While Hollywood is bracing for more changes due to the coronavirus outbreak, some independent film producers say the pandemic is actually leading to more communication and creativity among Hollywood execs and creatives.
Producers Jane Rosenthal (“The Irishman”), John Sloss (“Green Book”) and Tommy Oliver (“Black Love”) joined TheWrap founder and Editor-in-Chief Sharon Waxman Tuesday on a Zoom virtual meet-up to discuss how the industry has changed during the pandemic, and what people can do to make sure their work is still seen.
“We’re actually talking to each other more than we ever have before,” Sloss said about his New York-based company, Cinetic Media. “It’s kind of remarkable. It feels like we’re working together more effectively than usual. I’m spending a lot of time on video conferences — if this happened, I guess it’s good it happened in such advanced technology… we have 40 films we are currently selling, and I think there will be growing demand among the platforms to acquire content so it’s conceivable that we’ll be as busy as ever in the next few months.”
Oliver agreed, adding that while many of his projects have halted physical production, they are moving “full-steam ahead on development.”
“There is a silver lining in almost any situation, and it comes down to our attitude and how we are approaching it,” Oliver said. “More now than ever, it’s about being creative and how you can make things work for you. We still have the same access to technology and people, and now, you have access to more of a captive audience.”
Rosenthal, who is also the co-founder, CEO and executive chair of Tribeca Enterprises, which puts on the Tribeca Film Festival every year, shared the sentiment.
“This is an opportunity to be more creative, to come up with creative solutions, and to write that script,” she said. “Tribeca started in 2001 after 9/11, and I only thought I was gonna do that festival once, and it was about bringing people together at a time of such crisis. It was by being together that we could say, ‘We are here,’ and we could laugh together. What I find and struggle with is: What happens when we can’t gather? What happens when you can’t hear that laughter? We have so many platforms to be creative on and hearing each other’s voices — aside from not having that human connection, it is an exciting time to be creative.”
While the actual development of projects doesn’t seem to be hurt, many indie filmmakers and film buyers are concerned about sales for finished products, given that major film festivals like Cannes, SXSW and Rosenthal’s own Tribeca have been canceled or postponed. Rosenthal said Tribeca is in the midst of figuring out how to create a virtual festival so the films can still be seen on streaming platforms.
And Sloss believes that while filmmakers and buyers are going to have to adapt to a new norm, acquisitions will continue to thrive. “There might be more opportunity for acquisitions even though those festivals might not occur,” he said. “Those are going to continue with possible vigor. It’s a disrupted environment and we have to adapt to it.”
But to Oliver, festivals aren’t just about the sales market. It’s about the connections and relationships formed. After all, that’s how Oliver got his own start in the film space. He took his first produced project, “Kinyarwanda,” to the Sundance Film Festival in 2011, and his directorial debut, “1982,” to the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013.
“I wouldn’t be here had it not been for festivals,” he explained. “There’s a lot more to festivals than films being sold — there are connections being formed that are vital to people’s careers. It’s also more about the entire team — it’s a hard thing to replicate. I don’t know what the answer is — the market of sales is only taking care of a portion of it. We are going to have to figure out how to do this for people just starting out.”
Another question at the forefront of people’s minds is how theater chains are going to survive the pandemic. All chains have closed their doors to stop the spread of the virus, meaning a lot of blockbuster releases have been pushed. But perhaps a bigger question is how theater owners and distributors might approach future releases, given and whether the traditional 90-day window between theatrical release and on-demand/streaming will hold. On that point, Rosenthal, Sloss and Oliver agree: Things will change.
“The theatrical world needs to change — there can’t films be in theaters for three months,” Rosenthal said. “Our businesses are changing in terms of how we are dating and platforming, and this is going to be the big push to make a change.”
“Shortened windows are in everyone’s best interest,” Sloss agreed. “But first, there is a much bigger threshold that needs to be addressed — they need to stay in business and be open after the pandemic.”
Oliver said that theater chains will have to be open to the discussion of shortening windows. “I don’t think they are mutually exclusive and the conversation has to happen now, otherwise theaters as they are now, they won’t exist,” he said. “No matter how things were enforced, things are not how things were. It’s going to change — it has to change.”
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