Michael Cowan and Flaminio Zadra share their expertise on selling, marketing and distributing films at the Malta Film Week
- The two producers spoke about how (co-)producing practices have changed and the struggles of making profitable films
On Day 5 of the inaugural edition of the Malta Film Week (24-29 January), one of the industry panels organised by the event covered the business of selling, marketing and distributing films. The panel’s two speakers were veteran producers Michael Cowan (Head in the Clouds [+see also:
film profile], Lord of War, The Merchant of Venice [+see also:
film profile]) and Flaminio Zadra (The Story of My Wife [+see also:
interview: Ildikó Enyedi
film profile], The Edge of Heaven [+see also:
interview: Fatih Akin
interview: Klaus Maeck
film profile], Soul Kitchen [+see also:
The first part of the talk covered strategies for selling films and series. In his contribution, Cowan said that the whole process of pitching films is much more “artistic and unique,” since you need to ask yourself three questions: is the idea good? Is there a market for it? Can we bring it to life with “a budget that is not ridiculous”? If the answer is yes, Cowan argues that you are ready to kick off talks with co-producers and financiers. Pitching to broadcasters and TV companies is a different game, however. There’s not so much questioning about funding, rather on how appealing the idea might be for commissioners to add your content to their slate. Forming partnerships earlier and seeking advice, he added, is particularly important to define what type of market your content is trying to intercept. Talking about TV documentaries, he mentioned his work on Silent Night, a dramatised documentary revolving around “how the song came to be and why it’s relevant to us,” starring Quincy Jones and Kelly Clarkson among others.” It was rather easy to sell — budgeted at $1 million, he was offered by Warner Networks $650,000 to deliver it on time for one of their channels. He recommended to look at what other channels are broadcasting and identify the niches they intercept, suggesting to follow what they already do and avoid going out of their scope.
Speaking about profitability, he said that most often, very low budget films can produce revenue, and paradoxically even a £100,000 sci-fi flick — unless it is completely terrible — has good chances to be profitable “because there are many more avenues of distribution to recoup from.” For big budget productions, pre-sales are essential and in some cases only the ones completing gap financing take more concrete risks — usually, these are private investors or banks.
Later, Zadra highlighted how the concept of “successful films” is relative and often misleading. He also recommended not to look back at previous projects, defining it “a form of self-torture that brings you nowhere.”
He later mentioned great European producers of the 1960s — such as Franco Cristaldi — who were investing their own money, making sure to gain profits and aligning their strategies with the exhibitors’. Nowadays, most European producers work with streaming platforms, broadcasters or gain access to public funds, so they don’t worry too much about profits: “This makes them lazy, it doesn’t give them the thrill of losing their own money and therefore they put less effort in their work,” he said.
Speaking about the successful example of Jasmila Žbanić’s war drama Quo Vadis, Aida? [+see also:
interview: Jasmila Žbanić
film profile], staged by nine different countries, Zadra underlined how co-productions may ease financing aspects but don’t necessarily bring in benefits in terms of quality and sales: “Broadcasters and audiences don’t really mind watching a movie financed by multiple countries.” One of the challenges of these so-called “Euro-pudding films” is to form multicultural crews where misunderstandings can easily arise and lead to disastrous results. The same issue affects other production aspects, including the choice of locations.
The panel was brought to a close by a Q&A session.
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