A host of global independent producers attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival have voiced their concerns on the issue of IP retention when it comes to working with the streamers in their local territories and are urging more agreeable terms in partnerships.
“You cannot run a company out of a producing fee, you have to run it based on exploiting the IP,” said Czech producer Filip Bobiñski, co-founder of Dramedy Productions and a board member of the European Association of Independent Producers.
In a panel hosted by Deadline and Ace Producers at KVIFF’s Industry Days program, Bobiñski was joined by Birdman producer John Lesher from the U.S., Roma producer Nicolás Celis from Mexico and Polish producer Joanna Szymańska to discuss the opportunities and challenges of producing with the streamers in the post-pandemic ecosystem.
While the last few years have gradually seen streamers ramp up investments in international projects, indie producers continue to navigate choppy waters when it comes to financing, production and distribution and there are often cases – especially in smaller territories – where bullish streaming deals are forcing the hand of indie producers to give up IP and lose any residual benefits long term.
“In the Czech Republic we have a lot of content being produced here by the streamers but the added value and creative value is coming from somewhere else,” said Bobiñski, adding the territory is also facing a problem with incentives, given the government announced it would be suspending film production incentives this year.
Lesher noted that the IP issue was not specific to European territories: “They’re trying to do this in the U.S. too. If you have one or two companies dominating a marketplace, the prices go up because they are competing with each other and once they start dominating the market, then they start putting downward pressure on some of these things. I would say that all of the companies, including in the U.S., are trying to make deals where they own 100% of the IP copyright globally.”
The challenge, said Bobiñski, would be ensuring that smaller local territories weren’t in the firing line or at risk of becoming smaller local producers for hire, which impedes on the local industry’s growth trajectory. He said that, in the case of the Czech Republic, it was imperative that the government showed its muscle and took advantage of the AVMS directive which “gives us an opportunity to convince the state that it’s good for the industry and that, legally, it is possible [to leave producers with secondary rights].”
Szymańska said that the content boom was also posing a difficult challenge for local producers in the current climate.
“There’s not enough response from the industry to train new, quality crew, because everybody has an ambition to be a producers these days and all of these producers clash fighting for the money from a streamer,” she says.
However, she pointed to her project Operation Hyacynth, which she made with Netflix, as being one of the “best experiences” she’s had as a producer.
“It was an LGBTQ story and nobody really wanted to pick it up I guess because there was some sort of ‘controversy’ in the topic,” said Szymańska. “But Netflix was the partner that said ‘we loved the script, we love the idea of the package and we want to do it.’ They commissioned it as a Netflix Original in 2019.”
She continued, “They proved to be a super reliable partner who helped us not only to develop the story further but insured us against Covid repercussions and provided cash flow, which we really needed. In professional terms, it was the best experience I’ve had so far.”
For Celis, who worked with Netflix for Roma, said his experience with the streamer was a big learning curve for him. The Alfonso Cuaron project, which he described as a totally “unique experience” was buoyed by a big awards push from the streamer, which saw it go on to with an Oscar for Best International Feature film.
“The big lesson for me with that movie is that if you go, for example, with a first-time director, a second-time director or an internationally known director’s movie, you’ll probably get lost of the platform if you don’t have a lot of festival presence and marketing,” he said.
He added, “After Roma, I realized that Netflix was the best partner for that film but you really need to have as many elements as possible and the movie has to be as strong as possible to get farther.”