Neon, Dark Castle, Films Boutique execs discuss chasing the audience zeitgeist

Leading film executives discuss the key components of film sales and acquisition at Mediterrane Film Festival panel

By Gabriella Geisinger 26 Jun 2024

Neon, Dark Castle, Films Boutique execs discuss chasing the audience zeitgeist
Film circulation panel; Cr: Shutterstock/Mediterrane Film Festival

As consumers become pickier, ‘chasing the zeitgeist’ of changing buyer and audience tastes is fruitless, says Jeff Deutchman, president of acquisitions and production at Neon, during a panel on film circulation at the second annual Mediterrane Film Festival in Malta this week.

Deutchman and his fellow panellists agreed that prioritising key factors within the packaging of films helps future-proof against fickle buyers and audiences. Hal Sadoff, CEO of Dark Castle Entertainment, highlights “Local stories that can translate to an international audience.”

Deutchman cited several factors that he takes into consideration when looking at projects. “A name brand director always helps, so does an actor who doesn’t work very often, a Daniel Day-Lewis or Frances McDormand, or an actor doing something you’ve never seen them done before. Films that need to be experienced communally, like a comedy where you want to laugh with a group of people, or a concert film where you want to dance in the aisles. Or movies that serve an underserved audience, people who haven’t seen themselves.”

However, the key factor he cites above all else is uniqueness. “That’s the highest premium we put on anything, movies that are incomparable, that you haven’t seen before. That’s a really strong position to be in when it comes to a sophisticated theatrical audience.”

Gabor Greiner, COO of Berlin-based Films Boutique, added that world cinema sales faces the same issue. ”We don’t really care about the audience, but when it comes to the taste of the buyers whom we want to please, it is true that it has become much more unpredictable. So that’s why we wait as long as possible. The moment of acquisition and the moment we sell to someone like Jeff, they are very close together.”

There are some things Greiner looks out for: “Food and animals, these are elements that sell. Dogs and cats, and cooking. A circus, however, is no good.”

He adds: “Local flavours, something that has to do with a region and their traditions. Dramas, but not too much drama. What we need right now is very positive stories, embedded into a universal story so that a worldwide audience can easily follow it. Character development is much more important than the narrative for us at the moment.” 

In this vein, the panellists also agree that the pre-sale market has shrunk. Whereas previously, 80 to 90% of Deutchman’s acquisition would be presales, the number is now down to 60% he says. Greiner is more succinct. “Presales are dead,” he says, adding that they rarely look at films “prior to a rough-cut stage.”

Festivals in competition

The usefulness of festivals and their respective markets is still key, despite packaging and presale stresses. Sadoff cites Berlin Film Festival and its European Film Market (EFM), and Toronto International Film Festival as his most useful. “Pre-production will be planned around what festival or market you want to sell at,” he adds; all agreed on the importance of Cannes’ and the Marche Du Film.

Lamia Belkaied Guiga, Tunisian film critic and teacher at the Higher School of Audiovisual and Cinema Carthage University, says there is competition amongst regional festivals, which is upsetting the balance for up-and-coming filmmakers with certain festival’s prizes eclipsing the value of other festivals.

Greiner adds that having a wealth of festivals in any region is good, as long as they accurately represent - and give opportunities to - the diverse range of filmmakers working.

Image: (L to R) Gabor Greiner, Lamia Belkaied Guiga, moderator Dr Angus Finney, Hal Sadoff, and Jeff Deutchman

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