What Types of Low-Budget Films Break Out?

An investigative report from Film Industry Analyst Stephen Follows and Founder of The Numbers Bruce Nash

Breakout indie hits may be some of the most romantic stories in the movie business.

The plucky lone film-maker battles the odds to make their dream film, putting naysayers in their place when it becomes a box office sensation, bringing them fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams…

But are breakout hits random events that no-one can plan for or do they share some kind of DNA that can teach us how to make successful independent films, and also what genres or techniques to avoid?

To answer these questions, we began with a list of over 3,000 films from The Numbers’ financial database, investigating full financial details, including North American (i.e. “domestic”) and international box office, video sales and rentals, TV and ancillary revenue. We narrowed our focus to study feature films released between 2000 and 2015, budgeted between $500k and $3 million, which generated at least $10 million in Producer’s Net Profit, using a standard distribution model where the distributor charges a 30% fee.

This produced a list of 63 films in total: roughly four films a year over the 15 years under consideration. Almost all of the movies will be familiar to followers of independent film, from small films that became Oscar hopefuls, like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Winter’s Bone to horror movies like Insidious and The Purge that got picked up by the major studios and became box office sensations. With the list in hand, we looked for common themes and found (with a small number of exceptions) that the breakout hits broke down naturally into four types.

Model One: Extreme, Clear-Concept Horror Films

It will come as no surprise to most producers that horror films feature prominently on the list of top low-budget breakout successes.

 Most Profitable Films: Insidious, Monsters, The Devil Inside, Paranormal Activity 2, Dead Snow.

 MPAA Rating: 82% are rated ‘R’, 12% PG-13 and 6% not rated.

 Running Time: Relatively short, with an average of 94 minutes and no film ran over two hours.

 Critical Reviews: Average to poor. Highest rated film in this category is Buried, which has a Metascore of just 65 out of 100. The average Metascore across the dataset was just 49 out of 100.

 Audience Reviews: More supportive than the critics, but still not above average for most films, at an average of 6.2 out of 10 on IMDb.

 Release Patterns: Two very distinct release patterns – half played in fewer than around 100 theatres while the other half played in over 1,500 theatres.

 Income Streams: 30% from theatrical, 64% from home video and 6% from TV and other ancillary income.

 Income Location: 46% of income was from the US & Canada and 54% international.

Model Two: Documentaries with Built-In Audiences and/or Powerful Stories

The second group of films that stood out were documentaries.

 Most Profitable Films: Exit Through the Gift Shop, An Inconvenient Truth, Marley, Tyson, Bowling for Columbine.

 MPAA Rating: A healthy spread across all ratings, with the most common being PG-13.

 Running Time: Average of 102, although a wide range from 80 minutes up to 144 minutes.

 Critical Reviews: Very high, with a Metascore average of 79 out of 100.

 Audience Reviews: Very high, an average IMDb rating of 7.8 out of 10.

 Release Pattern: Small number of theatres, with most playing in under 250 theatres and the widest release being An Inconvenient Truth in 587 theatres.

 Income Streams: 75% of income comes from home video, 18% theatrical and 7% via other sources.

 Income Location: 58% international and 42% domestic.

Critical reviews seem vital for this type of film to break out and it’s interesting to note that the documentaries with the lowest scoring critical ratings (The September Issue at 69 and Religulous at 56) each had strong inbuilt audiences (‘Vogue / fashion’ and ‘Bill Maher / religious scepticism’).

In fact, only a handful of the documentaries on the list don’t have an obvious audience: Man on Wire, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, and Searching for Sugar Man are the only ones that needed to find a crowd. The others were either about someone already very famous (Marley, Tyson, Senna, Amy… note the one-name titles!) or played very directly to a receptive audience (Inside Job, Blackfish, An Inconvenient Truth etc).

Model Three: Validating, Feel-Good Religious Films

Speaking of receptive audiences, the third group of films we found were faith-based films.

 Most Profitable Films: Fireproof, God’s Not Dead, To Save a Life, War Room, Courageous.

 MPAA Rating: Two-thirds were rated PG and the remaining third were PG-13.

 Running Time: Fairly long, all were over 110 minutes and the average was two hours.

 Critical Reviews: Incredibly poor, with an average Metascore of just 26 out of 100.

 Audience Reviews: Similar to the horror pool, with an average IMDb rating of 6.3 out of 10.

 Type of Release: An average of 1,273 theatres with the widest being War Room at 1,945 theatres.

 Income Streams: 60% from home video, 31% from theatrical and 9% from television and other ancillary streams.

 Income Location: 90% of income came from North American sources with just 10% coming from outside the US and Canada.

Two things stand out with these films. First, they make virtually all of their money in the United States. Second, they get very bad reviews from mainstream movie reviewers. The strength of these movies isn’t necessarily their quality so much as the message; they deliver to an audience that is interested in what they have to say.

