Digital Production Buzz
January 30, 2014
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
to listen to this show.]
Peter Hamilton, Founder and Editor, DocumentaryTelevision.com
Christopher Zitterbart, CEO, Watchmen Productions
Beki Probst, Director, European Film Market (EFM)
Nick Dager, Editor & Publisher, Digital Cinema Report
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Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast, covering creative content producers and tech news for media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan. Our co-host, Mike Horton, has the week off.
Larry Jordan: We’ve got a great group of guests this week. We’re going to start with Peter Hamilton. He’s a consultant specializing in the non-fiction television program industry. He joins us this week to talk about why it’s so hard to find feature length documentaries on TV.
Larry Jordan: Then Christopher Zitterbart joins us from Berlin. He’s a producer at Watchman Productions. He recently finished the first officially sanctioned Brazilian/German co-production then watched as this was accepted into the competition at the Berlinale in Berlin. He joins us to talk about his experiences producing the film and entering a film into competition.
Larry Jordan: Beki Probst has headed the European Film Market at the Berlinale since 1988. This is one of the world’s largest locations to buy and sell films for distribution. This week she explains what the film market is, what got her started and new things to look forward to next week, when the EFM opens.
Larry Jordan: Nick Dager is the editor and publisher of the Digital Cinema Report. Recently he spent time just before Sundance at a special conference focused on the art house cinema, and he comes back with a report on what the status of the art house cinema is, and you’ll be surprised at some of the things he has to report.
Larry Jordan: By the way, just a reminder, we are offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page, and you can learn more about the company doing the transcription, which is Take 1 Transcription, at take1.tv, and thanks to Take 1 for making these transcripts possible.
Larry Jordan: By the way, The Buzz is going to the NAB Show in April, and this will be the sixth year in the row we’ve been the official podcast for NAB. If you are making plans to attend, visit our web page at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Not only have we been doing some housekeeping and we now have some very cool big graphics that slide across the home page, which always makes me giggle but, on the right hand side is a button called “Channel Opportunity” and when you click it, it takes you to the registration page for signing up to attend the exhibits at NAB. But here’s the secret part, if you enter the code LV6239, you’ll be able to register for free, and for all of our NAB coverage not only can you keep track of it at digitalproductionbuzz.com, but also visit our sister website at nabshowbuzz.com.
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Larry Jordan: We’ve got some great guests coming up, starting with Peter Hamilton. He’ll be joining us right after this.
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Larry Jordan: Peter Hamilton is a senior consultant who works with the non-fiction industry on marketing and business development. He’s a former CBS executive. His clients include A&E Networks, the BBC, National Geographic and many other media groups, governments and non-profits. Peter lectures frequently at industry conferences, including his upcoming master class at Westdoc, and shares his expertise at documentarytelevision.com. Welcome back, Peter!
Peter Hamilton: It’s great to be here, thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: We are always glad to have you, and I have to start with the really hard question first. Are you sitting down?
Peter Hamilton: Yes!
Larry Jordan: What does a non-fiction industry consultant do?
Peter Hamilton: Well, let me tell you, first of all the scale of the non-fiction industry is huge when you consider that Discovery Networks is valued at $30 billion, and A&E Networks probably $20 billion, and that’s just the start. You can see that there’s a ton of business to be done, and it’s a very competitive environment, and corporations are looking for an edge and producers are looking to get in the door and foundations to fund the right films and governments to back the right projects. So believe me, there’s a lot of work in this vast sector.
Larry Jordan: So you’re not sitting back, sipping Mai Tais, doing nothing?
Peter Hamilton: I wish I was! No, I don’t, I’m busy working hard.
Larry Jordan: The Film Market at the Berlinale, which is in Berlin, Germany, starts next week and, given your expertise in non-fiction programming what do you expect to see?
Peter Hamilton: Well, first I’m not going because I just came back from Realscreen, which is the major non-fiction, unscripted market in the United States, although there’s also a fairly big attendance of UK producers.
Peter Hamilton: At Berlin itself, given my expertise, I expect to see more emphasis on the documentary format and the reason is that, in my view documentaries are in the zeitgeist right now. It’s a very fashionable cultural form of expression and whereas maybe it was Indie movies ten years ago or the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes that captured people’s imagination in the ‘50s or Hemingway in the ‘30s, it seems to me it’s the documentary that’s really grabbing a lot of attention as a cultural leader.
Peter Hamilton: Secondly it’s much less expensive. A doc can be made for between three and 400,000 and a million and-a-half and, of course, scripted films are so much more expensive. So people can make a big statement for less, and therefore what I will see at Berlin is just a lot of attention directed towards the non-fiction format.
Larry Jordan: Well, you know, you make an interesting point, that Berlinale is interested in a lot of different genres and the event you just came back from Realscreen, was really focused just on the documentaries.
