Todd Brown • Producer/distributor
"The industry is hungry for content, but you have to have something that tips you over the line"
- At Frontières, producer, distributor and programmer Todd Brown shines a spotlight on the gaps and the bridges between European and US genre (and non-genre) film markets
Producer and head of international acquisitions at Los Angeles-based XYZ Films, director of international programming for Austin's Fantastic Fest, and founder and editor of TwitchFilm.com, Toronto-based Todd Brown knows his way around the film industry. One of the experts invited to the Frontières International Co-Production Market's panel US vs Europe: Models for Genre Film Financing (read the news), Brown shed some light on the gaps that exist between both film markets. We met up with him.
Cineuropa: What would you say to a European filmmaker who wants to venture into the US industry?
Todd Brown: The thinking has to be very clear about what kind of story you want to tell and, also, what the audience for that story is. A lot of times, when people run into a problem, it's because there is a disconnection between what it is that they are actually making and what the demands are. The distribution market right now is very difficult; there are basic realities there that you have to build in, and if you want people to see your film, you have to be very clear about what is in it. Is there an audience for it? Assuming there is – if there isn't, stop right then – how am I going to get to them? You need to be planning for that all the way through, in terms of how to reach people, how to be in a position where people will find you, how to create an environment around the film that is going to demonstrate to the distribution that there is an audience that wants it. Especially when you are coming out of Europe, doing something that is unusual in the American markets. Distributors are kind of like sheep – they only want to follow what has been done before. That poses some very significant challenges when you want to break new ground.
So how can you do this? What tools do filmmakers have?
A great thing that you have in Europe is that you have development money, which America does not. The ability to pay for the screenwriter to write a script is the hardest thing to find in the American industry. Take advantage of that and use it. The problem that you run into is that we are slightly past the middle of a paradigm shift. All of these old models have shrunk, and nobody is informed about what the new model is, so everybody is kind of afraid all the time. You would hope, in a perfect world, that a creative industry would be driven by creation, but it's not. There is so much risk at play. Something that we have found works better than anything else is to shoot a proof-of-concept. Sitting down and telling somebody, “Trust me, I know what I'm doing; this is what I want to make” doesn't work anymore. Whereas if you have a really good proof-of-concept, the conversation turns into, “That looks amazing; how can we help?” And it becomes this collaborative process; everybody knows what the goal is because they've seen it. The industry is hungry for content, but you have to have something that tips you over the line because it is more afraid of being wrong than it is hopeful of being right.
Is this also the case in Europe?
It's happening more slowly in Europe. You see consistent squeezing in a lot of financing bodies, whose aids are shrinking because they don't see any return. This is a weird sort of catch-22, where financing bodies like to play the argument of making culturally important things, when every tax-credit programme that exists exists because there are people that have run the money and run the numbers. It's a very frustrating argument. If an audience wants something, that's culture. And how is that not worthwhile for funds to support?
Does genre film get around that?
Genre is immensely flexible, and the genre audience is the most motivated audience in the world by a mile. Even if you come from a market that doesn't export very much, they want to find you. And all of these things that are obstacles to achieving distribution in serious drama (you need to be a well-known director; you have to have a big star) are not there. The genre fans are junkies, and they want new experiences. You can certainly distribute better if they know who you are, but you can still find a way. You look at the names that came from the genre world who went on to become huge: Lars von Trier, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese... If you want to know why genre is important right now, you look at successful movies like It Follows or The Babadook... Yes, those are the best-case scenarios, but it happens more often in the genre world than it happens in the straight-drama world. This is even becoming the "new normal" in festival selections: genre films are everywhere.
Would you say that it's easier for filmmakers to work and find markets if they make genre films?
Definitely, yes. It opens doors.
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