Model Four: Very High Quality Dramas

At the other end of the spectrum, at least in the eyes of professional film reviewers, come very high quality dramas. Almost half of these films were American productions, with the rest coming from a wide variety of countries including Germany, Argentina, Mexico, the UK, France and Poland.

 Most Profitable US Dramas: Half Nelson, Waitress, Blue Valentine, Fruitvale Station.

 Most Profitable Foreign Dramas: The Lives of Others, The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros, Sin Nombre.

 MPAA Rating: The vast majority are R-rated, with just a third being rated PG-13.

 Running Time: A wide range, from 81 minutes up to 154 minutes long.

 Critical Reviews: Extremely high, with an average Metascore of 81 out of 100.

 Audience Reviews: Similarly high, with an average IMDb rating of 7.5 out of 10.

 Type of Release: Small release, with all but four playing to fewer than 300 theatres.

 Income Streams: 67% from home video, 27% from theatrical and 6% from other sources.

 Income Location: 66% of income for US dramas came from the US and Canada, whereas the reverse was true with non-US dramas, with 64% of income coming from international sources.

The lowest rated film in this category received a Metascore of 68 out of 100, which was higher than all of the films within the Horror breakout success category.

A common thread among these films is awards attention. While they might not be big enough to win a lot of main-category Oscars, these are the films that have picked up a bunch of Independent Spirit Awards, Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, and got some screenwriting and/or acting Oscar nominations.

Do the Films Have to be Any Good?

An interesting finding from this research is that the quality of the film is only relevant for certain types of films.

Religious films received extremely low ratings from critics but had mixed ratings from audiences.

 Horror films showed a range: some were disliked by both audiences and critics (such as The Devil Inside), while others had middling support from both camps (such as Monsters) and then there were films which audiences enjoyed but critics were lukewarm towards (such as Dead Man’s Shoes).

 Documentaries and Dramas were all popular with audiences and the vast majority also received extremely high ratings from critics.

If we plot this on a graph, we can see just how distinct these three sub-categories are:

http://americanfilmmarket.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/AFM-indie-breakout-chart-03-2.jpg

What’s Missing?

Many of the films in the list come as no surprise, but what’s interesting is what’s missing from the list. We found…

 Virtually no comedies (Waiting… is the only out-and-out comedy on the list, and it was made at the peak of the DVD sales boom)

 No action movies

 No thrillers

 No musicals

 Virtually nothing directed at kids — Dr. Dolittle 3 was the only family movie that made our list — although we believe some animated franchises such as Barbie are very profitable but their budgets aren’t quite in our range.

Aside from the missing genres, the other notable absence is any major star involvement. Of course, this is largely a function of the budget—it’s hard to get Tom Cruise for a $3 million film—but it’s remarkable that none of these films attracted anybody who would even be called a B-list star at the time the film was made.

Lessons for Filmmakers and Producers from this Research

So we think there are a few lessons for independent film-makers who are hoping to make breakout hits:

 Some “niche” audiences are large enough to make for a very profitable market, if you can reach them. The “faith-based” film audience stands out, but there are also receptive audiences for certain types of documentaries. Having a very clear idea of your audience is the first step to making a financially successful film.

 If you’re aiming for a more general audience, quality matters. A lot. Honing your screenplay to what you think is perfection and then having it ripped apart at a workshop may be hard work, but it’s almost certainly what it takes to get a dramatic film to ultimately work with audiences, and to make back its investment.

 Look for good actors, not big stars, and do the same with all of the technical crew on a film. Fun fact: Affonso Goncalves, who edited list member Beasts of the Southern Wild also edited fellow list member Winter’s Bone and 2016 Oscar nominee Carol. Finding a good editor, cinematographer, production designer and other key members of the crew is more important for a low-budget film than blowing a big chunk of your budget on a famous (or, just as likely, previously-famous) actor or actress.

The Full List of Films

This analysis looked at feature films released between 2000 and 2015 budgeted between $500k and $3 million and which we estimate generated at least $10 million in Producer’s Net Profit. The films which fit our criteria are listed below.

RANK FILM TITLE YEAR METASCORE IMDB RATING ESTIMATED BUDGET

1 Bowling for Columbine 2002 72 8 $3,000,000

2 The Lives of Others 2006 89 8.5 $2,000,000

3 War Room 2015 26 6.2 $3,000,000

4 God’s Not Dead 2014 16 4.9 $1,150,000

5 An Inconvenient Truth” 2006 75 7.5 $1,000,000

6 Garden State 2004 67 7.6 $2,500,000

7 Insidious 2010 52 6.8 $1,500,000

8 Fireproof 2008 28 6.5 $500,000

9 Paranormal Activity 2 2010 53 5.7 $3,000,000

10 Hustle & Flow 2005 68 7.4 $2,800,000

Showing 1 to 10 of 63 entries. See the full list here:

What Types of Low-Budget Films Break Out?