Peter Hamilton: And reality entertainment much more than documentaries, and we could get into that shift if you wanted to go there.
Larry Jordan: Well, that’s exactly what I want to find out. I mean why are documentaries so hard to find on broadcast television? It seems like reality programming is everywhere and documentaries you got to have a microscope to find them.
Peter Hamilton: That’s really the massive contribution, as I said, you know, the doc is in the zeitgeist, but the channels are narrowing down their focus. When you look at the distribution platforms that are available, there are very few theaters available for docs. There are very few docs that are tremendous hits, like Bowling for Columbine and, interestingly enough the last documentary that made more than 30 million in the box office was the anti-Obama doc, a right wing venture. Then there’s giant screen films, of course too, IMAX films which have a very long tail of successful runs and can play forever and ever. So that’s on one side. There are just very few windows, very few opportunities, very few screens for theatrical docs.
Peter Hamilton: On the TV net side, there’s been this big shift to reality because it works, and people come home…
Larry Jordan: Don’t depress me!
Peter Hamilton: I’m sorry, but people come home and they want to be entertained and much more of them are more likely to have their attention captured for a few moments by a big character-driven reality show than particularly an issue-oriented documentary. But you know what? The big events, which used to be documentaries on the non-fiction channels, are now increasingly scripted. You know, there’s The Hatfields and McCoys on History, there’s Killing Lincoln on NatGeo, well that’s replaced slots that would have once been delivered to big history specials on the war or a big documentary on NatGeo, a wildlife documentary.
Peter Hamilton: I think another important factor is theatrical docs, feature docs, are very disruptive of the schedule. They have uneven lengths or they tend to be 90 minutes long and most television schedules are cut on the hour. Secondly they’re hard to promote, because each topic is very different. It’s driven by the author’s vision, its creator’s vision, and networks really like series because they can invest their promotional expenses in a big show concept and their promotional efforts carry on from week to week.
Larry Jordan: Let me just ask, does that mean that Ken Burns may be onto the right thing, where he does a long form doc, say The History of Baseball, The History of Jazz, and it runs three, five, six parts because it allows promotion to be done more easily?
Peter Hamilton: I think that that’s definitely the case, but there are relatively few opportunities, you know, even on PBS there’s only one Ken Burns. Although PBS is having a tremendous year and at Realscreen, the PBS documentary commissioners were really active, looking at really good quality films and also the strands are doing very well: Nova, American Experience, Frontline, and they have all that promotional benefit. They’re a strand that can be promoted even though they’re comprised of single documentaries on different topics. PBS is strong.
Peter Hamilton: There’s also the Smithsonian Channel, a favorite of mine. I had a film of my own on Jonas Salk and the development of the Salk vaccine being broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel right now, that’s growing fast, and they have an appetite for quality documentaries.
Peter Hamilton: So with PBS, the Smithsonian and then the few slots are there on NatGeo and on History and other networks, even the Weather Channel, there’s still a lot of work out there, but it’s like every creative endeavor, it doesn’t come easily.
Larry Jordan: Well, I think that gets to the bigger question. Virtually every young filmmaker I know is working on their own documentary. How would you advise people, are they ever going to make any money on this? I mean is there a way to turn their passion and their great ideas into cash or should they just consider the learning experience and not expect to actually sell it?
Peter Hamilton: Well, I think that’s a great question. You know, first of all I’m a big believer that you’ve got to do what you do, and if you’re a young filmmaker that’s burning with a passion to make a documentary and you have a really great topic, then do it. If you’re a commercially minded person, and you think that making the documentary is going to make your career, you’re going to get nowhere with that level of cynicism. So follow your heart and the money will follow your heart is a really good general observation in life. However, that said, even the most successful – creatively successful – documentary, is going to have trouble finding a market and so these producers who are burning with an idea to tell have to find alternative ways of financing their film.
Larry Jordan: Are audiences for documentaries increasing or are they decreasing? In other words, are we selling into a declining market?
Peter Hamilton: No, I think it’s expanding. I mean the big festivals like HotDocs in Canada breaks its attendance records every year. There are documentary festivals breaking out in state after state in the States, and provinces in Canada and the UK, Australia and then internationally as well. I was South Africa last year; there was a wonderful documentary festival there. So I actually think that the audience is growing, but it’s not for, it’s more in a festival format than in a typical theatrical run, in a cinema complex.
Larry Jordan: Well, you raise a very interesting question. You mention the Canadian market and South African market, how similar are the US, Canadian and European markets?
Peter Hamilton: Many films are highly exportable and ring the bells across cultures, and many of them are very distinctive. I mean the second or third highest rated film in Holland last year, in the Netherlands, was a film about a Dutch wildlife reserve, and it made millions in the box office in Holland, but I bet you it hardly made a penny in Belgium right next door!
