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Zurich 2022 – ZFF Industry

Country Focus: Switzerland

Industry executives discuss succeeding with transatlantic production at the Zurich Summit

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- The panel, composed of four senior international executives, went into detail on financing structures, comparative sources of public money, and the importance of the US market once films are complete

Industry executives discuss succeeding with transatlantic production at the Zurich Summit
l-r: Melanie Goodfellow, Benjamin Kramer, Ilya Stewart, Bert Hamelinck and Danny Perkins during the panel discussion

The Zurich Summit panel “How to Succeed with Transatlantic Production” evinced a happy state of affairs for the international film business, where the interests of two key parties – the US industry as centred in Los Angeles, and the entire European film community – could be mutually enriching and beneficial. Late in the discussion, the moderator, Deadline’s Melanie Goodfellow, asked the group if there were any pitfalls to avoid, given that the title begins “How to Succeed…”. Few constructive answers were offered; producer Ilya Stewart, recently transplanted from Moscow to Europe, simply answered, “Don’t make films in Russia.” Transatlantic production really staked its claim as a silver bullet for producers, on both sides of the pond, to get their projects over the line, with transparent endorsements coming from Caviar’s Bert Hamelinck (“The more you can tap into different sources and gain as much control as possible the better; it's also so important for your creative talent”) and Danny Perkins, from Elysian Film Group, who opined, “To do anything of scale, you have to look beyond your own borders.”

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Benjamin Kramer, co-head at CAA Media Finance – who was noted in the introduction as having packaged more than 100 films in his current posting, from the awards-season hit Sound of Metal to John Wick – made many of the most perceptive comments. The key advantage of a transatlantic production, he said, “is money, frankly. There’s very low-cost and accessible money available in Europe that supports the arts broadly, but film specifically, in a way that isn't paralleled in the USA. The US equivalents are tax rebates that the individual states have, competing with one another, in addition to Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil – they all have more of a rebate system, not a grant system.” And regarding combining the two, he spoke of how you can bring together “public or semi-public funding from Europe, broadly speaking, with some of the financial resources that exist in the USA, maximising your available resources. And in most cases, getting a certain amount of money from a straight financier who just writes you a cheque is not as good as using a bunch of soft money, free money, grant money.”

Kramer and Hamelinck had differing views on methodology, with the latter, a native of Belgium, sharing his experience of setting up Caviar in LA, and how that shed light on that environment’s advantages and drawbacks. Compared to some of his projects like Cold Iron and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, “where you also come with some pre-existing resources on the table”, he was “still amazed at how difficult it is to get development money in the USA. Nobody wants to do it. Nobody wants to develop scripts, whereas in Europe, we've been doing that even with the public funding in place, which is backing the first steps.”

In response, Kramer emphasised the differing opportunities for high-end, US-based screenwriters at that early stage of the process: “People love development. It's paid for a lot of private schools in LA. But writers are giving up much more significant opportunities to earn than they are elsewhere in the world where development is not as well compensated. I know that when we speak to European producers and we start talking about writers who regularly earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for several weeks’ work polishing an already-existing script – that's the entire development budget of most European movies. And so at this scale, it’s a pure economic reality.”

The value of US box-office success, combined with veneration in awards season, was touted by Perkins and Hamelinck, two of the European panellists. Perkins stated he’s “been lucky enough to be involved in films for the UK that have taken a lot of money in the States, which is terrific, and it’s the main market that you want to crack. This sets the bar for the value of the film throughout the world. If you have a hit in the USA, then you have a real hit.” And for continued success, Hamelinck said, “If you see the foreign-language category at the Oscars, the films are becoming better and better. It’s the only place where they can not just compete financially, but also continue being shown and getting recognition. And it's crucial. And sadly, there is no alternative in Europe yet to mimic that degree of exposure for a smaller film.”

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