Notes

 The financial figures come from a variety of sources, including people directly connected to the films, verified third-party data and computation models based on partial data and industry norms. It is possible that one or two of the individual figures are different to our predictions, though en masse we are confident of the larger picture.

 The number of theatres relates to the widest point of the film’s North American release.

About the Authors

Stephen Follows is a writer, producer and film industry analyst. In addition to film analytics, Stephen is an award-winning writer-producer and runs a production company based in Ealing Studios, London.

Bruce Nash is founder and President of Nash Information Services, LLC, the premier provider of movie industry data and research services and operator of The Numbers, a web site that provides box office and video sales tracking, and daily industry news.

July 2016 – http://americanfilmmarket.com

Short Cuts: Anna Snoekstra’s debut novel heads for a Hollywood movie with Emma Stone and Julianne Moore

Anna Snoekstra must have wondered where her life was heading as she wrote her first novel while working nights at the Kino cinema in Melbourne. But even before Only Daughter is published in September, the film rights have been sold to no less than Working Title, the Universal Pictures-owned production company whose recent films include The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl, Les Miserables and the coming Bridget Jones’s Baby. Even better, a script has been written by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary, The Girl on the Train) with talk of Emma Stone and Julianne Moore starring, pending a director being attached.

A delighted Snoekstra, who is just 28, tells Short Cuts the film rights to the psychological thriller were sold from a single line in the Publishers Marketplace newsletter that described the novel: a 25-year-old fugitive caught shoplifting pretends to be a decade-long missing girl and moves in with her family.

“It’s about growing up in Canberra but in America they just went crazy for it,” she says. The film, The New Winter, is to be set in Arizona. Snoekstra, who studied creative writing and cinema at the University of Melbourne then screenwriting at RMIT, has also worked as a waitress, barista, nanny, film reviewer, receptionist and “cheesemonger”. She started writing Only Daughter as a script then, finding it difficult to break into film, turned it into a novel. Having sold her second and third novels, Snoekstra is also writing a script with US-based Bronte Payne that they want to shoot in Australia.

Garry Maddox – SMH – July 20 2016

‘Increasingly Dire’ Film Industry Has Fewer Winning Films, Studios (Analyst)

The film industry faces an “increasingly dire” outlook as audiences continue to shrink in the U.S., with too many studios producing too many tentpole films, which end up cannibalizing each other’s audiences, analyst Doug Creutz reported Friday.

The Cowen and Company entertainment expert said that there is no easy solution for Hollywood studios but that a “slow-moving consolidation” is the likely end result.

In “Another Memo to Hollywood. Prediction? Pain,” Creutz says the industry’s woes are demonstrated by the fifth consecutive year in which domestic box office demand “has taken a step function lower.” The fight for remaining audiences has become increasingly fierce as “the market appears to be condensing into fewer, but bigger, hits,” as studios crank out more films in the $100 million-plus budget range.

The analyst reports that, when the video game industry faced a similar dilemma, with fewer but bigger hits, it resulted in dramatic change. Rather than a series of mergers — the preferred result — a number of big gaming companies simply went out of the business, including THQ, Midway, Acclaim, Atari and LucasArts.

A similar breakdown in the film industry would not help investors, Creutz wrote.

“We note that even the stocks of the eventual survivors of the video game shakeout didn’t do well during most of this period, until their recent spectacular out-performance,” the Cowen report says.

Creutz offers a welter of stats to back up his contraction argument: “Last year, over 25% of total box office came from just five films, well above the average of roughly 16% from 2001-14 and the prior peak of 19% in 2012.” He called this a “consistent phenomenon.”

The top grossing films each week accounted for 33% of total box office in both 2015 and 2016, almost twice the average of 18% that prevailed in 2011-13, Creutz wrote.

And No. 1 films tend to persist, he said, noting the “nigh-unexplainable” persistence of films like “American Sniper” in 2015 and “Deadpool” this year.

It’s not only the few films, but the few studios that are taking most of the spoils.

While Disney and Universal’s combined profits were up 54% year over year and, collectively, managed 70% of total industry profit, the other studios saw profits drop 40%. “We expect this type of volatility to continue due to the narrowing of the window for hit films,” at least until there is a “likely slow-moving, consolidation,” Creutz wrote.

In many other industries, the consolidation might move more quickly, Creutz contends. But the entertainment business puts weight not just on profits but on concepts like “prestige” and “star power,” Creutz wrote. He said it would make sense for Viacom to sell Paramount — a move that is reportedly under consideration — but suggested a deal might be difficult because Viacom’s exit from the movie business would be seen as “diminishing its importance and reputation in Hollywood.”

Creutz predicts tough sledding for most of the studios in 2016, though he adds: “We expect that one or two of the companies will likely outperform our generally negative view; however, we also think picking the winners at this point is a high-risk proposition.”

