This is the week of the AFM in Los Angeles, the second biggest film market after Cannes. It has always been a good barometer of the state of the industry, as the reporting on the business doesn’t have to compete with the noise, glitz and glamour that is the Festival de Cannes. It’s all about the deals that are made (or not). For a while now the news coming out of the market is that business is worsening. However, this year started more brightly with a glimmer of optimism, especially around former Warner chief Mark Gill’s $400m fighting fund at Solstice Studios, a healthy US box office that has seen a record $12bn of box office income in the last 12 months, Sony Films posting a profit helped by children’s film Hotel Transylvania 3, and encouraging news from the German domestic market that has seen an uptick in admissions for homegrown movies. There was also a restructure of the market itself which last year saw more exhibitor participation and an increase in attendance. In a bold move, the public were banned from the hotel lobby in a belief the crowded entrance was responsible for the empty floors where the sales agents are based.
However, it didn’t take long for the naysayers to get their laptops back and report on the lack of deals, the general turbulent nature of the current film market, and the demise of the mid-size budget ($50m). They were also forced to reconsider the perception that the general public were to blame for the empty floors last year. The floors are not busy this year too. The true reason may be that exhibitors are buying significantly less.
In reaction to this, distributors and producers have been adjusting their approach. Ignoring the maxim “no-one knows anything”, advice aplenty has been emanating from the market. These strategies include a move to focusing on producing more, niche films that win awards, a lean towards lower-risk genre movies, especially horror, and the emergence of niche distributors like A24 that are replacing the mini-majors. Smaller, better films with targeted audiences was the general advice coming from the indie market. Elsewhere, financier Bold Films are looking at a strategy of making studio films on an indie budget. Films that were accessible, in more commercial genres with action and an edge. Which may be why New Line has recent taken rights to a viral Buzzfeed horror story.
As everyone struggles to find the magic formula, the numbers speak for themselves. The Freddie Mercury bio-pic Bohemian Rhapsody struck a chord with worldwide audiences taking $123m worldwide, whilst Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased had the strongest opening of all speciality titles in the US with $220K and a massive screen average of $44K. Both independently financed films have leads who are forced to hide and deny their sexuality. They were funded differently at different budget levels ($50m vs $10M). However, both films have found audiences that match their ambition. And both have an engaging story at their heart that gives meaning to the audience by generating empathy with the main characters. The art of empathy, which is at the core of what we do, is vital if we are going to create a more caring and connected society. There is still an important role for films today.
In other news, a majority of US audience think cable is unaffordable, which may be why Foxtel is about to pivot its business model. Seven and News Corp/Foxtel are continuing to explore potential relationships, that follows on from the original courting that begun in August. And if you are worried that the film stars might be suffering with all the changes in the business, you can stop worrying. TV is helping them make ends meet.