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Bernie Stampfer, Martin Diesbach, Nuno Bernardo • Heads of studies, Essential Legal Framework training series, Erich Pommer Institut

“The change in the funding schemes around Europe will dramatically impact the industry”


- EPI’s heads of studies present their views on the trends and prospects in the audiovisual industry for the coming years, topics that were dealt with in a series of online workshops

Bernie Stampfer, Martin Diesbach, Nuno Bernardo  • Heads of studies, Essential Legal Framework training series, Erich Pommer Institut

The Essential Legal Framework training series (supported by Creative Europe – MEDIA) has been a long-standing staple of the Erich Pommer Institut (EPI), one of the leading providers of advanced training in Europe’s media landscape. The series and its yearly workshops are designed to meet the specific needs of industry professionals and enable them to update their knowledge – with an emphasis on legal and financial aspects – quickly and effectively. While 2020 presented the industry with a set of new challenges, EPI adapted quickly to the newest developments and offered three online workshops to equip professionals with the tools they need to tackle the new complexities ahead of them.

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European Co-Production gave participants working in film and TV series the knowledge to successfully handle and navigate the many intricacies of European co-productions. Clearing Rights offered practical knowledge to identify and clear rights quickly and effectively in order to avoid cost-intensive pitfalls. Meanwhile, Digital Distribution provided participants with the necessary tools to capitalise on the opportunities of alternative distribution models, a topic more relevant than ever in 2020. Bernie Stampfer (head of studies, European Co-Production, and also founder of International Film Partners), Martin Diesbach (head of studies, Clearing Rights, as well as a partner at law firm SKW Schwarz) and Nuno Bernardo (head of studies, Digital Distribution, and also producer and managing director at beActive Entertainment) reflect on the future of the industry and what they hope participants were able to take away from the sessions.

Cineuropa: What are the impacts that 2020 had on the state of the industry?
Bernie Stampfer:
Anyone who thinks they can already list the final consequences of the pandemic for the film and television industry is wrong. The entire film chain, from authorship to the second or even third exhibition of films, is affected, and thus everyone who works in this field is as well. Streamers seem to be the winners, but experience shows that a boom is followed by a bust – a cutthroat battle is already looming. The biggest losers from my point of view are the cinema operators, and the cinema as a cultural venue.

Martin Diesbach: The pandemic has obviously had a huge impact. I don’t think that the pandemic was a disruptive element, per se. Rather, it was (and is) a tremendous accelerator of existing disruptive developments: the decline of theatrical exhibition, the rise of the streamers and the consolidation process in the production company market, to name but a few.

Nuno Bernardo: The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the industry. For almost a year now, most cinemas have been closed, and even if some of them are open (or opened last summer), they run at a limited capacity and have limited schedules. The box office plummeted around the globe, and some of 2020’s big releases were postponed or released on VoD, either on pay-per-view or the existing SVoD platforms. Because of these ongoing changes, the digital distribution of films and TV programmes became more relevant than ever.

What were the topics that were especially relevant for the workshops in 2020?
Independent producers are just staring at the billions of dollars that streamers throw into circulation and are wondering how they can participate. European subsidy systems are proving robust, but exhibition markets are breaking away. The streamers have the big money but are taking all the rights away from the producers. Our workshops need to carefully analyse and at least approach solutions for an unprecedented industry-wide change.

MD: What I’ve observed is an increase in project development based on true stories. The appeal of “reality” being turned into a film or a TV show seems to be growing even further. Obviously, that had an impact on the workshop and was among the core topics we discussed.

NB: Over the last year, we’ve seen a significant shift in how movies are released, so there has never been a more urgent need to find out the best practices in this ever-changing world. Some of the topics that got the participants excited were new business models, new revenue streams and discussions on how new productions get funded.

Which topics from the workshops do you think will become more relevant in the coming years?
European feature-film producers have worked for decades in this cocoon of public funding, national film and television agreements, and a similarly subsidised distribution system. As robust as this system has proven to be, it has now been confronted by upheavals in the marketplace and in consumer behaviour. The key issues are therefore entrepreneurial and legal – knowing that content will continue to be king.

MD: I think the global streaming platforms will define the “gold standard” of clearance, and we will end up discussing their approach even more in the years to come. Also, I am sure that “high-end documentaries” will become more important.

NB: As digital platforms are now leading film and TV distribution worldwide, one of the industry-wide changes, especially in Europe, is film and TV funding in this new world. Given that funding is still tied to a theatrical release, I expect significant changes and experimentation with new models shortly. The anticipated change in the funding schemes around Europe – especially to public funding – will dramatically impact the industry and will be a subject of in-depth analysis at upcoming editions of Digital Distribution.

What were the main benefits and tools that participants could take away from the workshops and apply to their upcoming projects?
The [European Co-Production] workshop focuses on the legal and financial aspects of film and television production. The focal point is therefore the analysis of industry data and facts, the interpretation of these, the relevance for the participants and the potential implementation. The best result is always when we consolidate the producer’s individual and current position (“Where are we now?”) and when we set a more precise target (“Where do we go from here?”).

MD: Rights clearance is not a science; it is an art. There is not much that can go wrong if you start early. Rights clearance is very much about asking the right questions at the right time, so process is key. There are creative ways of dealing with rights issues. And ultimately, choose your lawyer wisely.

NB: The [Digital Distribution] workshop and the line-up of speakers were organised in order to bring the most up-to-date information and real-world experiences from professionals implementing new ways of distributing films, documentaries, television series and shows. From the feedback I received after the workshop, the main topics that the participants took away from this edition were the encouragement to try new distribution models, a new list of VoD platforms that can take their existing catalogue of films and documentaries, and new ideas on how to market and create relevance for their upcoming projects.

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