The Digital European Film Forum gears up to save the ecosystem
by Marta Bałaga
- CANNES 2020: It was all about solidarity during the “Shaping the Future of the European Audiovisual Ecosystem: What Role for the European Union?” panel – as well as ambition
The Digital European Film Forum conference entitled “Shaping the Future of the European Audiovisual Ecosystem: What Role for the European Union?”, organised in partnership with the Cannes Marché du Film – now unspooling online – tried to assess the present, COVID-ravaged situation and come up with a common vision, while also touching upon the role of the European Union. “This event is for those who are reshaping the European audiovisual ecosystem. I love that we are using the word ‘ecosystem’ and not the industry. We need to come together as one to recover from these grim times,” underlined moderator Marjorie Paillon, before giving the floor to Pierre Lescure, president of the Cannes Film Festival. “What a beautiful symbol to open this online market, as it coincides with the reopening of theatres in France,” he stated optimistically.
As noted by European Commissioner Thierry Breton, “Even the most imaginative screenwriters couldn’t have come up with what we have been through these past weeks.” And yet, while the whole sector has been hit hard, he expressed his belief that “together, we will come out of this stronger than before”. Sabine Verheyen, MEP and Chair of the Culture Committee of the European Parliament, urged people to take action. “The European Union needs to do much more, and much quicker. We have adopted substantial aid packages, notably the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, but small businesses often take one look at the paperwork and run, or they don’t meet the conditions,” she said, stressing the need to tailor support. “The committee will continue to push for the right measures to be delivered quickly. Spending money on culture, and culture education, is investing in the future of the continent. I am deeply concerned by the Commission’s proposal of the budget and recovery plan. The figures are deeply disappointing. If we don’t support our artists and creators today, it may have devastating consequences.”
As the conference progressed, participants shared their experiences. Like Marco Chimenz, CEO of Cattleya and a European Producers Club board member. “From the perspective of our company, we are lucky that we transitioned from producing, almost exclusively, feature films for theatrical distribution. Now, the bulk of our output is TV series. The uncertainty is huge – cinemas have reopened in Italy, but how many people are going?” As noted by Paillon, before the lockdown, the consumption levels in European theatres reached 1.34 billion viewers. Three months later, it was Netflix that was setting new records. “Ultimately, I am optimistic about it,” said producer Ed Guiney, CEO of Element Pictures, behind The Lobster [+see also:
Q&A: Yorgos Lanthimos
film profile] and The Favourite [+see also:
film profile]. “Once the coronavirus passes, people will relish the communal experience that cinema offers. Television has upped its game, and in a way, it can inspire cinema to do better, as the audience needs a reason to leave their homes,” he said, complimenting Chimenz’s Gomorrah. “There is a huge appetite for things that are different, from diverse voices, and we are brilliantly positioned in Europe to respond to that demand.”
“There are few words that are really important: ambition, solidarity, being less naïve and having a vision for the future,” listed Daniela Elstner, director general of UniFrance. “The more we work together, the better it will be. There is just something that unites us, all of us, in a screening room. We need money, but we also need to rethink our business models and not exclude one or the other, platform versus cinema.” And to come up with new creative solutions, like ADRAH (Additional Dialog Replacement at Home), mentioned by Tatxo Benet, CEO of Mediapro. It is intended to be used by actors in self-isolation, if their voices are compulsory in order to finish films and series. “We need to fit better into the digital market and appropriate a regulatory framework. Our main asset as a producer is IP. But keeping it is difficult as we face international organisations with incredible economic power. The way the market works in Spain, and almost the whole of Europe, is that the broadcasters oblige us to give it away if we want to sell them our series.”
Chimenz agreed: “We have, in front of us, organisations with resources that have never been seen. When I hear about creating a European champion in digital distribution, I wonder if it makes sense. That train, if we ever had it, is long gone.” But there is still a vibrant ecosystem. “We need to make sure that these platforms, as well as the broadcasters, put European independent producers at the centre. Why? Because we are close to Armani, Valentino, Louis Vuitton – designers that, based on their ability to marry art and commerce, have contributed to the prestige of Europe,” he said. “We produce high-quality projects with much less money than in the USA, but you might still have a gap. It would be interesting if that could be covered with public funding, also as a returnable loan. One of the things we have learnt from that crisis is how interconnected the world is. The European Producers Club has approved a charter for green production. Is it easy to abide by it? No. Is that an area where the Commission might decide to invest? Certainly.”
Luckily, current demand for content is creating some new opportunities. “The amount of money available for development through Creative Europe is actually very small. We are not keeping up with the success of our creators. It’s a shame that we can’t provide them with homes in Europe to do audacious, large-scale work,” said Guiney, while suggesting setting up a European investment bank, which would help with development or production finance. “It’s about saying: ‘Look, there is something potentially very profitable here.’ The Americans are properly resourcing it, and the Chinese, and the Indians.” But in Europe, things are still too fragmented. “At the moment, we are not independent producers – we are dependent producers.”
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