Elissa Federoff • Head of distribution, NEON
“We focus on films that have a really relevant point of view and that are culturally exciting for the moment”
- We discussed US-based NEON’s business model, and the company’s strategies for handling European and foreign films
We caught up with Elissa Federoff, head of distribution at US-based production and distribution outfit NEON. Our interview took place during this year’s International Distribution Summit, which unspooled in Cologne from 19-20 October. Our conversation focused in particular on NEON’s business model, consumption trends, and its marketing strategies for European and foreign titles.
Cineuropa: Could you briefly touch upon NEON’s activities and your participation in the summit?
Elissa Federoff: I run theatrical distribution for NEON. We’re a speciality distributor that started in 2017 and that now [also] works in production and development. I can speak specifically about my role as a theatrical distributor here at the summit. I wanted to make very clear the campaigns that I personally strategise and create within my team, so I wanted to educate, illuminate and share with the groups what we do on the theatrical side as far as strategies are concerned, but also what we really find working pre-pandemic and currently with our exhibition partners. Specifically, what is driving box office in our campaigns, how we’re working with exhibitors to market their films very strategically, how to make their films events, and how these movies can deliver experiences for audiences who come out and see them in the theatres.
What is it like working with the European market and European titles?
I can only speak with respect to what I’m experiencing in the US market, with foreign titles. We’ve always been a company that has been agnostic about the genre and the films that we choose to buy, to produce and to distribute. So, for example, we’re agnostic to genre, to non-fiction, to the country of origin. We’ve always had this basis in our brand development. So a film from Europe, from Asia, or a film with subtitles has always been just as culturally relevant to us. We believe in audiences because if it is a good story and a cinematic experience, people will come out and see it. This is our experience pre-pandemic and – very fortunately – post-pandemic. We’ve always had a very deliberate business model that focuses on auteur-driven films with excellent storytelling, and we build a campaign that is very specific around that movie.
Speaking of your business model, are there any features or practices you’d like to highlight in terms of what makes NEON such a recognised, successful brand?
I think what is significant for NEON is that we focus on films that have a really relevant point of view and that are culturally exciting for the moment, and that will always create a conversation within the online audience and the real-time audience... This has always been a focus of ours. As a company, we’re very nimble and flexible, and we work around the marketplace... Every single film gets a bespoke campaign that we build from scratch. We’re always thinking about it from the very minute we acquire a film; we’re very deliberate about the films and the auteurs we go after. [...] It’s always about working for the film and our brand at the same time.
Let’s zoom in on a specific case. You worked on this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Triangle of Sadness [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile]... What were your strategies for handling such a prominent European work?
We love the film; it’s incredible! We love Ruben Östlund – he’s an amazing storyteller, and this film has an amazing identity. It says something really exciting, and it’s just plain entertaining and a raucous time in the theatre. All of those things were super-important when we watched it and decided to acquire it. The pedigree of him as a filmmaker and the pedigree of the Palme d’Or are two things we can absolutely use in our campaign. The amazing performance by Dolly de Leon as the breakout star in this film really speaks to audiences that are immediately attracted to her. She is this sort of hidden treasure in the movie. Those are the key components we’ve brought out alongside the obvious hilarity and the director’s beautiful craft.
Did you focus on any particular channels?
We often use digital media to speak to our audiences: YouTube, TikTok or our own channels. On the theatrical side, we wanted to make sure that this was a trailer that would be in theatres all summer long in order to get that loyal movie-going audience to come out. For example, we had Moonage Daydream in theatres at the beginning of September. We attached that trailer to Moonage Daydream so that the entire audience who loved that film from NEON had six weeks to watch the Triangle of Sadness trailer before they actually got to see it in theatres.
We know how the relationship between streamers and theatres is changing, especially in times of the pandemic and the energy crisis. How do you see it evolving in the near future?
I see things being really positive, and I think there are a lot of opportunities in the market right now. While audience attendance is down by 30%, there’s also 30% fewer films in the marketplace. So every movie out there is actually over-indexing.
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