A summary of some of the analyst’s predictions:

DISNEY: He calls the studio “the lead dog” and sees likely “outsized hits” in “Captain America: Civil War,” “Finding Dory” and “Star Wars: Rogue One.” But even the industry leader will face stiff competition with April’s “The Jungle Book” and its July distribution of “The BFG” for DreamWorks. Despite huge performance, Creutz worries “that investors are capitalizing what in retrospect may prove to be peak studio margins at a very high multiple.”

WARNER BROTHERS: Creutz is concerned about the company’s broad slate of 18 films for 2016, though he expressed some optimism for “likely success” in a new entry in the “Harry Potter” franchise and the kickoff of a two-film-a-year series of DC Comic films, beginning this month with “Batman vs. Superman.” A drag on performance could come from mid-budgeted films like “The Nice Guys,” “Central Intelligence,” “Sully,” “Storks,” “The Accountant” and “Collateral Beauty.” If the DC films underperform, he said, “then results could be very disappointing.”

FOX: Starting the year with runaway hit “Deadpool” sits well, but the studio’s year rests largely with three big summer sequels: “X Men Apocalypse,” “Independence Day: Resurgence” and “Ice Age: Collision Course.” Cruetz concluded: “We tend to think ‘Deadpool’ was more luck than skill (plus a heavy dose of passion from Ryan Reynolds) and so we don’t necessarily expect any success this year to be sustained.”

PARAMOUNT: “We see little hope for a significant turnaround in operating performance over the longer term, and expect this year to be characterized by continued struggles.” Creutz cites “indifferent film quality,” as an issue and too many “Zoolander 2”-type films to make up for winning franchises like “Mission Impossible,” “Star Trek” and “Transformers.”

LIONSGATE: Predicts “an uphill climb” to get back to better profitability, with focus on low- to mid-budget films and some bigger swings, like the $140-million-budget “Gods of Egypt,” missing the mark. Creutz sees a “struggle,” given the competition, for upcoming sequels such as “Divergent: Allegiant” and “Now You See Me Two.”

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION: “We think that being the 4th- or 5th- or 6th-best animated studio (behind Disney Feature Animation, Pixar, Illumination, and arguably Blue Sky and/or Warner Bros.) is not a good place to be.” Creutz worries that upcoming “Trolls” (November, 2016) and “The Boss Baby” (March 2017) will tough time in midst of competition from other animation and tentpole offerings.

James Rainey – Variety – March 4, 2016

And the Oscar for Profitability Goes to … ‘The Martian’

Experts help THR analyze the financial forecast for ‘Spotlight’ and the seven other best picture noms, factoring in budgets, marketing and awards campaign spending.

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight may have won the Oscar for best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, but The Martian walked away with another kind of gold.

That’s according to The Hollywood Reporter’s analysis of the financial performance of victor Spotlight and the seven best-picture nominees, including Ridley Scott’s The Martian.

See below for which movies will turn a profit, or lose money. Production budgets hardly tell the whole story, since there are all sorts of hidden costs, including marketing and money spent on award campaigns. THR relied on several experts to compare total expenses against box-office returns and ancillary revenue from home entertainment and television.

In some cases, the movies were made and financed independently, such as Room, meaning their U.S. distributor won’t necessarily incur the loss.

box office

3/3/2016 by Pamela McClintock – THR

Andrew Knight on Jack Irish: “I’m really pleased with it”

Asked how he’s doing after a whirlwind year, screenwriter Andrew Knight is characteristically understated: “I’m alive and trying to construct a breakfast at the moment”. In between film work last year, Knight wrote new seasons of Rake and Jack Irish simultaneously, a process he calls “a blur”.

The new Jack begins tonight – a six-part series instead of the earlier telemovies.

Knight calls the change “liberating. We had more time to tell a story. The hard part was working out where everything would fall. We had an overall story, but assigning things episodically was a constant trade-off and shifting game”.

“I worked closely with the other two writers, Matt Cameron and Andrew Anastasios. The three of us would go away and write our bits, then we’d come back and say – that needs to move, this needs to shift”.

“If you’re just writing a tele-movie, you know where you’re starting, you know where you’re ending, you know where the cards will fall. It’s harder to work out over six hours. Right up to shooting we were saying ‘uh-uh, this doesn’t belong here’. Even in the cut we moved quite a few things”.

“You’ve got more time to spend with characters. The tension with a series like Jack Irish is that you want the humour and the warmth of the characters, but sometimes if it’s not plot-related they can feel like spackle. Thrillers demand plot. It’s a constant balancing act”.

“It was harder in the telemovies to cut to the guys at the bar or Harry (Roy Billing) and Cam (Aaron Pedersen). I would artificially weave plot in there, just so the audience feels like you haven’t completely walked away from the story, and sometimes that makes it just a little bit muddy. I felt I muddied up the first telemovie, the one I wrote”.

“I hadn’t done thrillers before. I think I was probably trying to put too much of the book in there. As John Collee said, books are contemplative and films are immersive, and the distance between that is really rather great.

