Dylan Leiner and "The Wackness" director Jonathan Levine at Sundance 2008.
Dylan Leiner and "The Wackness" director Jonathan Levine at Sundance 2008.

This weekend at the Galway Fleadh's Real Deal, Business of Creativity Conference, Sony Pictures Classics Executive Vice President Dylan Leiner told the filmmakers and industry professionals convened that it's time to put filmmakers first again.

With so much talk about new filmmaking technologies and distribution strategies, Leiner thinks the film business is losing its focus on filmmaking and storytelling.  Below is Leiner's speech to the Real Deal crowd, reprinted with permission from the Irish Film Board.



“Ultraviolet, Key Chest, iTunes, electronic-sell-through, VOD, SVOD, NVOD, day and date, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, LoveFilm, Amazon, X-Box...     Shrinking windows, cratering DVD revenue, skyrocketing budgets, social networking, piracy...

With all the headlines and forecasts about new technologies, emerging distribution platforms, and the economic crisis surrounding the film business, it's easy to focus our energy on developments we can’t control in a business that changes faster than we can follow.  After all, most "films" are no longer shot on 35mm film, so can they even be called "films"? But let's not forget what allows for any such conversations about technology and distribution to exist in the first place: films and the filmmakers behind them. You all.

You are story-tellers and we - festivals, distributors, technological platforms – are your conduits to sharing those stories.      

This idea of "filmmakers first" is among the earliest lessons I learned in the business, it is where I still focus much of my energy, and it is what leads me to the theme of this talk.

Sony Pictures Classics, where I have worked for the past 18 years, was founded by Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcie Bloom, on the principle that you're only as good as the filmmakers with whom you work. They learned it from their mentors at United Artists and Orion Pictures and I learned it from them. It’s our job as distributors to preserve the heritage of the past while shaping the future legacy of filmmakers with whom we work.

One of my first major projects after joining SPC in 1994 was overseeing the restoration of nine masterworks by late Indian director Satyajit Ray. I grew up in the movie business in Los Angeles, step-son to a prolific film composer and I regularly came home from school to see the likes of Carlos Santana, Kenny Loggins, Frank Oz and Terence Blanchard in our house. But I'd never seen a Satyajit Ray film and wasn't aware of the legacy he had left on our cultural community. So when I heard Martin Scorsese talk about the influence Ray's films had on him as a boy, even before becoming a filmmaker, I was struck by the importance of our role as distributor in protecting the legacy of great auteurs like Ray.

So my challenge is to continue the legacy of the great men and women filmmakers with whom I have worked, as well as those with whom I've not, allowing the past to be my springboard into the future and focusing on the business without letting it get in the way of the art.

And your challenge as filmmakers is to become the best, most well educated and self-reliant filmmakers you can be.

20 years ago, filmmakers who had recently completed a film or been accepted into Sundance would often call us up to discuss their films and collaborate on ideas for distribution and marketing. Whether we ended up distributing the film or not, we all worked together to create, discover and showcase the works of emerging artists.  Filmmakers not only knew the distributors, they knew the theaters, even the critics. There are of course, many who still do - Pedro Almodovar and Jonathan Demme are two of them, and not surprisingly they've had long and satisfying careers.  

Leiner's speech continues on page 2.