Peter Hamilton: So a lot of programs are very, very regional and that’s what makes them really successful, because they strike a regional or a local cultural cord really profoundly. As an Australian, I’ve seen many examples of that over the years.
Larry Jordan: Let’s get back to advising a young producer who wants to put a show together. You’ve already said follow your heart and ultimately the money will follow…
Peter Hamilton: Mm, hopefully.
Larry Jordan: Yes, one can dream. I’m a little older than young and I’m still dreaming that dream! Anyway, the question I’ve got is if you were to advise them about picking a subject, what documentary subjects seem to get people the most interested?
Peter Hamilton: Well, unless you have a private philanthropist backing you…
Larry Jordan: I can dream of that!
Peter Hamilton: Well, it happens. I mean there are a lot of billionaires out there really love funding documentaries, and I can throw out some names. I mean just do some research. I tell my young documentary maker to do some search on the founders of Google and Facebook and all these incredibly successful firms, and find out what the spouses and partners are involved in in foundations, and which documentary genres those foundations are funding, and you will be surprised.
Larry Jordan: Okay, I take back my cynicism. That’s a great comment.
Peter Hamilton: Yes, well unfortunately it’s also the trend in our economy away from public funding, where one used to submit a television special proposal, for instance to the National Science Foundation, and you’d have ten PhDs, you know, would analyze the project and then they’d give their judgment, and then the National Science Foundation would back your project with a million or two, you know rare projects. That was the old model of public funding, also public television funding.
Peter Hamilton: Now, I think sadly, it’s increasingly swinging towards the extremely wealthy who want to back a documentary because, as I said, it’s in the zeitgeist, they feel they can move the needle, they love it as an art form, whatever.
Larry Jordan: How about subjects? Anything that lights fancy more than others?
Peter Hamilton: Yes, good question. I would say – and that was the answer before I got distracted on the billionaire topic – unless a billionaire is backing your passion for a particular subject, a topic on which they want to change the world, by and large television audiences and theaters are not interested in stories about what a terrible state the world is and how it can be changed. There are very, very few exceptions to that.
Peter Hamilton: So, what works? Films with unbelievable stories and unbelievable characters that take you into worlds or situations that you haven’t imagined before. I guess the final quality I’d say is the quality of jeopardy, of risk. There needs to be, in the storyline, some area of risk that really can grab you in the stomach. Just by and large they’re the topics.
Larry Jordan: Great characters, great stories, take you somewhere that you wouldn’t normally go, and a sense of risk.
Peter Hamilton: It could be a place or an emotion or whatever.
Larry Jordan: How about documentaries like Flight of the Butterflies? Does that change the perception of documentaries?
Peter Hamilton: Yes, really good question, because there’s another category that exists kind of side by side with all my other comments, and that’s the giant screen documentary, and they are screened only in IMAX type theaters, they’re called giant screen or GS theaters, that are increasingly being built in museums and science museums and aquaria and so on, and they build into these facilities stadium type theaters with giant screen and 3-D projection, and sometimes even dome projection.
Peter Hamilton: This is a really unique situation where almost the entire decision to see a film is made in a few seconds when the family walks into the science center and they see a poster with its art and a title. Based on that combination of title, topic and poster art, they either decide to go left into the exhibition or the cafeteria, or turn right and buy an IMAX ticket or a giant screen ticket and go to the theatre. So these films need fantastic titles, fantastic imagery and on topics that really can take your breath away with really beautiful, beautiful pictures that can be realized, you know, 70mm pictures, cinematography that can be captured on these giant screens.
Peter Hamilton: They’re 40 minute films, they’re a unique length, many of them are 20 minutes these days. So it’s a really unique forum that requires a great deal of production and distribution expertise. I would certainly not advise our young filmmaker to head off and make a giant screen film. For a start, they have to be budgeted between five and ten million dollars to really make an impact on the screen, or even more, and then secondly, even then they need to be funded by philanthropists, government grants, tax breaks and the rest.
Peter Hamilton: A film like Flight of the Butterflies which, I think, is on track to gross about $40 million is still, at that level, going to need somewhere between two and-a-half and four million dollars in deficit financing to make the producer whole.
Larry Jordan: Peter, where can people go on the web to learn more about you and your website?
Peter Hamilton: Thanks for asking! So it’s documentarytelevision.com, and we have just lots of case studies. We have a beautiful case study there that I just wrote a few minutes ago on Flight of the Butterflies. We give the budget numbers and so on and even though I didn’t like the film, the Obama 1916, the conservative anti-Obama film, tremendous insights into how to release a theatrical film.
Larry Jordan: Peter, thank you so much for joining us. The website is documentarytelevision.com. Peter Hamilton is the founder and editor and thanks for joining us, we’ll talk to you again soon.
Peter Hamilton: I hope so!
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye-bye!
