs. "I'm excited to be presenting these exclusive scenes from Pulp Fiction to fans," he said. "Secret Network and Secret NFTs provide a whole new world of connecting fans and artists and I'm thrilled to be a part of that."

QuoteWho knows, maybe one day we'll see a filmmaker create an entire film and sell it off as an NFT. Just imagine being the sole owner of the latest Paul Thomas Anderson or Greta Gerwig film.



A new world of connecting scammers and rich fans.


Covid-Era Conundrum: ‘No Time to Die’ May Be the Year’s Highest-Grossing Hollywood Movie, But It Could Still Lose Millions

QuoteOver the weekend, “No Time to Die” eclipsed $730 million in global ticket sales, making the James Bond sequel both the year’s highest-grossing Hollywood film and the top performing film at the box office since COVID-19 appeared on the scene and nearly shut down the movie business.

The action-packed spy spectacle, which endured several coronavirus-related delays, has become the rare pandemic-era box office hit, which is even more impressive considering adult audiences — the core demographic for “No Time to Die” — have been reluctant to return to theaters. However, the movie cost more than $250 million to produce, at least $100 million to promote and tens of millions more to postpone over 16 months. Insiders say “No Time to Die” needs to make closer to $900 million to break even, a feat that would have been realistic had a global health crisis not entirely upended the theater industry. As a result, the film now stands to lose $100 million in its theatrical run, according to sources close to production. Other industry sources suggest the losses wouldn’t quite reach the nine-figure mark though they would still be substantial.

MGM, the studio behind Bond’s latest adventure, disputes this math. In a statement to Variety, the company insisted “No Time to Die” didn’t just break even but was a money maker.

“Unnamed and uninformed sources suggesting the film will lose money are categorically unfounded and put more simply, not true,” MGM spokesperson said in a statement. “The film has far exceeded our theatrical estimates in this timeframe, becoming the highest grossing Hollywood film in the international marketplace and passing ‘F9’ to become the highest grossing Hollywood film since the pandemic. With the PVOD release of the film already doing stellar home viewing business, all while continuing to hold well theatrically, ‘No Time To Die’ will earn a profit for MGM, both as an individual film title and as part of MGM’s incredible library.”

MGM clearly isn’t conceding that “No Time to Die” is a financial disappointment, but their contention is disputed by others with knowledge of Bond’s budget and with a deep understanding of what a film of that scope and scale needs to earn to get into the black.

MGM’s Pamela Abdy Talks ‘House of Gucci,’ the Future of Bond and Amazon

QuoteAs a teenager growing up in New Jersey, Pamela Abdy danced competitively five to six days a week. Her dream of making it a career was shattered, along with her foot, during her sophomore year at Boston’s Emerson College, but a professor made a compelling connection by comparing cinema to choreography. Abdy had found her new calling: producing movies.

Many years later, as the pandemic shut down Hollywood in spring 2020, MGM chief Michael De Luca convinced Abdy to come on board as president of the studio’s motion picture group. Within weeks of her arrival there, where Abdy now oversees eight creative executives, she and De Luca closed deals to pick up Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza (out Nov. 26) and Joe Wright’s musical Cyrano (Dec. 17, qualifying run), while beating out Netflix and another streamer for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci (Nov. 24). All three films, each shot during the pandemic, will open in cinemas during the heart of awards season.

MGM has hardly been Abdy’s first brush with prestige. Before taking on the studio — and its crown jewel, the James Bond franchise, which finally saw the release of No Time to Die — she got her start at Danny DeVito’s Jersey Films (Garden State, Man on the Moon) and went on to a tenure at Paramount Pictures, New Regency and Makeready, working on such esteemed titles as Babel, Birdman, The Big Short and The Revenant. Abdy sat down with THR on a recent Friday afternoon, hours after arriving back in Los Angeles — where she resides with her husband and 9-year-old daughter — from a tour that included a Rocky anniversary event in Philadelphia and House of Gucci‘s London premiere. She opened up about her early days with DeVito, House of Gucci‘s box office prospects and, pending regulatory approval of Amazon’s $8.5 billion purchase of MGM, her studio’s future once it’s part of a tech behemoth.

I might as well get this out of the way. Who is going to be the next 007 now that Daniel Craig is done?

It’s wide open. We’ve had very early preliminary conversations with Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [Wilson], but we wanted Daniel to have his last hurrah.

What was De Luca’s pitch when he asked you to take this job?

I’ve known Mike for years and years. He called me on a Sunday and said, “I want to do this together. We can be filmmaker-driven. We can chase after all the directors that you and I both love.” I said, “Slow down.”

Other studios passed on making Licorice Pizza, Cyrano and House of Gucci. Why take the risk?

We’re trying to take original swings. If you look at our slate, the one thing in common is that the movies are filmmaker-driven. There are singular voices telling these stories — Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin, Ron Howard, George Miller, Zach Braff, Michael B. Jordan and more.

Some box office pundits say the adult drama is a dying genre on the big screen. Can House of Gucci prove them wrong?

Lady Gaga is one of the most remarkable superstars out there. She has older fans and younger fans. And it isn’t just an adult drama. There’s so much deliciousness in the film for everyone. I think more movies like that have to get made.


