Exclusive take on the film industry post-pandemic
We chatted with Anton Volkov [Marketing, Distribution, Sales & Exhibition MA at the National Film and Television School (NFTS), and founder of Trailer Track]
Alexandra, Dissection&Reflection: Hi, Anton, thank you for joining us! In your opinion, how has the current situation affected film distribution, particularly how are distributors able to identify new titles for future film distribution?
Anton Volkov: Hi, nice talking to you. Well, the major film markets have obviously been cancelled. In terms of independent film distribution, more acquisitions (distributors finding titles to buy), that hasn't been affected as badly. Things are picking up again because everything has moved online. The problem becomes more with films that would need festivals to actually show them to the public. In terms of films that don't have distributors, that's a fear that it will get pirated. It's the equivalent to the entire Amazon Prime audience seeing it for free instead of going through the traditional distribution channels.
A.DR: Do you think having them shown at festivals increases the piracy levels?
A.V: That's the fear. It depends on the film and it obviously depends on the festival. What quite a few festivals are doing now to combat that is limited access to screening. So therefore, only like, the first 500 people who sign up can see the film.
A, DR: So it's basically like a physical festival in a way - if you're in, you're in.
A.V: Yeah, and for instance, the first major downfall of an online virtual festival was a CPH Docs festival in Copenhagen that was 500 people per screening and only restricted to people who live in Copenhagen, so only Copenhagen IP addresses.
A, DR: Do you think they'll come back as like a drive-in cinema?
A.V: I mean, that's already existing in the U.S. Even during the lockdown, there have been several countries in Europe that have been doing this - in France there have been attempts, in Germany, in Lithuania.
"They have been attempting, during the lockdown to keep cinemas going as drive-ins."
A, DR: Do you think there is some sort of silver lining for the film industry in any way or any part of the industry? Is there any part that you think might be benefiting? Apart from Netflix *laughs*
A.V: It was a good time to launch Disney+. Warner Brothers are about to launch HBO Max in America, which is their big streaming service like Disney+. Eventually it will come here, but it will take a few years; So yeah, Warner Brothers are doing that, Paramount announced they are doing a streaming service really recently, Universal have Peacock. Anyone who is launching their own streaming service is winning at the moment. The question is, will they be able to get major content on that?
At the moment, we are seeing some big films: Universal has launched Trolls: World Tour, Warner Brothers launched their Scooby Doo film this week straight on video on demand (VOD). And there's been this conflict between Universal and the big cinema chains. The problem is you won't be seeing something over the budget of Christopher Nolan's new film, or Wonder Woman, or Black Widow, or James Bond going straight to VOD. The economics on this just don't work.
At the moment, in the UK, the government says cinemas can reopen July 3rd, but then they treat that as a victory, meaning the crisis is over, it's not.
"The problem is, if you wait until there's a vaccine, there's a massive risk many cinemas just might not exist, they'll go out of business if they will have to go that long without opening."
So it's a really tough battle.
A, DR: Do you think that when HBO Max is going to come out in a few years, they'll deal with a saturated market, though? Because everyone seems to be launching their own streaming service.
A.V: Well, that's the thing arguably Disney+ is facing. It just depends how they stand out. I think this is why Warners (Brothers) haven't rushed to launch HBO Max here in the UK, basically outside of America, because they know it's problematic without a clear hook. Disney+ have a clear hook because obviously Disney is a powerful brand for families and that's why it's been so popular. When you see a Disney logo in front of a film, that tells you it's a very specific type of film, you don't have that with any of the other major studios.
A, DR: Which streaming services are you subscribed to?
A.V: We’ve got Netflix as part of Sky- and that’s the interesting thing about Sky, bundled in with your Sky subscription you can get Netflix, you can get Disney +, because Sky is owned by Universal. When Peacock launches in the US that’s gonna be on Sky as well. I’ve got Amazon Prime, then I’ve got Apple TV+, to which we got a one-year subscription for free.
Christiana, Dissection&Reflection: As film festivals already came up in the discussion, I was wondering whether you think it's a good idea to hold every film festival online this year.
A.V: Not every film festival is going online, for starters. In terms of getting the film seen, absolutely. But then, there is still a sense at the moment that online should be seen as the last resort. Long story short, the problem is that whenever a festival decides to go online, you go from 300 films -let’s say- that would have screened at a festival, to 100 at most, none of them high profile films that people would have come out and paid their tickets for. If you are looking to discover new unseen films, the more independent ones that might not have distribution, then these virtual festivals are fantastic for discovery.
C, DR: Do you think more people will become interested in film festivals now, considering that some of them will be online and easier to watch?
