JONATHAN WOLF/To produce is to take risks

According to the director, Jonathan Wolf, a large part of the strategy of the American Film Market, which has ended at the Loewes Hotel in Santa Monica on November 7, is to maximize and safeguard the business risk of producers.

Following this line, every year the AFM makes small but significant changes: for example, the second edition of Location Expo saw the film commissions which, last year, were scattered over the various floors of the Loewes, brought together in a dedicated space and for a shorter period (November 3-6).

“We had around 60 film commissions, of which at least half had a stand”, commented Jonathan Wolf at the end of the Market. “Following the suggestion of the film commissions we reduced the number of days as well as the hours of the Expo which opened from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in order to give everyone time to go round the market before starting their day.”

Some film commissions chose an alternative to a stand such as, for example, Castilla La Mancha, which is two years old and sponsored the Production Conference, making a presentation at the opening…The film commissions know that it is necessary to travel in order to promote themselves. I think that right now Ireland is organizing a week in Hollywood to meet with the Studios, something England has been doing for years. Location Expo offers an opportunity to meet with producers from 50 countries all at the same time.”

What was strongest trend to emerge during the market?
One trend that had already surfaced last year was definitely confirmed: that the budgets for English language movies are becoming increasingly substantial (for movies that are subsequently released in theaters) and increasingly limited (for online viewing), while the intermediate range (from around $3 to 7 million) is disappearing. It is another story for non-English language movies because the economic contexts are different: there is cultural backing for cinema and often there is a guaranteed minimum, two things that are totally lacking here; moreover, the costs for the actors are much lower. For all these reasons in the United States the budget has to be very high to attract audiences, or very restricted in order to cover the risks.10 years ago it was possible to make a horror movie with $ 3-4,000 which could maybe come out on DVD or Blue Ray without any problems; today if you spend more than one million dollars it is a disaster.
On the other hand, producers are becoming even smarter with limited budget movies; one of the panels was dedicated to this and discussed the phenomenon of “Sharkanedo” that was made with $ 600,000.

This year there were also two sessions dedicated to documentaries, one more than last year; does this also mark a trend?
Today there are definitely more resources for funding documentaries. This is possibly also due to the subscription services model that makes sure to have every type of movie available in order to satisfy all kinds of audiences, because viewers can also subscribe to just one very specific genre. If over the last 50 years documentaries were mainly funded out of passion, today they can also be crucial for maintaining certain subscriptions. Then obviously there is the digital format which makes them easier to produce and film, the filmmaker is possibly also the editor and the director, there are no stars involved…

Where are subscription services positioned among the very high and very low budget movies?
I have no idea, because there’s no transparency. The Netflix model, to cite the most important of these players, is very similar to that of the Studios in the 1930s and 1940s: back then we didn’t know how much the actors were being paid, what the box office results were or the proceeds…Anyone who worked in a movie got paid and that was it, in those days all the information stayed with the studios which controlled the production, distribution, exhibiting and marketing, exactly like the subscription services do today.
There is no sharing of information about the budgets, the success of the movie, the number of viewers (about which they actually have very detailed demographic data). There is no participation in the revenue of the movies, the producers have no participation quotas and this is destroying the role of the producer as an entrepreneur, transforming it into that of an ‘employee’ who earns a salary and that’s all. I, on the other hand, am absolutely in favor of business risk without which today we would all still be living in caves.
One example: some time ago Netflix purchased a movie at Sundance for $ 10 million and everyone was wondering why to such an extent that it became a big story. The media talked about it so much that, however things went for the movie, that $ 10 million earned another 50 in terms of media coverage. Because basically Netflix sells subscriptions, not movies.

Nella sezione: Focus on italy