The first two episodes of the new series are directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, the rest by Mark Joffe and Daniel Nettheim. Knight describes a helter-skelter shoot.

“In England you’d get fifteen days per episode to shoot something. We get half that time: seven and a half days per ep. You don’t have thinking time once you go”.

“[Essential’s Ian] Collie and I had to be constantly thinking: where the hell are we in this series? As my father in law once said: it’s a bit like trying to fart Annie Laurie through a keyhole – it’s an achievement, but you want to make sure the end result is something you want”.

The new series is the first whose plot has not been taken from one of Peter Temple’s original novels, a change Knight calls “great and fearful at the same time. You don’t want to lose his voice – the Temple tone or humour. But it was also fantastic to be able to keep his world but come up with a plot that we owned”.

The TV veteran calls the changing landscape for local drama on the small screen “an absolute thrill. I think we’re doing some really interesting stuff”.

But Knight also sounds a note of warning.

“I think the problem is that we don’t have enough long-running series. 26-parters. Because nobody’s going to risk a six-hour, eight-hour series, on new talent. And new talent has to find a starting level”.

“When I started at Crawfords as a production manager and producer, they were pumping out hours and hours of soaps and series. Even though at the time I hated what I was working on, you definitely picked up a skill base, you definitely understood how the process worked, you definitely understood what a screenwriter did as opposed to a novelist, you definitely began to understand how to work under pressure and with urgency – and that’s missing now”.

“I would really love to see the ABC find time-slots for new talent. I started with John Clarke and the Working Dog guys. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we learnt it”.

“At the same time, I think the industry is in a spectacular place now”.

Selling War and Peace to the Russians: global cash drives UK drama

As BBC shows off its high-quality drama to international buyers, producers balance home values with global appeal

For its 6 million Sunday-night viewers, BBC1’s recent Tolstoy adaptation War and Peace felt like a classic British costume drama, with cut-glass production and a blue-chip cast. The average licence-fee payer wouldn’t realise that, like the majority of UK TV drama in 2016, the series was made with money from all over the world. BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm, has already sold War and Peace to dozens of countries – including Russia – and will this week present it to 700 more international TV buyers, at the company’s annual Showcase event in Liverpool. Its star James Norton will make a personal experience at a glitzy on-stage sales pitch on Monday night.

But does so much international funding put the purity of Britain’s prized TV drama heritage in danger, with big BBC series being made to satisfy lucrative viewers in America – or, God forbid, in Germany?

Helen Jackson, BBC Worldwide’s chief creative officer, believes not. “To get a show right, you need to be clear who is the lead creative commissioner,” she says, explaining that Worldwide’s role was to help fund the public-service BBC’s vision.

“War and Peace started with BBC Wales, who commissioned the writer Andrew Davies to develop the initial script. At the point when the BBC decided they wanted to move forward with it, we at Worldwide got more heavily involved in the financing.”

The show became a co-production between the BBC, BBC Worldwide, the British independent production company Lookout Point and US studio The Weinstein Company. It was, says, Lookout Point co-chief executive Simon Vaughan, a “collaborative” process, rather than one in which the Americans started to throw their weight around. “If Harvey [Weinstein] or anybody else had script notes, everybody’s always interested to hear what those are,” he says. “Good notes are good notes, no matter where they come from – but it was always clear that there was one primary customer, the BBC.”

Vaughan adds that Weinstein himself added value for British viewers, particularly by delivering the kind of cast that even the BBC might struggle to attract by itself.

“There’s no question that when actors such as Lily James are being offered lots of different parts, Harvey’s weight – and his personal relationships with talent – are a massive factor,” says Vaughan.

Certainly, British TV drama talent – both in front of the camera and behind it – is in greater demand than ever before. US networks are co-producing ever more British shows (such as Showtime with Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful), and now the insurgent online TV providers are snapping up huge runs of British-produced drama (most notably Netflix’s The Crown, made by London indie Left Bank). Experienced writers, such as costume-drama doyen Davies, are in particularly high demand. “What we want to hear from a writer is the thing they want to do most, not the thing they want to do next,” says Vaughan, who has signed up Davies to adapt Les Misérables. “Our deal in return is that we’ll get it made, or die trying.”

British producers and broadcasters also have to adapt to changing tastes at home.

“Viewers’ growing familiarity with what’s available on Amazon or on Netflix increases the appetite for things that feel like they have a real global scale,” says BBC Worldwide’s Jackson – though she adds that that doesn’t necessarily mean expensive runs of 13 or 22 episodes, as is traditional in America. “It’s more that people want to build franchises with a longer life. There’s not a huge volume of Sherlock, but it’s so deeply loved and anticipated that it has a really important place.”

Another cult hit, the sci-fi drama Humans, was developed for Channel 4 alone – but ultimately became a co-production with the US network AMC. That American money, says C4’s head of drama Piers Wenger, allowed the show to reach the kind of scale that would appeal to today’s British viewers. “To put it bluntly, it allowed us to do robots well,” he says. “Making sci-fi work for a mainstream audience, at 9pm, meant rendering it so that it didn’t feel in any way homemade.”