Larry Jordan:Christopher Zitterbart is the Managing Director and Producer at Watchman Productions, a Berlin based production company. They were the producers of a feature film, Paio do Futuro, which is directed by Karin Ainouz, which is an official selection of the Berlin International Film Festival Competition. Hello, Christopher!
Christopher Zitterbart: Hi! How are you?
Larry Jordan: I’m not sure I can pronounce it, but what is Praia do Futuro?
Christopher Zitterbart: Well, Praia do Futuro is the name of actually a beach in Fortaleza in Brazil, which is actually also the hometown of our director and writer, Karim Ainouz, and that was the inspiration for the title of this movie as well.
Larry Jordan: Now, I’m listening very carefully to the name of the film, and I’m listening very carefully to your accent, and there does not seem to be a lot of Brazilian in your voice!
Christopher Zitterbart: No, actually it might have a tiny bit of a German accent. So, Watchmen Productions is a Berlin-based production company, and we’re the co-producer, one of the co-producers in this movie. It is the lead production company Coração da Selva from Brazil, from Sao Paolo, and it’s basically the first official under the treaty German/Brazilian co-production, which we entered in, if I remember correctly, 2011 we started working on this project.
Larry Jordan: Well how did you manage to hook up with a Brazilian production company?
Christopher Zitterbart: It was actually pure coincidence. We were talking with a producer who is actually German, Hank Levine. He was living in Brazil for many, many years, and he was planning to relocate to Germany after spending a lot of time in Brazil and producing movies like City of God with Fernando Meirelles in Brazil, and he contacted us because he found us on the internet and saw that we did some interesting projects. We basically talked about he possibilities of a collaboration and then developed a project over a year or so, and then one day he called and said, ‘Hey, Christopher, I might have a project for us.’ Then he basically came over with the project, and since he did not have any home base here or his company was basically inactive for many years, we teamed up and did this production together from then on.
Larry Jordan: Well now the film is complete and you’ve been accepted as an official selection of the Berlin International Film Festival, called the Berlinale.
Christopher Zitterbart: Yes.
Larry Jordan: How did you get the film into competition?
Christopher Zitterbart: Well, that is probably the secret that every filmmaker would want to get, how do you get a film into competition! I don’t have the answer to that question. It is basically you have a great movie, I think, and in our case I can say that I really love that film and I believe it’s very, very strong and it’s a very emotional ride and gets you a deep connection to the characters in the film, and we are very happy to have the movie in the festival, of course.
Larry Jordan: I understand the need for having a great film, but there’s also the technical process of how you got it entered an how it was accepted. Walk me through the process of entering a film. What did you have to do? How long did it take? What did they ask of you? That kind of thing.
Christopher Zitterbart: That is not so complicated. You just send your screener, DVD of a cut. It doesn’t have to be the Final Cut yet, so that’s I think a very common thing with festivals that you can send a film that is almost there in Final Cut but not yet, so you can do that before you have picture lock. Actually you just have to make sure that you can be ready before the festival with everything post production involved and yes, then you fill in all the forms related to the movie and then yes, you’ll get the call. Then, obviously, with A list festivals like Berlinale or Cannes or Sundance, all these festivals, it’s something very special.
Christopher Zitterbart: Once you get in the selection it’s just, you know, it’s just a big, big chain of events. You have to prepare a lot to be ready for the festival in terms of press and getting everybody aligned for all the work connected to that.
Larry Jordan: Wearing your producer hat now, how much time was involved from the time the Brazilian company contacted you saying I think we may have a project until you were ready to start production? Then the second question is how long did production and post take?
Christopher Zitterbart: With this project it was a very unusual process for us, because we came onboard when the script was ready and when the main cast was also decided. We had the main three actors were already signed, which are Clemens Schick from Germany, Wagner Moura from Brazil and Jesuita Barbosa, and they were already signed for basically shooting in early 2012. That was because Wagner is kind of a big star in Brazil and he has also acted in Hollywood movies like Elysium lately, and he’s a star in Elite Squad, so he has a very tight schedule.
Christopher Zitterbart: So things were happening fast, and when we got aboard we basically had four months or five months to complete the financing from German side and start the pre-production for the movie, so we started principal photography in Berlin in February 2012.
Larry Jordan: How long did production take, and how long was it in post?
Christopher Zitterbart: In Germany we had 25 shoot days that took us into March, and then we had another 12 to 14 shoot days, actually, in Brazil, in Fortaleza, which we only could do later that year in September due to some heavy rain in the first production window that we had. So we had to shift or limit our schedule there, so that was a little bit of an unexpected break during the shooting. Then basically post production took up until very shortly, so it’s like it was a long project. We had long phases of editing and in between other projects of the director, so we took the time to really craft it very, very carefully in editing and post production.
Larry Jordan: You’ve described it a little bit, but what is the genre of the film? What’s the basic subject?
