Keynote Conversation 1 / AFM Opening Session
Mark Gill, President & CEO, Solstice Studios
Moderated by Anthony D’Alessandro, Managing Editor, Deadline
On releasing Unhinged into theatres:
“Our idea was that we could be first and probably elevate a film of an otherwise modest budget of $33 Million Dollars against Tenet which is hundreds of millions of dollars or Mulan and that we might have an opportunity to elevate the movie. And that is actually what happened. But it wasn’t for the faint at heart because we had five release dates. Every time we thought it was done another outbreak would happen somewhere in the US or theatres wouldn’t open or Tenet would move. It was just the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve been doing this for a long long time.”
On his perceptions of the theatrical landscape before releasing Unhinged and what he learned:
“It looked like Asia was well ahead of the US and Europe certainly too so we allowed the international folks to release first which is not all that common and it worked out great….What we were looking at were three things you have to get to line up. There’s three sets of planets: There’s the theatre owners obviously. There were other distributors, notably Warner Bros. for Tenet and at that time Disney with Mulan. And then, of course, there’s the public health situation. Our theory was if we waited until Fall things could easily get worse – which is what we see happening. Our thought was that in the Summer we had a chance. And going first was important since no one else wanted to do it. I’m glad we did. It worked out well for us but it was also an important statement to make about why theatres matter and that people would go.”
Other Countries and Pandemic give hope.
“You’ve got more and more films pushing, FOX has just moved a couple of things. It just does not look good. So I was glad to see Pfizer released good news about a possible vaccine. That’s clearly going to be key. The other thing that is incredibly heartening in the long-run is if you look at Japan and China and Korea, where the public health situation is under control, they’re breaking records. So, people like going to the movies. They just want to do it in a way that allows them to relax and enjoy and feel comfortable doing it and not enough of them are right now in the US.”
On what makes a film like Unhinged ripe right now for the current marketplace.
“I have three theories about that. The first is the movie has to be good enough. The second is, for some reason men seem to be a little more willing to go to theatres than women. And third is that it’s a good way to blow off some steam. We’re all living in a very very tense time. Unemployment is high. Everything is uncertain. It’s tough for everybody. So if there’s a chance to go and just enjoy some craziness on the screen as opposed to the craziness in our real lives, that’s what the exit polls are telling us that people are liking about these kinds of movies.”
Why Solstice stuck to a full theatrical release for Unhinged.
“Where possible, we want to be in theatres. That’s what we’re [Solstice Studios] all about so as others are running from it – you’ll see the majors making fewer movies for theatres which was coming any way but is now just accelerated – that will create more opportunity in the long run for mid-sized films to run in the way that they used to. The impressive list of films that the AFM has been a part of for the last 40 years, those are precisely the kinds of films that are going to benefit from this once there is a vaccine.”
On the potential of having a shortage of films for the international markets by next year. Will we hit a dry spot?
“What we’re starting to see from the production side is a number of movies gearing up for late winter or early spring starts. But that means they’re delivered a year from then so by the time we get to Cannes or certainly Toronto I think there is going to be a shortage of films.”
On Good Joe Bell
“We bought Good Joe Bell for the world which means that we will sell it internationally after we’re done doing a little bit of work on the film. I thought it was very very strong but not quite where it needed to be in terms of hitting critical mass. It will be done in the next 2 ½ – 3 weeks and then we need to probably take it to Berlin and we’re looking at releasing it for Academy Award consideration – which is by February 28th this year. I’ve never seen that before. It’s an emotionally compelling film. We all unanimously agreed on that which never happens.”
On Selling International
“We have chosen so far to just sell the movies one at a time to independent distributors in all the key markets. It’s worked out surprisingly well. It was fascinating working with all these distributors as they were facing what we were which was essentially ‘Is our country going to be open? Are the cinemas going to be open? Is anybody going to go?’ And what was just so impressive was how many of them – whether it was the UK or France or Australia or Italy, there’s so many countries that did so well with the movie [Unhinged]. The reality is that on this movie we got out alive and getting out in a pandemic was quite an achievement. A huge part of that was the international distributors taking a lot of risk in trying to do what we did, and in some cases doing it even better than we did. Australia was blow out good for example and this was with 30% of their country closed.”
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