Hollywood needs to remain focused on cultivating promising creative talent even as the international demand for genre films grows, according to veteran producer Michael Shamberg, speaking at Virginia’s Middleburg Film Festival over the weekend.
In conversation with Vanity Fair’s Maureen Orth, Shamberg reaffirmed his belief that Hollywood “has to be forward-looking”with its talent, not just with its tentpole films. “It has to take the new filmmakers and promote them,”he said.
Shamberg knows a thing or two about how to promote filmmakers, having produced dozens of auteur-driven independent films. His credits include Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained”; Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Contagion”; and Zach Braff’s “Garden State” and upcoming Kickstarter-funded project “Wish I Was Here.”
Pointing to the success former indie filmmaker Christopher Nolan found directing tentpoles, Shamberg noted, “The system renews itself from the outside with these filmmakers.”
When asked which new directors he sees promise in, the man who helped steer Tarantino, Soderbergh and Braff to box-office clout pointed to “Fruitvale Station”‘s Ryan Coogler and “Beasts of the Southern Wild”‘s Benh Zeitlin.
A common theme at Middleburg was the question of how and whether to democratize the business of filmmaking, with SnagFilms founding chair Ted Leonsis calling in his keynote address for a more low-cost, digitally-minded approach to film production and distribution. Shamberg said he “completely disagree[s]”with Leonsis’s theory that a push toward industry democratization would result in better creative output.
“You don’t democratize creativity. You don’t democratize talent. And there’s still not that many people [with talent],”Shamberg said. “We’re still waiting for these incredible geniuses. Steven Soderbergh was making films in high school. Steven Spielberg has been making films since grade school.”
Shamberg said that lowering the cost of promotion is “the holy grail of film. If you don’t have to spend $80-100 million to promote a film, then that could be a game-changer in the business.”
Social media techniques show promise for cheap promotion in this regard, though Shamberg said they are still unproven as replacements for traditional advertising. And what’s more, the film industry on some level has to compete with social media for attention.
“We’re really competing for people’s time,”Shamberg said. “We’re not selling an object that coexists with your time like an automobile or a toaster. So I want your time. I’m competing with everybody. I’m competing with social media. If a kid wants to spend two hours a day on their Facebook page, they don’t necessarily want to see films.”
Shamberg is currently experimenting with a different form of industry upheaval with the Braff-directed Wish I Was Here, which raised more than $3 million from fans on Kickstarter in May. Even with that film’s crowdfunding success, he said the world of filmmaking will remain studio-driven for the foreseeable future, because very few benefactors are “going to invest $20 million casually in anything without knowing what the return will be.”
“It takes a lot of money to make and distribute a film,”he said. “So there will always be a tension in the film business between the money people and the creative people, and you always have to ride that curve. That’s not going to go away.”