Christopher Zitterbart: It’s a drama, a film about loss and longing, about family as well, and about man taking risks to basically discover himself and to face their fears to be able to bond again as a family.
Christopher Zitterbart: To give you a short kind of story, it starts in Fortaleza, in Praia do Futoro, at the beach. Wagner Mouro’s character, Donato, works there as a lifeguard and he’s got a little brother, 11 year-old brother, and is basically like the family father because his mother is alone and he’s responsible for everything and everybody. There is a German tourist, Konrad, played by Clemens Schick, who is in a swimming accident and he’s losing his best friend in the sea and Donato, played by Wagner, saves Konrad and basically in that tragic accident there is a growing bond between them and that leads them to a deeper emotional connection and they fall in love.
Christopher Zitterbart: The Brazilian, Donato, fights then to leave everything behind, leaves his brother and mother behind and goes to Berlin with Konrad. His journey basically connects with a much deeper search for his own identity and then time passes and many years later his younger brother, Ayrton is now 19 and he’s coming to Berlin searching for his brother, full of anger, and he wants to know why his brother had abandoned him that time ago. From then on it’s a tale of these three men that are drawn to each other and then again lose each other. It’s about the search of them getting together again, a search of hope and a brighter future, if that makes sense.
Larry Jordan: What are your distribution plans?
Christopher Zitterbart: Distribution is pretty much in place already. We have for Brazil we have California Filmes, and for Germany it’s Real Fiction, and we’re very happy to have world sales; the Match Factory. There is also HBO already for the Latin American TV market, so yes, there’s already a lot of work done for distribution.
Larry Jordan: Where can people go on the web to learn more about Watchmen Productions and about this film?
Christopher Zitterbart: The Watchman Productions website is www.watchmen.de. You can also find us on Facebook.com/watchmenproductions.
Larry Jordan: That website is watchmen.de, and Christopher Zitterbart is the Managing Director and producer at Watchman Productions. Christopher, thanks for joining us today.
Christopher Zitterbart: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Miss Beki Probst is the Director of the European Film Market and has been since 1988. She’s involved with the Berlinale itself since 1981, and under her direction Miss Probst has seen the EFM grow into one of the largest and most significant international film markets. There is a lot to see at this year’s EFM which, of course, stands for the European Film Market, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to speak with the person who’s the head. Welcome, Beki, good to have you with us!
Beki Probst: Thank you. Thank you for calling me, Larry.
Larry Jordan: Since 1988?
Beki Probst: Yes. Unbelievable! It’s part of my life.
Larry Jordan: What is the European Film Market?
Beki Probst: Well, the European Film Market is a part of the film festival, the so-called Berlinale, and I would describe it as the commercial part, because you know, you have the festival and in the festival you have competition and different sidebar, and then you have the market. Like any other market, you do propose to people your films, in that case it’s films, and you try to find buyers. That’s the role of the film market, you know, because I think that when someone makes a film as a director, a producer or a sales agent, all that he wants is to sell the film so first he recoups the money and second also to that he gets an audience.
Larry Jordan: Is this like a trade show, where people set up tables? I’ve never been to a film market. If I walked in the room, what’s it look like?
Beki Probst: They don’t set up tables. We have quite a sophisticated market. They have very nice so-called booths and they are quite designed and we have two locations, one location is really quite spectacular because it’s unique to have a film market in a museum. One of our location is a very, very famous museum of Berlin, very Art Deco, it’s called the Martin-Gropius Museum, and even for the museum directors, it’s like the invasion of the barbarians because to have a market in a museum is quite extraordinary.
Beki Probst: The other location is like when you go to the American Film Market and you have set up in the Loews and Le Merigot. The other location is in a hotel close by, which is the Marriott Hotel, that’s our two locations.
Larry Jordan: Well, you’ve been running the EFM since 1988, and you actually helped rename it from the Film Fair to the European Film Market, but back that long ago film markets weren’t particularly famous. What was it that attracted you to running the film market?
Beki Probst: Well, you know, I live in Switzerland, and I am an exhibitor. I run cinemas in the little city where I live in Bern, and the director at that time in Berlin was Moritz De Hadeln, and I knew him because before Berlin he was running the Locarno Film Festival, and I was involved with the Locarno Film Festival where I was organizing a trade show like you mentioned a trade show before.
Beki Probst: One day Moritz, who had already that Film Messe here in Berlin, asked me if I would take over, you know, and I was in a middle age, let’s say, and I said well, not bad, a new challenge in my life! So I went for it, and when I came here Berlin was completely a city I didn’t know. I spoke some German because I lived in Switzerland, but not the pure German, because in Switzerland we do have another kind of German called the Swiss-German.
