CAA Media Finance’s Roeg Sutherland, Benjamin Kramer on Protecting the Independent Film Business

CAA Media Finance’s Roeg Sutherland, Benjamin Kramer on Protecting the Independent Film Business

Roeg Sutherland and Benjamin Kramer, who co-lead CAA Media Finance, have been working on the agency-led virtual market in Cannes, and spoke to Variety about the prospects for the independent film scene.

CAA Media Finance’s projects in the market include Antoine Fuqua’s “Emancipation,” starring Will Smith; Dan Gilroy’s “Faster, Better, Cheaper”; Ric Roman Waugh’s “Kandahar,” starring Gerard Butler; “Rebel,” directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah; and Michael Mann’s “Ferrari.”

What was the thinking behind having a uniform, united market rather than every company just doing their own thing?

Roeg Sutherland: In a time where everything seems a little decentralized and complicated, it was important to have the agencies and foreign sales agents band together to present product in an organized manner and not have buyers being pulled in 15 different directions.

The best part about what has happened is that you’ve seen buyers and agencies come together to create a system that allows foreign distributors to participate in an organized manner without stepping on each other’s toes.

Was there any reluctance on the part of the buyers or the producers to go ahead with the market now or did some of them want to wait until the autumn to see if things will have changed?

Roeg Sutherland: No, no one wanted to wait until the autumn. It is so important that we stay connected. And it’s easy for people that are in the U.S. to do so; it’s very easy for local businesses to stay connected amongst themselves. It demands work to be able to stay connected to the rest of the world.

We felt that sooner rather than later, we had to figure out ways to get everybody to connect and talk about what they want and what the future of their territories is; what they’re going to be looking for in the next couple of years.

We had to do something this summer, because the next real market will be AFM, and we’ll try to do something in Toronto, and Toronto will be innovative about it, as might others.

We are all working at the same hospital and trying to work together to keep the business alive and thriving.

The good news is that there’s never been more of a need for content. Consumption has gone up. In terms of money to be able to finance films, and distributors wanting to acquire films, it’s been a seller’s market for us, which has been great.

Two things have been enigmas: Distribution is one and the other is insurance. Insurance has been complicated and is on a film-by-film basis. We have to collectively figure out how to make it work. Hopefully, the federal government, in the next few weeks, will back an insurance bill to address the situation.

Production is starting up. We have movies that are going to be shooting in Australia, Ireland, France, Italy, and Germany.

Travel continues to be a challenge so we are continuing to address ways to keep the independent film industry connected through Toronto and, likely, into AFM. Throughout all of this, there is one constant – audiences around the world have an endless appetite for content.

Benjamin Kramer: The industry is figuring out ways to be able to create content and a system that allows theatrical to still exist, but not to rely entirely on box office. Innovative thinking like Sony’s move to make “Greyhound” and sell it to Apple for a profit is a win for the industry.

Is there going to be a further shift toward streaming on a long-term basis?

Roeg Sutherland: People miss human contact and the minute that they feel safe going out again, people are going to group up. I mean, that is what human nature is.

I saw one comparison with the 1920s when there was a surge in people wanting to go out and party. So, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a negative story…

Roeg Sutherland: In a world where people need to be entertained, they want to be entertained even more. And we’re human beings, we figure out ways to adapt and how to make things better and safer. And we’ll figure this out. We see so many people being creative. Artists are going to continue to create and we will continue to support their work. As we are seeing these past few weeks, there’s never been a bigger appetite for buying films.

Filmmakers are going out to the desert and they’re going to go and film a movie in a house or they’re going to go and film a movie that involves car chases. They are going to create content. Looking at the trades, you see how much movies are selling for. There’s never been a bigger appetite for buying films.

Has there been a sudden shift in terms of the type of content that is popular. I mean, whether it’s comedies or…

Roeg Sutherland: No, there’s no shift since the coronavirus. I mean, no one really wants to watch a movie about someone whose cat was run over. That hasn’t changed. Is there an appeal in the streaming world for movies that are commercial or romantic comedies or things that are uplifting that people need in moments of darkness? Yes. I think that plays better. But there’s no radical change.

Benjamin Kramer: Given the last several weeks, we anticipate a continued interest in stories about justice in all forms, and of heroes overcoming long odds.

We are trying to be innovative and use our position in the industry to help our clients create, and help audiences around the world feel connected and entertained.

In terms of CAA’s business, are you looking to invest in more distribution companies?

Roeg Sutherland: We have long been focused on the international marketplace and have extensive experience in architecting financing and distribution entities [e.g., Elysian Film Group Distribution in the U.K., RT TV in Brazil, etc.] as part of an overall effort to support creators around the world.

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