A.V: For those within the country the festival is being held, absolutely, because as I mentioned, what a lot of them have been doing to get a few more of the relatively bigger films to come instead of just the low profile is restricting it by country, restricting it by the number of people. So in some respects, yes, it's easier. In other respects they're still trying to replicate the physical experience. If festivals wanted to have everything online, available to everyone, they would, but the problem is that the producers that give the films to the festivals, that provide the film, the way that it all works at the moment, rights for films being sold country by country - those are just roadblocks, you know.
The biggest example of an online festival that's probably going to be happening is Toronto in September - they said there's going to be a big digital element - so let's see what happens there. Cannes explicitly said no, then there's this whole thing with the YouTube one, but that's supposed to be more, you know, older films rather than any new stuff. But once this is all over, with the physical cinemas likely to experience some resurgence, same will go with film festivals. I mean they've always been such a communal experience, such an important part of the industry.
C, DR: How has the current situation affected you personally and professionally?
A.V: I mean personally, for me, I'm in a lucky position, in that, obviously I can be out here just outside of London with my family and also, for the course I'm doing at the NFTS we've moved pretty much everything online really smoothly and we're not going back until the end of September.
"So everything is going to be online through the Summer holiday, which is really good in terms of the state of the world."
One of the best things about this course is that you get people from the industry to come in and do talks for us. At the NFTS itself we've had some incredible people doing masterclasses, that we couldn't have imagined. For me personally, that transition has been smooth and I'm just seeing benefits, really. The only problem is with the facilities which aren't accessible, and something that the whole industry is struggling with is networking. But that’s not just with us, it’s the entire industry. There’s always Twitter!
C, DR: Given the current situation, after everything goes back to normal, which films do you plan on seeing first and which Hollywood production do you think is going to be the film of the year?
A.V: Good question, at the moment, the industry is working towards July and towards Nolan`s new film, Tenet, as being the film that brings people back to the cinema across the world. Now the question is whether that will actually pan out. For me, the delays and lockdown happened just before my most anticipated film of the year, which is James Bond: No Time To Die. That`s my Avengers: Endgame. It's Daniel Craig's last film, it's meant to be the big finale, the conclusion to the story from Casino Royale all the way through, that's coming out in November.
"There have been companies with an outdoor cinema, like Luna Cinema, Rooftop Cinema, cinema clubs have announced they're doing drive-in cinemas, but then, none of them show new films. Ok, it's great, but on the other hand, you need something like in the States, that do end up showing new films, because that's literally the safest way to see them. So, yeah, drive-in is the only way I`m seeing Tenet, which would be a shame because obviously you want to see it in IMAX, you want to see it on 70 mm film, you need that full experience and you are not going to get that."
There's been talks in the US especially, about the marketing, obviously not just about Tenet, but they're going to get directors like Nolan, Spielberg and the big name celebrities to do campaigns - Come back, come back to the cinema! It's safe!
A, DR: Yeah, but is it? Yeah, I guess it's a sticky situation for them, right? And a unique position as well, as a filmmaker, as a director.
A.V: Yeah, I mean it just depends on who`s flexible. There are independent cinemas who are currently making money because they launch their own essentially VOD platforms. That`s how the independent cinemas have been making money. Obviously Curzon had Curzon Home Cinema. But what other cinemas are doing is more for the distributors, for smaller films-there was this film The Perfect Candidate that came out a few weeks ago, there`s a film called Bacurau.
A, DR: Oh yeaah! I saw that at London Film Festival.
A.V: Yeah, Bacurau in the US has kind of pioneered this thing when essentially a cinema has it`s own VOD platform or you go to the distributors` website and when you rent the film you pick which cinema the money can go to.
"At the moment, Odeon has banned all Universal Pictures films, including James Bond: No Time To Die, including Fast & Furious. They banned them because they were angry with how Universal put Trolls: World Tour on demand, instead of waiting for the cinemas to reopen, they put it on demand and then they boasted to the press about how it made like 100 million in the United States for its opening weekend digitally."
C, DR: I was wondering what you thought about the new Dune pictures from the set.
A.V: I am excited!
A, DR: Have you read the book?
A.V: No! I am purposely staying away from the book, staying away from David Lynch's film [Dune, from 1984]. I want to experience the story for the first time told through the eyes of Denis Villeneuve.
A, DR: Nooo, really *laughs*!? I meaan, that's only the first book, so is it really an ending? I hope Chalamet does a good job.
A.V: Me too!
A;C, DR: Thank you very much, coffee on us when we can safely congregate!
A.V: Thank you! Great talking to you.
Let's stay in touch.