Beki Probst: Also, what was really not going with me was the name Film Messe because, you know, here under the name of Messe you have a lot, you can sell carpets, furniture, food under Messe, and I wanted something more particular to the film industry and thinking you have in the States already an American Film Market, we are in Europe, so I will name it European Film Market, which caused in the beginning, some confusion because thought oh my God, it’s only for European films. But then, of course, with the time everyone understood no, it’s international. It’s just because we are based in Europe. It took a while, you know, until people got used to it, but now it became a good name and I hope, after my departure, that they are not going to change it, because I think it’s a good name.
Larry Jordan: We’re going talk about this year in just a second, but as you look back on the time you’ve spent with the Film Market, what are some of the highlights? What are some of the outstanding memories?
Beki Probst: Well, I have so many memories, you know? Because everything was so different at that time. First the market was very small. I had, I don’t know, maybe eight people working. We were a team of eight people, today we are a team of 30 and something. It was a very cozy time, I would call it – cozy – and I remember sitting and doing badges with our hands, you know, producing the badges, and all those kinds of beautiful small things that today, of course, when you get bigger certain things disappear.
Larry Jordan: Well let’s get bigger. We now have a staff of 30, and we’re getting ready for this year’s Film Market, what are some of the highlights we can look forward to this year?
Beki Probst: For me, every year I must really say very frankly it’s a new challenge. It’s not that I think oh, last year wasn’t bad so this year is also going to be good. I always have the anxiety that it’s like I’m not a gambler, but I can imagine when you play cards or poker or roulette you have that anxiety, because you never know are you going to win, are you gong to lose. You never know how it’s going to come out. So every year you have that anxiety which, in a way, I think is not bad, like this, as the French say, you don’t sleep over your palms, you see?
Beki Probst: So, this year I must say when I look at the numbers, no matter that the world has a lot of problems out there, we just have to see the news on television to see what’s going on, it stayed very stable in the numbers. We even have more companies than last year. We have more offices than last year. We have until now almost 800 films alone in the market.
Larry Jordan: 800?
Beki Probst: So we have, in one week, believe it or not, 1070 or 1080 screenings…
Larry Jordan: Wow!
Beki Probst: …in 39 cinemas. And we’ve been programming now since the beginning of January. That’s quite an exercise. I call it my mental Sudoku, so I don’t do Sudoku, I do that, programming.
Larry Jordan: What kinds of films are screened at the market?
Beki Probst: All kinds, you know? Because as the market was growing and you had also more companies here, and we have, of course, the main thing remains art house films, but we do have also a lot of you know, so-called… We don’t have Harry Potter, because the studios they don’t use the market, they don’t need it, but we have quite mainstream films and family films and yes, a good mixture. I call it it’s like the department store now.
Larry Jordan: EFM really reflects the industry because you’ve got so many different films. How have you seen the market change over the last several years? Is there a trend that people are paying more attention to or has the type of films remained pretty much constant?
Beki Probst: Well, you know, first the attitude of people changed, I would say. We only start the six officially, but they will be coming here already on the Monday and they want to have screenings and they want to have appointments. You know, everything became very hectic. People are in another rhythm today. It’s maybe because of the new technology, because when they come here they are very well informed, they’ve been through our website to see what kind of films and all that.
Beki Probst: The second thing that changed is, of course, the kind of films, because the films are reflecting the actual state of the world, also.
Larry Jordan: It seems as though, as you were talking about, the market is growing every year despite what some people are saying are very difficult economic times. Why is the market still popular, and why do people still come?
Beki Probst: Well, I think that the film industry is for me like a machine that can’t stop. Because if it stops there are too many things that will go, I mean jobs and all that. People keep it going, and you always have, in the film industry, wonderful surprises. Suddenly a film comes out of nowhere and become a huge success.
Beki Probst: I don’t know if you are aware, two years ago the French had with the film Les Intouchables, something they couldn’t even dream of. I mean this film is a gourmand film. I remember very well in Cannes I saw a trailer of that film, and I must confess I didn’t think that is going to be the film of the year, or the film of the years to come because I don’t know where they will be a second Les Intouchables, and the film, as far as I know has been bought by Weinstein and has been released in the States. You know about that handicapped very rich man who has a man who takes care of him, that friendship between the two of them. Does it sound a bell to you? I have no idea of the English title.
Larry Jordan: Does the market have programs for first time or young filmmakers?
Beki Probst: We don’t have a specific program. You know that there is here something called Talent Berlinale, and they take care of young talents coming, and we will have them this year in that museum with a stand present because I think that the market has to also give an opportunity to upcoming talents, because those are the new generation.
Larry Jordan: When does the Film Market open?
Beki Probst: We open on next Thursday, the 6th of February.
Larry Jordan: I won’t tell anybody, you can just tell me, do you have any surprises in store that we should look forward to?
Beki Probst: Well, you know, Larry, it’s very hard for me to tell you about surprises, because how do you imagine that I have been through all those films?
