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MIA 2022

At the MIA, panellists discuss the ups and downs of current creative models in the independent film business

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- More transparency, greater efforts to intercept younger audiences and the public financing of production outfits were among the solutions sought to build a healthier ecosystem

At the MIA, panellists discuss the ups and downs of current creative models in the independent film business
l-r: Francesco Zippel, Carlo Cresto-Dina, Casey Sunderland, Julie Viez, Frédéric Fiore and Maren Olson during the discussion

On 12 October, Rome’s MIA hosted a panel titled “Co-producing Today: Future-proofing Creative Models in the Independent Film Business”, moderated by Francesco Zippel. The discussion saw the participation of Carlo Cresto-Dina (producer and CEO of Italy’s Tempesta), Frédéric Fiore (president and partner at France’s Logical Pictures), Maren Olson (EVP at US-based 30West), Casey Sunderland (media finance agent at US-based CAA) and Julie Viez (producer at France’s Cinenovo).

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Cresto-Dina began by wondering how it is possible to protect “biodiversity” within the current independent film business and questioned the nature of “independent producers” themselves, who, in “strictly legal terms”, are the ones who “are not controlled by a broadcaster or streamer that operates in the same country”. This means that if a firm is owned by a big TV group or streamer based outside your country, the people who work for it are still considered “independent producers”. He jokingly quoted George Orwell: “Today, all producers are independent, but some are more independent than others.” He also wondered whether companies backed by big powerhouses should really be competing with smaller, totally independent producers, calling for “more balance” in order to preserve the aforementioned biodiversity.

Viez said that French producers consider themselves independent if they don’t work for the studios, but also wondered how independent they really are. Thus, she concluded,“As long as you’re creatively independent, you’re independent.” She added that financing films and companies, and finding long-term solutions to create a healthier industry, remains crucial.

Next, Fiore stated that, within the European context of soft money and public investments, such support is mostly targeted “not at producers, but at talents”. He warned that the main risk is that platforms and other big players will cut the producers out and go straight to talents. One of the main challenges for independent producers, he argued, is “speaking to younger audiences”, as their market segments are the ones suffering the most.

Later, Olson and Sunderland praised European soft money, as it provides “flexibility” in terms of “pushing budgets higher”. “Anything we don’t have to have [that would represent an investment risk] just benefits the filmmaker, ending up in higher-quality content,” Olson added.

Fiore touched upon other changes in the market, including the impossibility of being able to plan a project without taking into account the US market, the increasing importance of both domestic-market and international sales, and the struggles inherent in making decisions within an industry governed by constant change.

Cresto-Dina pointed out how the tendency is to have very few names attracting money internationally, “just like brands” reducing “slots for newcomers. […] One solution – besides changing how public investments work – may be to direct said investments towards new companies, not just projects. That would create a massive difference. [...] And maybe creating a profit-sharing system of [handing out] simple ‘pro bono’ money.”

For Fiore, a combination of private money from equity funds and the producers’ talent in packaging the project, along with the schemes in place in Europe, will be key for the future of independent producers, “especially if they want to speak to younger audiences”. He also explained that his team works within two budget brackets: smaller projects worth €1-2 million and bigger ones worth €4-8 million. “These are the two spots we think make sense. If you make a movie worth €3.5 million, you don’t have enough budget for a meaningful cast or a position of equity. [...] I call that the ‘dead zone’.”

Towards the end of the panel, Sunderland opened up the topic of hiring talents, and how these are often torn, for example, between going for a €10 million project backed by a streamer and joining a smaller, indie project winning prestigious awards. He also brought up the need to reduce talent fees.

Besides other contributions, Fiore called for more transparency within the industry and pondered the challenges of securing good writers, who are being hired more and more often by the streamers.

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