Wenger also counsels against seeing Netflix and Amazon as invaders, whose only purpose is to suck up British talent and put it behind their paywall.

“To think that America is asset-stripping the UK is missing the point,” he says. “What the US has got wise to is that the UK’s TV drama is an incredibly valuable cultural export – and that is largely driven by the BBC and Channel 4. So there’s a happy and helpful symbiosis between the two.” Netflix is co-funding the upcoming E4 series Kiss Me First – which, as a result, can have a budget more than double what the digital channel usually pays.

As well as high production values, British viewers are now much more used to seeing European dramas – which opens the door to foreign-language co-productions with British broadcasters. “I think The Killing was the show that changed things,” says Elaine Pyke, who, as head of Sky Atlantic, commissioned the first big UK-French co-production, in the shape of The Tunnel. “The great thing about The Tunnel, as a co-production, was that it felt creatively natural – it wasn’t just a bit of foreign casting. So it didn’t worry me that half of it was in French.”

Pyke is now co-founder and executive producer at the indie New Pictures, which makes co-productions Indian Summers for Channel 4 (and PBS in America) and mega-hit The Missing for BBC1 (and US cable channel Starz). “In The Missing, Tchéky Karyo – who is neither British or American – is the returning star for series two,” says Pyke. “Isn’t that interesting? That’s the brilliant thing about co-producing – when everyone involved can see what’s great creatively, and go with that.”

But, stresses Pyke, the increasing flow of international money doesn’t in any way diminish the role of the traditional British broadcasters. “They are still very key to our business as producers – they are absolutely our backbone,” she says. “And that’s why it’s important not to forget about contemporary British stories. I’m really glad that Happy Valley still gets 8 million viewers on BBC1, because it’s bloody brilliant: great stories, well told, brilliantly written.”

Neil Midgley – The Guardian – Monday 22 February 2016

Sundance: How Netflix and Amazon Are Dramatically Shaking Up the Market

This wasn’t the first Sundance where Amazon Studios and Netflix hit the Park City slopes, but 2016 marked a turning point when both streaming services proved they are formidable buyers in the movie world.

After a fairly low-key Toronto and Cannes, where some questioned just how serious Amazon was about its film ambitions, the Web giant turned up the volume by landing one of the biggest deals at the festival. It beat out Fox Searchlight, Focus Features, and other studios for Kenneth Lonergan’s searing drama “Manchester By the Sea,” which received a rapturous standing ovation at the Eccles Theatre reminiscent of “Boyhood’s” debut two years ago. The $10 million sale could give Amazon its first front-row tickets to the Oscars — in 2017.

Amazon also snatched up the Whit Stillman’s “Love and Friendship,” based on the Jane Austen novella, and “Author: The J.T. LeRoy” story, a buzzy documentary about the infamous literary fabulist. The latter was the first documentary acquisition for Amazon, which intends to aggressively build up its catalogue offerings, Variety has learned. The move comes at a boom time for documentaries, albeit one driven almost entirely by TV — with CNN, HBO, Showtime and now even PBS’ “American Masters” all straddling the lines between the big and small screen.

Not to be outdone, Netflix flexed its out financial muscles before the festival had even started, locking up worldwide streaming rights to three anticipated titles: “Tallulah,” starring Ellen Page; “The Fundamentals of Caring” with Paul Rudd; and “Under the Shadow,” an Iranian horror movie that drew comparisons to “The Babadook.”

Theatrical rights to these films are still up for grabs, but by siphoning off an important revenue stream, Netflix dampened interest among would-be suitors.

Netflix also seemed to dominate the chatter in Park City, by flying in Chelsea Handler to promote her new docuseries “Chelsea Does.”

The streaming service also is responsible, in part, for the largest Sundance deal on the books: Fox Searchlight getting Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation,” about the 1931 slave uprising led by Nat Tuner, for $17.5 million. Netflix is said to have driven bidding up by offering $20 million, but in the end, the producers decided to go with a more familiar theatrical distributor of prestige titles for less money (but still more than anybody has ever bid on a Sundance movie).

It wasn’t long ago when directors were scared to experiment with how their films would reach the masses. But in interview after interview, major talent was asked to reflect on the presence of Netflix, and the new message seems to be a ringing endorsement. “I love Netflix. I just sold a TV show to Netflix,” Selena Gomez, who co-stars in “The Fundamentals of Caring,” told Variety. “It’s incredible the traffic that they get. It’s all that I watch when I’m at home.”

There is a downside and an upside to Netflix and Amazon’s rise. As Gomez notes, the audience that both services reach dwarf those of traditional indie distributors. And their business model, one that is built on streams, not ticket sales, means that they can take a chance and pay top dollar for the kinds of risky fare that is Sundance’s stock-in-trade.

