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Industry / Market - Italy/USA

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

Neal Weisman and Andrea Occhipinti talk production, exhibition and streaming in Italy and the USA

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The NYFA chair and Lucky Red founder zoomed in on the role of independent producers and distributors, which is being reshaped owing to growing competition from majors and streamers

Neal Weisman and Andrea Occhipinti talk production, exhibition and streaming in Italy and the USA
Andrea Occhipinti (left) and Neal Weisman during the talk (© Anica Academy)

On 8 March, Rome’s ANICA hosted a new Anica Academy talk titled “The Role of the Producer – USA vs Italy”. The event saw the participation of New York Film Academy (NYFA) chair Neal Weisman and Lucky Red founder and president Andrea Occhipinti.

After a brief introduction given by Anica Academy director Sergio Del Prete, the floor was given to Weisman, who first touched on his lengthy career as a creative producer in the US industry. A short presentation followed, during which Weisman zoomed in on the main differences between US and European producing credits, and in particular on the role of the creative producer, who oversees the work of all departments involved in the filmmaking process.

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Later, Occhipinti joined Weisman on stage. They met for the first time in the USA in 1987, when Occhipinti was acting for Ettore Scola in La famiglia. “That same year, in Italy, I founded Lucky Red with Kermit Smith. The idea was to create a distribution company for arthouse films, [to release] interesting titles that weren’t available in Italy. I grew up as a teenager looking for these films at cineclubs, where you’d see movies that weren’t normally programmed in commercial theatres, including retrospectives and archive films. That’s where I come from and what ‘forged’ my taste,” said Occhipinti.

“We started buying unknown films [at festivals]. It was easier, and they were less expensive. Some of the first films we bought were two movies by Aki KaurismäkiThe Match Factory Girl and Leningrad Cowboys Go America. He was an unknown director from Finland [back then]. Then, [we bought] many other films from the likes of Werner Herzog and Ang Lee, and discovered new directors.” In 1995, Lucky Red launched its production arm, co-producing Mario Martone’s Nasty Love. Other areas of business the company ventured into included exhibition (via Circuito Cinema) and world sales (via True Colours, co-owned with Indigo Film Production).

Weisman and Occhipinti homed in on the topic of pre-sales, which used to constitute a significant portion of a film’s financing. Back in the day, solid scripts and strong creative teams would have attracted a number of buyers and investors. Today, the pre-sales market in the USA is very tough and is close to non-existent in Europe, the two speakers agreed. English-speaking projects still have worldwide potential, whilst Italian films rarely seal pre-sales agreements, and even if they do, the money involved isn’t enough to make a difference. The few Italian directors who “sell more” are arthouse filmmakers such as Paolo Sorrentino, Matteo Garrone and Emanuele Crialese, Occhipinti underscored.

Next, Occhipinti lamented the fact that, in contrast with France and other countries, RAI’s investment obligation (worth €70 million each year) allows the pubcaster to control the titles’ world rights, de facto limiting the producer’s role. He also spoke about the growing competition from streamers and majors, which keep on buying from and scouting within the arthouse scene, sometimes taking works straight to VoD. He mentioned the example of Celine Song’s hit Past Lives, for which Lucky Red acquired Italian distribution rights at the Berlinale. Her second film was impossible to acquire, as Sony snapped up all the world rights for $50 million.

Occhipinti also explained how the arrival of streamers and the way they are “taking out films from the theatrical market” has prompted “a great shock”. Traditionally, Italy’s exhibition timeline has been made up of a 105-day theatrical window, a DVD release, a 12-month window for pay TV and a 24-month window for free TV. “[Back then], there was no law [in place],” Occhipinti pointed out, later mentioning the case of On My Skin [+see also:
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, a picture that was intended for theatrical distribution but was acquired by Netflix.

The Los Gatos-based platform decided to make it available directly on its streaming service, at the same time allowing Lucky Red to distribute it in theatres. “It’s something that had never happened before, especially for a film starring a well-known actor such as Alessandro Borghi and opening one of the Venice sidebars.”

After the release of On My Skin, Italy implemented a law forbidding this practice, threatening those who didn’t comply with the revocation of all of the tax-credit benefits and all of the soft money previously granted. “[Legislators] were afraid that, with no rules, the theatrical market would lose value,” continued Occhipinti. “I agree that there should be a window, but not all films are the same. Smaller movies have a different history. [They may be] made to have a good exploitation in theatres; other films, for financing reasons, can maybe enter [the market] another way.

“We were in that position. That film made money in theatres while also being on the platform. We also distributed Roma and The Irishman within a very short window. The numbers weren’t made public, but we can safely say they did very well. So, there can be exceptions.”

Finally, Occhipinti mentioned the successful case of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest, The Boy and the Heron, which racked up almost 1 million admissions nationwide, whilst the Japanese helmer’s previous titles took no more than 200,000 admissions. To attain that result, Lucky Red tirelessly worked on implementing an effective marketing campaign. However, Occhipinti admitted: “For a couple of years, Miyazaki’s films have been on Netflix, and this has very much expanded the audience. For many years, streamers were [considered] the enemy, whereas today, many of you, who love watching cinema in a theatre, are also big consumers of Netflix and other platforms. One doesn’t preclude the other. Platforms have the role of creating new audiences. As theatrical distributors of arthouse films, we were seeing our audience growing older, and there was no ‘turnover’. We’re seeing this changing now, with new people coming to the cinemas.”

The talk was rounded off by a Q&A session.

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