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Speaking at the Zurich Film Festival’s industry event, the Zurich Summit – ahead of next week’s theatrical launch of “No Time to Die” – the pair were interviewed on stage by CAA Media Finance co-head Roeg Sutherland. He asked how they convinced filmmakers to work with MGM rather than streamers “which are incredibly competitive about pricing.”
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“The good news is we don’t really have to do a heavy sales pitch,” replied De Luca. “The filmmakers that came with us prefer theatrical so it pitches itself. They’re two very distinct experiences.”
MGM has an impressive slate of films from leading directors coming up, including Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci,” George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” and Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking.”
<img src="https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg?w=1000" alt="Pamela Abdy and Michael De Luca in conversation with Roeg Sutherland on Saturday at the Zurich Summit - Credit: Courtesy of Josef Brunner for ZFF Summit" width="1000" height="563" class="size-horizontal wp-image-1235074281" srcset="https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg 1000w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg?resize=150,84 150w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg?resize=300,169 300w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg?resize=125,70 125w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg?resize=681,383 681w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg?resize=450,253 450w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Pamela_Abdy_Michael-de-Luca_Roeg_Sutherland.jpg?resize=250,140 250w" sizes="(min-width: 87.5rem) 1000px, (min-width: 78.75rem) 681px, (min-width: 48rem) 450px, (max-width: 48rem) 250px" />Courtesy of Josef Brunner for ZFF Summit
“If you’re George Miller, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson or Sarah Polley, the people that we made movies with, they all to a person prefer that theatrical experience for their movie if given the choice,” said De Luca. “And we gave them that choice.”
He admitted, however, that the studio had lost out on some films to streamers because the talent had their own reasons to prefer streaming, including one who preferred to “not have the burden of an opening weekend” on their shoulders.
“Our slate reflects filmmakers who preferred theatrical, even in the era of the pandemic,” added De Luca.
When building its slate, Abdy said there was no specific genre that the studio favored. “We try to go after filmmakers first and foremost. That’s what attracts us mostly…for us the directors are the IP.”
De Luca and Abdy’s comments come, of course, just four months after streamer Amazon announced it was buying MGM for $8.45 billion.
De Luca addressed the deal only to say that because it is under review by the Federal Trade Commission, “we’re still operating like two separate companies because until it closes that’s just the normal course of business.”
He added: “Neither of us will know what the integration might look like until we’re on the other side of it getting approved and we’re so far away from that.”
Sutherland also asked De Luca and Abdy why they had “doubled down” on making movies during the pandemic while many other studios were stopping production.
“We’re an independent studio, we don’t have unlimited resources,” explained De Luca. “Whenever you’re at a smaller, scrappier company, you look to what the big guys aren’t doing. We’re very opportunistic about it…
“At that time, the word uncertain was being thrown around a lot – like ‘theatrical has an uncertain future’ – which the streamers definitely exploited to their advantage, which is fine. It’s a competitive pitch for them. But we just thought, ‘Okay, the studios are throttling back. Let’s do the opposite.’”
As a result, said Abdy, MGM has been able to “build up an arsenal of films” ready to be released as the world opens up after the pandemic.
Despite the lineup of big name directors making films for MGM, the pair also stressed that the studio is still taking swings on new voices and talent as part of a desire to give audiences original films.
“We’re looking for projects with that kind of special sauce,” said De Luca. “That’s what drives us… People show up for something that is not pandering or derivative.
“I think originality is a giant, theater worthy criteria for us…there is so much volume going on, especially with the streamers. I don’t think you win the streaming wars or even win the theatrical wars or any war with just blanket volume.”
Looking ahead, De Luca also said that the studio would “love to do more international co-productions” based on library titles from the MGM archive. “There’s just a tremendous treasure trove of material that can be adapted to local languages.”
Abdy added: “We have a deep library. Our hope is taking some of those titles, which don’t necessarily need to be remade in America and making them as local language films. I think there’s a real opportunity there.”
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