Whether they believe it or not, just about everyone in the film industry will tell you that relationships are the glue that keep the business functional and creative. From the friendships and collaborations fostered at film school through the sympatico shorthand that gets a $200 million blockbuster greenlighted for a studio veteran, knowing people in all facets of filmmaking is essential to making a living in the industry.
The Toronto film festival arguably offers the best opportunity to encounter players from all corners of the business — and all levels of accomplishment — in one place at one time. So young filmmakers or those in early stages of their careers could look to the TIFF veterans below for advice on how best to make the most of the event as it launches tonight.
Glen Basner, CEO, FilmNation Entertainment:
“The hardest thing when you’re operating individually and outside of the general business, particularly at a creative level, is you have things that interest you and stories you may want to tell but you don’t necessarily have an understanding of what stories people want to buy and want to see. And watching Toronto, where there’s a lot of transactional work done for the U.S., seeing what sells, and then tracking that into seeing the movie and looking at the marketing campaign, and starting to get a better insight into not just what you want to make but how to make it in a way that you can actually get it so that people are seeing it — on screen, on television, on VOD, wherever — that’s a really hard thing when you’re not within the industry all day long. And Toronto’s a great starting point and marker to follow the lifetime of the film.”
Rich Klubeck, UTA Independent Film Group:
“Seeing what kinds of films are breaking out is valuable to all the players at the festival, regardless of whether they’re awards films. If I’m a young filmmaker, I’m looking for those films and which producers and financiers are making them happen, and figuring out how to get into business with them.”
Jonathan Sehring, President, IFC Films/Sundance Selects:
“There’s a lot of new money in this business, always a lot of new distributors. And I’m not saying that the new money is bad money or the new companies are bad, because generally people who have been in the industry for a long time are associated with them. But I think — and I’ll say it selfishly — you look around and you see there are four or five companies that have been doing distribution for a while, that are still in business. We’ve been in business over 10 years. And the lifespan of independent or specialty distribution companies is four or five years — that’s it. Historically, if you look at them, that’s all they’re around for, and they either get bought by somebody or they fold or they go bankrupt, something always happens.”
Kevin Iwashina, Managing Partner, Preferred Content:
“Things are so concept-driven or commodity-driven that there is now no middle ground. It’s hard to distribute an independent movie with non-movie stars. Even in the genre category, you sometimes need very recognizable talent. There is, unfortunately, a lot of math involved with the movies that are being sold. I encourage filmmakers and producers to really accept and participate in the business, and then allow those parameters to guide them as much as possible without undermining their creativity, to really listen to the marketplace as they’re making their creative decisions. It’s become much more clear what works and what doesn’t work, with very rare exception.”
Michael Barker, Co-President, Sony Pictures Classics:
“If you’re in Toronto, and you see a lot of movies and you go to a lot of events, you need to pay attention to trends, not only in the content but in distribution. Because, like Cannes, in Toronto you get a real comprehensive view of where the business is.”
Michael Benaroya, CEO, Benaroya Pictures:
“Everyone should be paying attention to a couple things. One of them is tax credits that are available. Some states are offering 30-40%, and if you can capitalize on that without compromising the creative aspects of your film that makes a huge difference. Additionally, there’s video on demand, and it’s important to think ahead of time about whether you want your movie to be available on VOD day-and-date with the theatrical, because that’s going to make a difference to a lot of the distributors. A lot of distributors think the profit margins are so much better on VOD because they don’t actually have to create a DVD and sell it. They’re just streaming. That’s the wave of the future.”