But the online video revolution that both companies are fostering also raises questions about the longterm health of the arthouse scene. Most of the films that earned big deals at last year’s festival collapsed at the box office, from “Dope” to “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” and studio buyers are grousing about how disconnected many of this year’s crop of movies seem from popular tastes.

“Sundance hasn’t exactly put its best face forward,” one studio executive griped. “It’s terrible,” said another buyer.

Some of the movies have not been well-received. “Swiss Army Man,” which featured Paul Dano riding a flatulent corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe across an ocean, inspired an exodus of studio buyers and will be lucky if it sells for seven figures.

Others, such as the cancer dramedy “Other People,” Kelly Reinhardt’s three-vignette “Certain Women,” Antonio Campos’ “Chrstine” or the Obama first date movie “Southside With Me,” have been effective, even finely-wrought pictures, but face questions about their commercial viability when they leave the nurturing confines of the mountainside gathering.

With Netflix and Amazon offering hours of shows and films for free, paying money to see smaller scale comedies and dramas has become less appealing. Even good reviews may not be enough to attract big audience, which may be why traditional studios — such as The Weinstein Co. and Focus Features — have been quiet during the festival so far.

“The audience for movies I might make is much smaller than what it once was,” said Todd Solondz, director of “Wiener-Dog” and a film school professor at NYU. “Most of my students, they watch things on the Netflix or the download, so they’re not going to theaters. That’s why things are so difficult.”

Although Amazon and Netflix’s buying spree seems to usher in a new era for Sundance, there are still time-honored traditions that won’t be going away anytime soon. Amazon will find a theatrical distributor to release “Manchester by the Sea,” and promised that it would launch a competitive awards season campaign for the much-loved drama. So, in the end, multiplexes will carry “Manchester By the Sea” — even if some audiences would prefer to wait and see it on a laptop.

Brent Lang & Ramin Setoodeh – Variety – JANUARY 26, 2016

New Study Confirms Hollywood Is Playing A Longer Game

Sir Peter Jackson makes the longest movies in Hollywood, with a median running Cinemagoers whose gut instinct or numb posteriors have prompted them to suspect Hollywood movies have gotten significantly longer over the past five years are spot on.

According to a new study the median length of the top 100 U.S.-grossing films between 1994 and 2015 was 110 minutes, and running times have increased every year for the past five years.

UK-based analyst, teacher, writer and blogger Stephen Follows found that historical films, Westerns and bios are the longest and family, animation and documentaries are the shortest.

Half of the Hollywood movies he surveyed are between 96 and 120 minutes long, and the most popular running time is 101 minutes. Films with lower budgets have shorter running times, which is probably a cost factor rather than a desire for filmmakers to be more succinct or economical in their story telling.

In his blog Follows does not seek to explain the reasons for the trend to longer movies. My guess is that speaks mostly to the power that “franchise” directors exercise over the studios, which often results in budget blows- outs and running times that drive exhibitors crazy. But the data does show audiences are willing to sit for longer periods if they feel they are fully engaged and entertained.

Don Groves – Forbes – January 19, 2016

Oz pubcaster ABC wants more broad-appeal Australian drama that can connect internationally.

ABC TV head of fiction Carole Sklan is keen for more drama that appeals to under-50s. The Australian pubcaster’s flagship channel has a persistently older-skewing audience profile, and Sklan says the challenge is “about how to appeal to a broader audience without alienating a huge, significant older audience who are devoted to the ABC.”

Sklan’s fiction remit covers a varied slate of both drama and scripted comedy, including international coproductions. “We support a diverse range of shows, always with external production companies – there’s no in-house production at the ABC,” she says.

The exec adds that a key focus is “to tell Australian stories for Australian audiences that hopefully make a connection internationally and sell throughout the world.”

She adds: “We look for a very diverse slate, a mix of returning series and original series… So we’re looking to do a mix, showcasing extraordinary local talent.”

Past successes include literary adaptations and factual drama, which can be stories about remarkable Australians, Sklan says – citing miniseries such as Paper Giants, about the rise of Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch’s media empires in Australia, and Carlotta, which profiled Australia’s first transgender person, a high-profile cabaret artist in the 1970s.

One hit for ABC in 2015 was The Secret River, a two-part adaptation of Kate Grenville’s award-winning bestselling novel. The show was developed by producers Stephen Luby and Mark Ruse of Ruby Entertainment, along with director Fred Schepisi, and adapted by screenwriters Jan Sardi and Mac Gudegon. Airing in a Sunday night 20.30 slot last June, the drama was one of ABC’s top 10 local productions of 2015, attracting 1.2 million viewers in linear transmission and an average 90,000 plays on ABC’s online platform iview per episode.

The Beautiful Lie was another success for the channel. The six-part contemporary drama adaptation was made by Endemol Australia Production in association with ABC TV, Film Victoria and Screen Australia.

