Black Nights 2021 - Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event
Industry Report: Market Trends
How are the health crisis and the hybridisation process changing film sales? Four panellists share their experiences
At Tallinn, the speakers discussed sales strategies, the pros and cons of online working practices and the struggles when handling arthouse films
On 25 November, the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival hosted a panel titled "The present and future of film sales: new beginnings," moderated by Georgia Mouton. The event saw the participation of Marie Zeniter of Magnolia Pictures International, Ivan Hronec of Film Europe Media Company, Ewa Bojanowska of New Europe Film Sales and Head of Locarno Pro and Spamflix's co-founder Markus Duffner.
Zeniter said that the market, despite the ongoing crisis, has been responding quite well and their focus has obviously shifted from theatrical to VOD. "Sadly this leaves little room for more experimental or fragile films, but we need to survive the storm as a healthy business," she explained. The pandemic has also determined a change of 'geography' for sales, she argued, and she mentioned the example of Asia, where the outbreak was less aggressive and most of the theatres remained open, while in other European countries, including France, cinemas were shut down for months. Speaking about the company's editorial strategies, she said that the team tends to acquire titles after its world premiere, and rarely pre-buys or boards projects at an earlier stage.
Bojanowska was also pleased with the results recorded in the period 2020-2021, even though titles weren't released in as many countries as they hoped. She pointed out, however, that slow-paced films are normally easier to watch in cinemas rather than on VOD, because viewers are not tempted by their mobiles or other distractions, and this obviously has affected many sales agents acquisition strategies. Bojanowska agreed with Duffner on the fact that technology has also brought some advantages as she found online meetings generally "longer, more valuable" and with people coming in "more prepared," who generally had early access to screeners or promo reels. In this respect, she mentioned the positive experience of pre-Cannes screenings and its dedicated online market platform. Duffner added how these practices can also reduce costs in terms of travel and installing booths. He argued that thanks to these new approaches, people will become more selective in terms of attending industry events and, as a result, the sales agents' role and the entire way markets are organised will be reshaped.
Hronec maintained that "everything we're facing now was already taking place regardless of corona," especially in terms of hybridisation. "The ecosystem is not working in general. In small territories [such as the Czech Republic], cinemas are owned by distributors – and this is perhaps not healthy – and Czech television is not buying extensively arthouse content. [...] The same goes for festivals. Karlovy Vary has limited slots, and so do places like Cannes, Berlin, Toronto..." he explained. Regarding online screenings, he can appreciate the opportunity to watch 10 minutes of several films – up to 6 per hour – and then continue watching the one he likes the most. He pointed out the importance of knowing buyers' profiles – and for buyers to make that as clear as possible – to ease work and save time. He also said that broadcasters such as HBO or the Czech Television offer ridiculous amounts for buying TV rights, offering sums often ranging €1-3,000, so that it became more convenient to refuse them and broadcast content directly on his own channels. Commenting on the growing difficulties of pursuing his editorial strategy, he disclosed: "I'm buying about 100 films – they all get DCPs, a proper marketing campaign but obviously not all of them are successful. The festivals sometimes end up eating up your audience while even ten years ago it was a fair assumption to say that they were supporting the marketing of your film." Finally, he advised for the future to work on a narrow, 'stylish' editorial approach rather than a generalist one.
On the topic of digitalisation and virtual screenings, Zeitner disagreed with the other speakers, especially on the idea to have online premieres to "build momentum:" "You cannot create new relationships and Zoom or another online experience can never replace them. Building momentum with a timed screening doesn't work with every title. It might work for a bigger film playing at a festival, but for smaller ones this doesn't happen. Besides, not every film in our line-up is a 'headliner.'" Commenting on Magnolia's strategies, she defined sales as just the beginning of a professional relationship, and stressed on the team's commitment to closely follow the film's marketing campaign, escaping other players' "take the money and run" approach. On the topic of production volumes, she admitted that the market is currently saturated, but as long as there is a clear artistic goal and one can be realistic in terms of feasibility, there is still room for creativity.
A short Q&A session rounded off the panel.
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