Larry Jordan: Where can people go on the web to learn more about the film market?
Beki Probst: The website, berlinale.de, that’s the website.
Larry Jordan: The website is berlinale.de and from there you can get to the European Film Market and Beki Probst has been the Director of the European Film Market since 1988. Beki, this has been a wonderful visit. Thanks for taking the time.
Beki Probst: Thank you very much, Larry. I hope to meet you somewhere.
Larry Jordan: That would be my pleasure.
Beki Probst: Thank you.
Larry Jordan: Nick Dager is a veteran tech reporter, who is currently Editor and publisher of The Digital Cinema Report. Nick has just returned from Utah’s Art House Convergence Conference with news on the past, present and future of art house cinema. Welcome, Nick.
Nick Dager: Thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: And Nick is it Dager or Dagger? I may have mispronounced it.
Nick Dager: It’s Dager. You said it right.
Larry Jordan: Dager? Well, thank you. I have screwed up so many names in my life I figure I might as well just ask!
Nick Dager: It’s easy to do, yes!
Larry Jordan: You’ve just returned from Utah’s annual Art House Convergence, first of all what is it?
Nick Dager: It’s a convention that sort of grew organically about seven or eight years ago from art houses in what used to be mainly North America, but it’s expanding quickly. A group of people went to Sundance one year and decided since they had shared interests to have dinner. The first dinner was apparently about 20 people, and eventually that grew into a show that this year was more than 400 people with a hundred new attendees and they drew people from all over Europe and Australia and Canada, primarily North America, but the focus is what’s called an art house? The problem is what is an art house?
Larry Jordan: I was just going to ask you that question. What is it?
Nick Dager: It’s sort of hard… It’s like obscenity, you know it when you see it. They’re self-defined and they’re very independent people. I think what they share is basically a love of cinema. They love movies, old, new, but they love movies for the storytelling aspect, definitely not especially for the moneymaking aspect.
Larry Jordan: Well, that gets right to the heart of it. Is the art house cinema thriving or dying?
Nick Dager: Yes and No. I just posted an article on Digital Cinema Report called The Art House Paradox…
Larry Jordan: Which I’m about to ask you about. Go ahead.
Nick Dager: Most of them, I’d say 40% of them are, in fact, thriving, doing well, although doing well in that world is not making a lot of money it’s surviving, it’s sustaining and growing. Again, these aren’t people who necessarily care about only making money, they care about saving, conserving and building the cinema world. They’re really great people.
Larry Jordan: Well what is the art house paradox that you wrote about?
Nick Dager: I think a good example of that was there was a young man named Jeremy Saulnier (and speaking of pronouncing names, I hope I said his correctly) but he just completed and sold his first feature film called Blue Ruin, and I was at a presentation at the conference and it was designed to connect art house cinemas more closely with filmmakers.
Nick Dager: He opened his comments by apologizing for the fact that his film is a genre mystery. These people, well the problem is everybody sees a movie and knows when they see it when they think it’s art, but many people, most people have a different opinion of what that is, and there are some purists in the group that a genre film is automatically disqualified.
Larry Jordan: Well, part of being a purist is it tends to attract an older audience. What are art houses doing to attract younger viewers?
Nick Dager: Well, they share that problem with mainstream theatres in that so many young people and older people tend to like to watch movies on television or even on their laptops or their netbooks, and how do you get them in the theatre? And that problem is harder for art house cinemas because, again, many of the purists are trying to convince younger people to see movies that are 50, 60, 70 years old, and that’s not an easy sell when they’re competing with the latest Hunger Games (which, by the way, I think is a great film but I’m not so sure everyone at the conference I was at would agree).
Larry Jordan: Well, you’re the publisher of the Digital Cinema Report. Are art houses participating in the conversion to digital projection?
Nick Dager: Yes, I mean rapidly, and I think the statistic they reported at the show and I have all the statistics on my website for anyone who wants to check them out, but it’s something like 60 or 70% of art house cinemas are digital, and those are the ones that are in the group that’s succeeding.
Nick Dager: To succeed in all kinds of cinema you need multiple screens, that’s one of the problems for many art house cinemas is they’re single screen. The theatres we all tended to go to when we first went to movies and loved those theatres, but it’s difficult to sustain a theatre with one screen and the challenge of converting to digital becomes much less cost effective if you have a single screen, so that’s the paradox. But I’m happy to say that I met at least a dozen at this event that are either adding a digital screen or creating a new art house cinema. So I think the future is bright for the group.
Larry Jordan: Well, you publish a report called Digital Cinema Report, what is that?
Nick Dager: I started Digital Cinema Report 11 years ago, because I believed, and it’s becoming true that I think I was right. That was a terrible sentence! I believe I am correct, because what digital technology has enabled is to grow all kinds of entertainment in theaters. We’re now seeing opera, we’re seeing theatre, we’re seeing independent films increasingly, and those doors were closed in the film world, meaning 35mm world. In the digital world, those doors are opening, and that’s only going to continue, and I do believe, despite young people looking mainly at movies on computers, theaters are going to thrive in the digital world.
