AFM Decodes Future of Independent Films

By Pickle  November 2, 2021

Industry leaders took the stage to discuss what it means to be Independent today, the state of the industry and how their companies are working to shape the future of independent film.

Consolidation seems to be the way forward for entertainment industry, if one is to go by what experts spoke at the opening session of AFM ‘The Independent Film Ecosphere – Present and Future’.

While Stephen Galloway, Dean, Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, was the moderator, Liesl Copland, EVP, Content and Platform Strategy, Participant;  Jonathan Kier, Co-President, Upgrade Productions;  Brian O’Shea, CEO, The Exchange; and  Julia Weber, Head of International Sales and Acquisitions, Global Screen – A Telepool Brand were the panelists.

Talking about the biggest change in the past couple years and biggest change they see coming up in the next few years, Liesl Copland said, “I think consolidation, where the studios all have their platforms and know their audience and have ad-supported and have subscription…honestly, we’re post the impact of Amazon, Netflix, and so-forth…Apple TV and everything…but the consolidation I think makes every one of us in this [business] need to specialize, and at the same time as do everything.”

Liesl Copland, while sharing opinion on whether the big streamers would be spending this much on content in five years, said, “Well it depends on their subscriber base! Will HBO Max and will Peacock and will Paramount Plus (be spending this much) I hope so! Will Netflix? No. You know, I think they’ll pay for the big shiny stuff and the tentpoles in their own universe, then I think, just by nature of running a good business, and not to criticize, I think they will and already are spending less on sort of the programmers and the things that we expect to see when we stay in their system.”  

According to Brian O’Shea, “There’s been a complete and utter disruption, where there’s opportunity in it…AVOD is becoming…basically what basic cable was – and through the process of new technology, you’ve liquidated or completely eradicated a big revenue stream for filmmakers, and for distributors and financiers…but in that becomes opportunity. We see growth by being flexible in the types of projects that we get involved with…we are diving head first into development and creation, and I think that is the backstop strategy for us in regards to maintaining relevance. Because as this disruption happens, both historically but also looking forward, the control center becomes closer and closer to the creators, and we want to be closer and closer to them, and complement their business, but with us ourselves becoming creators as well.”

Julia Weber said, “For me, this really feels like now we are in the midst of a digital revolution, and now we can really feel how this is shifting and changing all former setups. And for me, really so massive – I mean we’ve always been talking about that in other industries, if you look at automotive or whatever, but now it’s really happening in our business and that, I think, is a major opportunity. We don’t need to be afraid of it, and we won’t be able to stop it anyhow, so we need to adapt quickly and soon, and figure out our ways in between – and yes, we’ve never been so flexible and open-minded than we are and have to be now.”

Discussing on ‘What is going to happen in a few years to windows – are we going to go back to proper windows, are they going to disappear altogether?’, Liesl Copland said, “I do think that we’ll wake up from COVID and the windows will have forever been changed.”

Julia Weber stated, “Theatrical business in Europe is being highly protected – they’ve really tried to prevent any kind of shortening of these windows, and I think we have to try, at least in a situation like we have right now, to keep it as long as possible in a way to give the theaters a chance. People who would like to go to the movies are desperate to go to the movies – and they do not only go for the tentpoles (they do enjoy James Bond and such of course) but they also love the big scale pictures that you can only enjoy that in the theater. People want to make sure that the time and money that they spend for this evening needs to have a certain value to it.”

According to Stephen Galloway, “I suspect that we’re witnessing the end of the Hollywood era. We’ve all seen in the theatrical business, a business that fifty years ago was 30% international is now 70-75% international, would some say there’s a tipping point? Right now, the creative heart is centered here, but at some point, when you’ve got the technology and the manpower overseas, the art develops too. I can easily imagine a huge shift – again, look at Squid Game! For decades, foreign language film was less than 1% of the US theatrical business – now, Ted Sarandos was telling me, the biggest explosion they’ve seen is Korean language content.”

Throwing light on the globalization of content, Kier said, “The rise of nationalism does affect the culture, and the culture all over the world – what the audience is saying is that they want to see their own stories on screen. They don’t want to see American actors doing accents much, and the market in the US – my mother is obsessed with Turkish soap operas and my brother is watching German series – these are things that were not available two years ago. This all goes back to data – as it turns out, there is an audience there – and a lot of the sort of traditional gatekeepers, which were broadcasters around d the world, who would say to me and Brian and Julia ‘No, we don’t want this film, we don’t want this project,’ they were wrong, it turns out. The audience is there. That’s why I think this is creating a lot of opportunity.”

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