European Execs Talk Post-COVID Future: Opportunities To Be “Independent” Rather Than “Dependent” – Cannes

As part of the Cannes Virtual Market’s kick-off today, a group of leading European executives sat down for a panel on the post-COVID future with optimism and opporunity among the keywords,. A call for regulatory measures from the European Commission was met with somewhat mixed response, but all agreed that retaining IP rights in the face of streaming dominance — as exacerbated by the last several months of lockdown — is another major issue.

The Favourite producer Ed Guiney, of Element Films, suggested the EC must “really reexamine their whole approach to develoment, and to properly resouce that because I think if we can own the IP, we can build companies. We’re in the position do to better and better deals. I think at the moment, we’re not really independent producers, we’re dependent producers.”

Still, he was sanguine on the future. “I feel there is a real opportunity in cinema now, I think that the connection between cinema and television is a really strong one. Television has really upped its game… In a way, it inspires cinema to do better.” But because the bar has been raised on the TV side, “People who work in cinema need to provide audiences with a real reason to eave their homes and go to the cinema,” Guiney added.

Europe also needs to be ambitious, said Guiney. “There is a huge appetite among cinema audiences to see things that are different from diverse voices and I think we are brilliantly positioned in Europe to respond to that demand. Europe is all about diversity — I think we could be much better — but Europe by its nature is about voices from different nationalities coming together… I think we should be ambitious about our cinema and ambitious about the impact it can make on the world.”

Marco Chimenz, of Italy’s Cattleya, spoke of being in a “lucky” position to have largely transitioned from features to series, “because on theatrical, the uncertainty is huge. Cinemas have just reopened in Italy but not many people are going whereas on the TV drama side the platforms are booming so the demand is still very, very high.”

For Unifrance chief Daniela Elstner, “The more we will work together, the better it will be… I think we already have proven that Europe can produce very ambitious films, but we also can produce very independent films. We have to use all of it, push it further and maybe set a little bit aside our national issues and take it really from a European side.”

With the continent in various levels of dire straits following the pandemic, Eltsner added, “We need money because without it, it will not be possible to relaunch. But we also need to sit together thinking and reshaping our business models not only excluding one or the other platform versus cinema. We have to think together; for me solidarity is one of the upcoming words that we have to think about.”

Mediapro’s Taxto Benet opined that the most important issues on the agenda are “investment to fit better in the digital market and an appropriate regulatory framework.” But, he added, “These two things are one. Our main asset as a producer is IP and it’s as much IP as we can get and keep. Keeping this IP is terribly difficult as we face international organizations with incredible economic power.”

Noted Chimenz, “We have to consider that we have in front of us organizations that currently capitalize, some of them, over a trillion dollars. They have resources that have never been seen in our industry… When I hear that Europe or the European Union is thinking about how to create a European champion in the sense of digital distribution, I always wonder whether this really makes sense because the competition is unachievable. The train to create a European champion in terms of a streaming venture is long gone.”

And yet, said Chimenz, “We have an ecosystem that is very vibrant, that is very vital and that has a lot of very interesting independent producers, production groups, distribution groups, a wealth of talent and a passion for our own cultures. I think we have to capitalize on this.”

Rather than try to emulate the big groups, Chimenz said, “I think we should be very, very careful about what’s happening on the ground and try to create a regulatory framework where European independent producers can work with the streamers or with the local networks.”

He added he didn’t want to “criminalize the streamers,” but noted, “Most of their executives come from studios and come with a mentality where they are the commissioning entity and have a relationshp with the talent. The producer in itself, the production company, is normally a professional figure that is for hire and is not so central. We have to make sure that the platforms, as well as the current broadcasters, put European independent producers at the center.”

Chimenz took a page out of fashion houses to drive home the point. “I think we are what is as close as possible to what had been the Armani, the Valentino, the Louis Vuitton — meaning what had been the designer that created based on their ability to model art and commerce to create industry… Without a very tight regulatory framework there is no way the streamer is at all interested in leaving a piece of IP to the producers that have created it or to remunerate the work in a way they can gradually grow their company.”

Guiney for his part had a slightly different take. He said, “I understand the need for regulations, but I think there’s a big opportunity for European producers at the moment. There’s a worldwide explosion of demand for content, there are huge numbers of buyers out there looking to acquire the very best content and many of us in Europe are making content that is in huge demand. What strikes me as the great opportunity at the moment is to properly invest in development, to properly empower European producers to develop their IP.”

In terms of available development money from Creative Europe, Guiney estimated it’s “very small, certainly on slate funding or on a project-to-project basis. We’re not keeping up at all with the success of our creators .”

As a result, said Guiney, “What you find is that the streamers, international broadcasters who have very big pockets, can offer the creators of IP huge paydays, huge development deals and actually the real opportunity for us as producers is for us to be able do the same and to compete. In other words, if we have access to proper development money we can build these projects, we can commision the scripts, we can budget the projects, we can cast them and then we can go out and choose the very best buyer for that project.”

Chimed in Chimenz, “I think there is a need at a Europen level, not necessarily to rethink the business model, but to think whether it would it be interesting and beneficital to all the industry to not simply just invest in development money for high-end productions, but also to come in as an equity investor or in combination with some private equity investors to finance the gap. In continental Europe, we can certainly produce very high quality projects with much less money than is necessary in the U.S. Still, to produse a 4m or 5M euros per episode TV series, you certainly need several actors: pay-TVs, some of the more established international sales companies, (and) you may still actually have a gap. If that gap could be covered by a public fund which doesnt necessarily have to give grants — it could be returnable loans that we have seen over and over in the private sector — I think that could be a very interesting idea. We could have more leverage when dealing with broadcasters or with the streamers. It’s all about creating great stories of course first off, but it’s also having leverage when you have a big entity in front of you to be able to extract a good deal.”

Guiney concurred, and added, ”One thought I had, and I don’t know if this would ever be feasible or what the instrument through which you could acieve this would be, is to set up a kind of European invest bank that specializes in film and television and that particular bank or entity would be able to Invest in development of a slate of projects proposed by a company or a group of companies workting together. It could invest in companies themselves by taking an equity stake. It could also invest in production finance.”

Guiney further noted, “The truth is, in Europe, maybe not so much in television, certainly in cinema, we tap out at a very low level. If we’re looking to finance Yorgos Lanthimos’ new movie there is really no where in Europe that can finance that film. We inevitably go to America. We may get some of the money from Europe, but most of it is coming ffrom outside of Europe and I think it’s a great shame that we can’t provide the homes in Europe for our filmmakers to do audacious lage-scale work. If you think of our heritage, the amazing filmmakers that we had that worked in Europe that made films that audiences wanted to see 20, 30, 40 years ago, we were able to do that. But we’re no longer able to do that and I think it’s a great shame.”

What’s more, for Guiney, “These things have a real commercial value, so the opportunty here is cultural, it’s commerical and it’s economic. We’re not looking for special treatment as an industry that needs to be propped up. It’s really saying there’s something potentially really profitable here, there’s huge demand for what we make all round the world and we’re really missing a trick if we’re not properly resourcing it because, by God, the American are properly resourcing it and the Chinese are properly reosourcing it and the Indians ar eproperly resourcing it. But we aren’t. We are too fragmented and we are too small.”

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