What is your stance on guns on set in the wake of the Rust tragedy?

I don’t think there should ever be live ammunition on a set, and we also understand creatively the need to not censor a story where a gun is part of the scene. That said, we take on-set safety seriously on every production and aim to utilize visual effects and enhance sound effects wherever possible.

How did you get the job at Jersey Films?

I saw an advertisement for an internship. That was in 1995. I had seen the Jersey Films logo on Reality Bites and Pulp Fiction. I loved both.


ViacomCBS reaches deal to sell Studio City lot for $1.85 billion

QuoteThe staggering price tag underscores the value — and scarcity — of TV soundstages in Los Angeles as content producers scramble for space to shoot TV shows and movies to stock their streaming services. ViacomCBS disclosed its plan to sell the property last summer.

The deal, announced Tuesday, represents one of the largest ever real estate transactions for a TV studio complex in Los Angeles. In addition to the real estate assets, CBS will turn over its lucrative studio operations business, which includes stage rentals, facilities management and production support services on the lot.

QuoteHackman Capital Partners is one of the world's largest providers of entertainment production facilities. It currently owns four studios in the L.A. region, along with facilities in New York, New Orleans, London and Scotland. In 2019, Hackman Capital purchased CBS' other sprawling complex in Los Angeles — the 25-acre Television City that sits adjacent to the Original Farmers Market and the Grove — for $750 million.

Hackman Capital recently announced plans for $1.25 billion worth of improvements to Television City that will add soundstages, production support facilities and offices for rent. The company's plans for the Studio City complex have yet to be disclosed.

QuoteEver since Viacom and CBS merged nearly two years ago, the New York company has been casting off signature CBS properties in an effort to generate cash.

QuoteThe Radford complex was the very studio lot that gave rise to the name Studio City.

The back of this lot was literally across the street from where PTA grew up.


2021 Box Office Revenue’s Still in Recovery

QuoteBig news: The domestic box office was down 60% (↓ $6.8B) vs. 2019.

U.S. movie ticket revenue (YoY growth) according to Box Office Mojo:
1) 2012 – $10.8B  (↑ 7%)
2) 2013 – $10.9B  (↑ 1%)
3) 2014 – $10.4B  (↓ 5%)
4) 2015 – $11.1B  (↑ 7%)
5) 2016 – $11.4B  (↑ 2%)
6) 2017 – $11.1B  (↓ 3%)
7) 2018 – $11.9B  (↑ 7%)
8) 2019 – $11.3B  (↓ 5%)
9) 2020 – $2.1B (↓ 81%)
10) 2021 – $4.5B (↑ 113%)

Interesting: There was a big spread between the area with the slowest recovery (Washington, DC) vs. the fastest (Utah).

Areas with best recovery:
1) Utah
2) Idaho
3) South Dakota
4) Wyoming
5) Nevada

Areas with worst recovery:
1) Washington DC
2) Vermont
3) Hawaii
4) Maryland
5) New York

Interesting: Marvel films accounted for more than ¼ of domestic box office revenue last year.

Marvel share of domestic box office according to Matthew Ball

1) 2008 – 5%
2) 2019 – 15%
3) 2021 – 26%


Mubi buys The Match Factory in major international deal
January 14, 2022

International film platform Mubi has made a major acquisition of Germany-based sales and production firm The Match Factory. 

The deal includes both sales firm The Match Factory and production arm Match Factory Productions.

The Match Factory will maintain its offices in Berlin and Cologne, and will expand its presence through Mubi's headquarters in London and offices in New York and Los Angeles.

The Match Factory's current management team will continue to lead the company's operations, maintaining its current slate of sales titles and projects in development including new films from Lukas Dhont, Christian Petzold, Fatih Akin, Emin Alper, Andreas Dresen and Marco Bellochio; plus Amat Escalante and Joshua Oppenheimer through Match Factory Productions.

The acquisition is a major one for the international film business. Founded in 2006, The Match Factory has handled sales on numerous international hits including Waltz With Bashir, Toni Erdmann, Girl and Palme d'Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Managing director Michael Weber founded Match Factory Productions in 2013 with Viola Fugen, producing arthouse titles including Memoria, Never Gonna Snow Again, Martin Eden and The Traitor.

"As long time partners of The Match Factory we have gained tremendous admiration and respect for Michael and his team," said Efe Cakarel, Mubi founder and CEO. "We could not be more excited for them to join us in pursuing the goal we clearly share: to bring beautiful cinema to film lovers around the world. Mubi and The Match Factory are highly complementary businesses and we look forward to joining together with our friends."

"When I embarked on the The Match Factory journey together with my partners Reinhard Brundig, Viola Fügen, Thania Dimitrakopoulou, Jenny Walendy and the late Karl Baumgartner, I envisioned discovering filmmakers and their stories, working with them and bringing their finest work out to the world," said Weber. "I have taken great pleasure and satisfaction throughout the years with the many encounters with truly gifted people, creative minds, generous souls. Cinema is a vibrant and living ecosystem, constantly altering and expanding.

"Efe and his team share the same vision and passion for cinema. We admire them for gaining new audiences and creating such an impressive, sustainable success story. Our combined strengths will open new opportunities to nourish the future for the cinema we love."