“What I thought was incredibly bold and imaginative was that it was inspired by Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina but set in contemporary middle-class Australia,” explains Sklan. “And it was absolutely fascinating the way the psychological insights and social observations of the 19th century Russian aristocracy also seemed to translate extremely well to contemporary life. So those universal themes of love, infidelity, relationships and survival are explored in a contemporary context.”

The pubcaster also aired six-part paranormal drama Glitch, from Matchbox Pictures, releasing the series on iview first to allow viewers to binge-watch ahead of its linear release. The show generated 1.2 million iview plays across its run, and although linear ratings were not as strong, a second season has now been commissioned.

ABC’s 2016 slate includes the return of Jack Irish in February, this time as a six-part series, which will kick off its season of Thursday-night homemade drama at 20.30.

Other returning series include Janet King, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and Rake.

Also upcoming is a second season of thriller The Code, which first premiered on ABC in September 2014. “It’s very exciting – big ideas, action, serialised storytelling across the six hours – but essentially it’s grounded in a relationship between two brothers,” says Sklan. One of the brothers is a hacker with Asperger syndrome who comes across a range of conspiracies; the other is an investigative journalist.

“Though we’re dealing with big stories and ideas, and quite a dark world with the possibility of nuclear technology getting into the hands of terrorists, it’s driven by these very emotional and personal relationships of the two brothers, navigating their way in the world,” Sklan adds of the show.

Made by Playmaker Media, The Code was developed under Australia’s Scribe Initiative, with production funding assistance from Screen Australia, Screen NSW, Screen Queensland, the ACT Government and Screen ACT. One of the ABC’s goals is to engage and nurture great creative teams – including producers, directors and writers – but Sklan has concerns over retaining the country’s writers. “Our writers are all being snaffled up by the US and the UK,” she says.

Sklan and ABC’s big swing in 2016 is upcoming miniseries Barracuda (4×60’) from Matchbox Pictures. Adapted from Christos Tsiolkas’s follow-up to his book The Slap, it counts the author as an associate producer alongside producers Tony Ayres and Amanda Higgs. Elias Anton and Ben Kindon star.

The drama, timed to coincide with the lead-up to this year’s Olympics, is “essentially a very different sports story… about the pressures on young elite athletes and the nature of success and identity,” says Sklan. Barracuda follows a working-class boy who wins a swimming scholarship for an elite private boys’ school, but finds he has to navigate a world of very wealthy, privileged young men.

Also coming to the channel is futurist drama Cleverman. The six-parter from Goalpost Pictures Australia and New Zealand’s Pukeko Pictures is coproduced with Red Arrow International and SundanceTV.

“It’s about really vivid characters and fascinating, addictive relationships that you want to revisit every week,” says Sklan, summarising ABC’s drama output. “Also, as the public broadcaster, our stories need to reflect something about our worlds and our lives. But I do think characters and relationships are the key.

“With returning series, we’re probably looking at genre because of the dramatic stakes and stories they give you. We’re not at all interested in generic procedural shows – we want fresh and entertaining takes on medical, legal, crime series and so on.”

Gün Akyuz reports – C21 Media – 20 January 2016

ABC TV appoints new Head of Arts

ABC Director of Television Richard Finlayson has announced the appointment of Mandy Chang to the role of Head of Arts, ABC TV.

Chang joined the ABC in 2013 after a stint producing and directing documentaries for major UK broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, PBS and Sky Atlantic.

Her feature-length documentary The Mona Lisa Curse for Channel 4 won the Rose d’Or, Banff World Media Festival Grand Jury Prize, Grierson and Emmy Awards.

In her three years at ABC TV, she has overseen the creation of Autopsy on a Dream – the Story of the Sydney Opera House, Hannah Gadsby’s Oz, The Art of Australia, Art and Soul II, Getting Frank Gehry, Comic Book Heroes, The Cambodian Space Project, Cast from the Storm, The Divorce and Matilda and Me.

Recently Chang worked on the creation of the ABC iview Arts channel and the development of David Stratton’s Story of Australian Cinema, due to premiere this year.

“The ABC has a steadfast ambition to become the home of Arts in Australia”, Finlayson said. “Mandy’s appointment to this role is a clear signal that we intend to commission and produce world-class content across all our platforms and bring the best of the arts to a wide Australian audience.

“Our Arts team has produced some of ABC TV’s best work over the past few years and we are fortunate to have great depth throughout the group. I’d particularly like to thank Kath Earle for her outstanding leadership during the past year, particularly her work bringing our innovative iview Arts channel to life.”

Mandy Chang said: “Having done what I feel is a rigorous three-year apprenticeship, I’m both excited and honoured to be taking on the Head of Arts role.

“We have accomplished much within ABC Arts over the past few years, delivering innovative, high-quality Arts content for audiences, across all of our platforms. I look forward to leading the Arts team as we continue to find ambitious and exciting ways to celebrate and share the artistic achievements and dynamic cultural life of this country.”

Chang commences in her new role this week.

Media Release Monday 18 January 2015