Many distributors have expressed their commitment to cinema, but few have taken their money as seriously as IFC Films President Arianna Bocco.
The Executive is helping to save a centuries-old movie theater (Jack Nicholson was an usher!) in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, where Bocco moved from New York City during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bocco joined forces with a group of people, including New Jersey native actor Patrick Wilson, who were interested in revitalizing the space. The investor group bought the building and was in the process of raising funds for renovations, with plans to reopen it as a first-run, three-screen cinema known as The Bradley.
As for her day job, Bocco has helped oversee increased buying at indie distribution, which has picked up seven titles from both this year’s Sundance Film Festival and SXSW, including Thandiwe Newton in the lead role god’s country and comedy turn me around with Aubrey Plaza and Alison Brie.
Bocco spoke before Cannes THR on the operations of IFC Films, the shifting sentiment regarding day-and-date releases and acquiring titles with sister companies of AMC Networks such as Shudder, RLJE and AMC+.
Do you think Zoom Dealmaking will stay here?
We’ve grown accustomed to the efficiency of running the market meetings on Zoom, but what I really missed was the face-to-face interaction [element]. It’s the same concept of seeing a film in a cinema that was also part of Cannes, but without air conditioning, which is really difficult, but you can’t replace meeting face to face in person. It was really last year going to Cannes, which confirmed that not only do I believe it will come back, but it will come back in force.
Has COVID changed your strategy on what you bought?
COVID has shaped our strategy in several ways. Part of that is what we bought because it performed better on a digital-leaning strategy. And part of that was also what was available in the market and a lot of what was filmed during COVID were genre films. They are more restrained and generally not very expensive to manufacture. Our corporate strategy also changed during COVID in terms of how we shopped. Now I’m looking at strong divisions like Shudder and like RLJE that allow us to use our collective buying power in the market instead of acting separately and working against each other.
How do you decide when to work with RLJE or Shudder on an acquisition?
[Shudder] has a very specific target group. They have a very clear idea of what type of films they acquire that will best suit their audience. In recent years we have often overlapped in this area. Now it’s more beneficial to make our two brands what we do best which is to position the film and the filmmaker in the cinema window from a marketing PR standpoint and create awareness of the film and then partner with Shudder in the first number window. So when it comes to that, we created that awareness for the film. We’ve been collaborating on marketing materials and PR to really make sure it works for our two platforms and our two windows
How has it been seeing the major studios switch to day and date more regularly in the pandemic?
I recently read that Jason Kilar (former WarnerMedia CEO) said they invented Day-and-Date. You started it. My friends at Magnolia and even Tom Quinn who started at Radius, we all kind of laugh because we have 15 years of film experience day in and day out. I find it amazing that the industry has finally shifted to where we knew it would always go. When that wall with the exhibition started to crumble a bit in terms of window design, it really opened a door for larger companies and studios to experiment with something we already knew. That means you don’t lose your audience, instead use dual streams to grow your audience – to get more from your marketing dollars. When we started Day-and-Date 15 years ago, I remember people saying, ‘You’re killing cinema. How can you do that?” We’ve always taken the approach that our goal was to get as many people as possible to see a film. We can’t release films like we did 20 years ago. Audiences have changed Generations are different Teenagers today as adults will have different habits than we did when we were that age.
How important is theater for your business model?
It’s still very important. It’s still how we can really get our press, advertising and marketing out there. And you can never place that magical personal experience of seeing a movie in a dark theater. Once we, as distributors, can ensure that we are providing the best experience for audiences, they will keep coming back. It’s still the cheapest form of entertainment. In terms of going out for an evening of entertainment, it really is. I just don’t see that kind of experience going away anytime soon.
Do you think the arthouse theater market has fundamentally changed after the pandemic?
It’s changed fundamentally, but I’m not sure yet if that’s a negative. There’s a certain aspect of the audience that we’ve lost for sure, probably the older art house crowd. But I think what we’re seeing is that younger viewers are more engaged than they were. It’s a bit of a compromise and that could potentially affect what’s acquired and what’s released in theaters. When a younger audience comes into the cinemas, it is our job as a distributor to nurture that audience and to connect with that audience. [But also] not leaving out our core audience of older arthouse-goers – to ensure they get films to engage with. But trying to get her back? I’m not sure. The general feeling is that we’ve lost a certain percentage of that audience.
Filmmakers have been pushed around a lot during and after the pandemic when it came to distribution. What would you say to filmmakers who may be feeling discouraged by the current distribution process?
I felt with so many filmmakers that they never got a festival experience or their film was sold to another company. We tried to be very, very transparent with our filmmakers. I would say to the filmmakers that they should try to have a really amazing support system to guide you through these processes and for transparency. But also try to understand the market and not just the first 30 days but the bigger picture. What is the life of the film like?
The big streamers pick up packages earlier and leave smaller films on the market. Did you notice this trend?
We noticed it and we also participated in it. We engage in earlier stages, in pre-buy script packages. In competition, it became a necessity. Our Film Season of the Year used to be 95 percent acquired on the open market. It’s increasingly difficult to do that these days when there’s people like Netflix or Amazon that we can’t compete with in an open market for a finished film, but we can if we get in at earlier stages. It’s easier when those conversations start earlier. COVID halted production so there was less to buy and it forced us to a place where we had to. The market offered no finished films.
In the pandemic, you’ve started reopening an old movie theater in a small town in New Jersey. How did this happen?
This happened at the very beginning of 2020. I have a beach house in this town and in March 2020 when everything was closed I just decided to move there. It’s a very small town in New Jersey and I found myself loving it. I heard that the cinema which is a hundred year old cinema started when vaudeville cinema and Jack Nicholson ushered in there. I heard an evangelical church was making an offer and my heart broke because it’s part of our main street and has created a culture in the area. So I just called the mayor and said, “How can I help?” And that was it. I was done. [Laughs]