Larry Jordan: Who should pay attention to your publication? I mean obviously everybody should read it, but are you looking at theatre owners or movie goers or producers or who?
Nick Dager: Well, I’d like to think everybody should read it, but in fairness Digital Cinema Report is designed for motion picture professionals, whether the people who make movies, edit movies, distribute movies or show them in their theaters. So it’s business to business, but I think there are things of interest for everyone who loves movies there.
Larry Jordan: We are headlong into the conversion from film to digital over the last, oh, decade for sure, and we’re getting close to the end where all of our projection will be digital or most of it. If you were to sort of sum up, what’s been the biggest sea change you’ve seen? What would that be over the last five years?
Nick Dager: Mm, gosh, that’s a tough question! I think the difficult part of answering that is we’re still, despite the fact that so many theaters are converted, we’re still in the transition era. We’re trying to figure out what the answer is to your question. What I think the answer is, we don’t know.
Larry Jordan: Well, that’s part of what makes the future exciting!
Nick Dager: That is, and that’s why I enjoy what I do, because if I could answer that question I probably would have to close shop!
Larry Jordan: And for people that want to check out your shop, where can they go on the web to learn more?
Nick Dager: It’s digitalcinemareport.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s digitalcinemareport.com, and Nick Dager is the Editor and publisher for the Digital Cinema Report. Nick, thanks for joining us today.
Nick Dager: Larry, it’s a pleasure.
Larry Jordan: My pleasure. Take care, bye-bye.
Nick Dager: Bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: One of the things I enjoy doing is watching the evolution of the Digital Production Buzz website over time, and one of the things that we’ve been experimenting with recently has been the whole idea of transcripts for the show, and I’ve been blown away by how well received those have been, because many times, much though everybody would love to spend the time listening to the show you just want to get some specific information, or get a quote from a particular guest, and the transcripts, which are posted to each show page are a vast resource to be able to get access to the information that you need.
Larry Jordan: If you haven’t had a chance to wander around the Buzz website, there’s a couple of specific areas I’d like to showcase for you. The first is the transcripts that are on the show page.
Larry Jordan: Also, on the home page, on the left hand side, the Buzz publishes news on a daily basis. We have all of our shows, we have individual interviews and, on the left hand side, on the sidebar is a list of the most popular news items, the most popular interviews and the most popular shows. You get a chance to see and hear what other people are listening on, and listening to, and it’s interesting to me seeing how different subjects bubble up and what becomes popular one day versus another.
Larry Jordan: Each of those most popular tracking devices looks at the last seven days, so you can see what’s been the most popular event over the last seven days. And if you haven’t explored a little bit deeper into the Buzz website, take a couple minutes and look at the individual interview archives. Here, every interview gets broken out into its own audio file, so again, if you don’t have the time to listen to the entire show but there’s a particular guest or particular subject you’re interested in, the interviews are categorized by year, they’re categorized by company, they’re categorized by the guest’s name and they’re categorized by key words. It makes it easy to find the state of the industry in a particular industry that you’re interested in learning more about.
Larry Jordan: So we’ve got the show archives, which have transcripts, our most popular over the last seven days listing on the home page, and we have the individual interview archives.
Larry Jordan: A website that’s going to be expanding as we get closer to April is our sister website, which you can link to from the Buzz website, but it’s NABshowbuzz.com. This is going to cover all of our NAB Show coverage, of which there is going to be just dozens of hours of programming and hundreds of interviews, as we get closer, we’ll be telling you more about it.
Larry Jordan: But for those of you who want to be able to get into NAB free, be sure to visit the Buzz homepage, click on the button the right hand side that says NAB and when you register if you use our secret code, which is LV6239, you’ll be able to sign up for the exhibit floor at no extra cost, and we’re happy to make that pass available to you.
Larry Jordan: Thinking of wonderful things, NAB is wonderful. It’s one of my favorite toy stores throughout the year, but we’ve had great guests tonight as well. Peter Hamilton is a consultant specializing in non-fiction television and we’re grateful for his time tonight. Christopher Zitterbart, the producer at Watchman productions; Beki Probst, the head of the European Film Market, and Nick Dager, the Editor and publisher of the Digital Cinema Report.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot happening at the Buzz between shows. Visit digitalproductionbuzz.com, click on the Latest News to get our latest news story. Visit with us on Twitter @dpbuzz and Facebook at digitalprodictionbuzz.com.
Larry Jordan: Music on the Buzz is provided by Smart Sound. Text transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription. Our producer is Cirina Catania, our engineer Adrian Price. On behalf of Mike Horton, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to the Buzz!
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