As the Cannes Film Festival approaches, independent film companies are feeling optimistic about the future of cinema, despite the entry of streaming services into the market. While the Netflix era has flattened out and audiences are slowly but surely returning to cinemas post-pandemic, buyers remain cautious about purchasing volumes amid a shaky global economy.
Todd Brown, head of international acquisitions at US-based XYZ Films, expects the trend of buyers showing up at festivals and being active to continue. Cannes is the world’s largest event for buying and selling movie rights, with some 12,500 industry professionals involved in buying, selling or producing movies in some form showing up at the market. Nearly 4,000 films and projects are put on display, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of deals done.
Laura Wilson, head of acquisitions at Britain-based Altitude Films, said that except for a handful of titles that will do well no matter what, the market is pretty competitive this year. “It doesn’t feel like a buyers’ or sellers’ market,” she said. Both Brown and Wilson said they are optimistic about audiences returning to the cinema. “Ultimately, we are optimistic about theatrical,” said Wilson.
While AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc this month reported positive quarterly results boosted by “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” with the world’s largest cinema chain operator saying it expected “The Little Mermaid”, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” to generate box-office sales for the rest of the year, Brian O’Shea, CEO of The Exchange, based in Los Angeles, did not see as much cause for optimism in the numbers.
“The box office that is beneficial to independent film is depressed” as it is primarily older viewers, who wanted to avoid getting sick during the coronavirus pandemic, and have become used to watching movies from the comfort of home, he said. “It’s a transitional time on the business side as the traditional business model that independent buyers use sees lessened value,” said O’Shea.
Global film companies like the Walt Disney Co, Paramount and Warner Bros joined the streaming revolution to counter the threat posed by Netflix Inc to traditional TV but are now facing a crowded market where the competition to increase subscriber numbers is fierce. “Everybody’s been really focused on the shock impact of the streamer contraction… but the other thing it does for traditional theatrical distribution is narrow the focus of what the streamers are doing and what kind of film they want to do and how they want to do them, so for everything else, there’s… space for counterprogramming,” Brown said.
Brown believes that the similarity among much of the content offered on streaming platforms leaves theatre audiences wanting something different, an unmet appetite that independent companies could fulfil. Proof of that argument is how well last year’s “Triangle of Sadness” and “Joyland” did in Europe, and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in the United States and worldwide. “Those are movies that are radically not streamer movies,” said Brown.
In one sign that streamers are focusing more on cinema in a bid to stand out from the crowd, Apple Inc will premiere Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” starring Leonardo DiCaprio at Cannes and has teamed up with Paramount to release the film in theatres before streaming it globally in October. Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux said in an interview with Le Film Francais magazine in April that “something good is happening, and I’m sure other streaming services will follow suit.”
Despite the challenges faced by independent film companies in a market upended by streaming services, the Cannes Film Festival remains an unparalleled event for buying and selling movie rights. With cautious optimism about the future of cinema and the unmet appetite of theatre audiences for something different, independent companies are hopeful that they will continue to find success in the industry.