Production budgets on U.S. independent movies are regularly too high to make them viable in the international sales marketplace, but it’s no easy task for producers to cut them, said speakers at the Zurich Summit yesterday (September 28).
Talking at the event, Thorsten Schumacher, founder and CEO of international sales outfit Rocket Science, said that budgets have been getting tighter in recent years, but they still need to decrease by up to half to make them realistic prospects.
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“Budgets have come down but they still should come down a lot more”, the sales vet posited. “U.S. films often need to come down by up to 50%. It feels like if you’re making European films, budgets are ok.”
Speaking on a later panel, Black Swan and Jackie producer Scott Franklin said that he was constantly aware of the need to keep budgets in check.
“Almost every film that we’ve done, we’ve had to figure out how to make it for less than we originally budgeted,” he commented.
However, Franklin added that working down budgets had often ended up improving films. “Making those final creative decisions to fit into the updated box almost invariably makes the film better creatively, because you have to make the hard decisions. You can improve creatively with the limitations you have.”
Birdman producer John Lesher noted that a part of a producer’s job is to keep their filmmakers positive, even when trimming costs. “Once you start cutting you need to be a bigger cheerleader because the morale tends to drop. Sometimes everyone feels like they have had the wind taken out of their sails.”
“Sometimes it makes people work harder to make it count,” added The Hurt Locker producer Greg Shapiro. “[Budget cuts] still suck, though.”
Panelists agreed that the international sales space is increasingly challenged, but the picture was far from all doom and gloom. The right package can still strike gold, they noted.
Schumacher said that, while “the bullseye has gotten smaller”, it can still be found with the right project. “The Aaron Sorkin film [The Trial Of The Chicago Seven] gave me back the faith in foreign sales. It’s a domestic period court-room drama. Not the most obvious sell overseas. But then it completely sold out to independent distributors,” he said. “It’s exhausting, the ecstasy and the agony [of sales], but if you believe in the movie you still feel good about it.”
“There’s always a surprise. In uncertain times there’s always a flag to quality,” added Jonathan Kier, President of International Sales & Distribution at Sierra/Affinity.