With no end to the dual strikes on the horizon — speaking at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday, SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said he saw no sign the major studios and streamers will willing to return to the negotiating table —the independent film industry is beginning to adjust to the possibility of that the actors and writers walkouts could potentially continue for months, perhaps well into next year. What that means for the business of making and selling indie films is the subject of most conversations overheard before screenings and over drinks among industry executives at TIFF.
A production slow-down is inevitable. It, in fact, is already underway as many shovel-ready productions weigh whether to apply for interim agreements from the unions which allow them to go ahead with shooting but bind them to the terms SAG demanded of AMPTP back on July 12, including things like using specific metrics to calculate streaming residuals, terms the studios and streams have rejected. The ongoing writers strike —which has already lasted more than 130 days —means no new scripts are being written. One European distributor expressed frustration at the lack of marketable pre-sale projects at the TIFF market this year. “The agencies are dusting off scripts from 6-7 years ago that they couldn’t sell, on the hope we’ll bite,” he noted.
International producers, not bound to SAG guidelines and will easier access to soft money in the form of government subsidies and tax credits, think they could be well-positioned to fill the production gap.
“We can get movies made and big movies,” said Louise Vesth of Denmark’s Zentropa, a producer on Nicolaj Arcel’s Danish period epic The Promised Land starring Mads Mikkelsen, which premiered in Venice and is screening at TIFF (the film sold, pre-strike, to the Magnolia Pictures for the U.S.) “It looks like most buyers have enough movies to hold them through the end of the year but after that, there could be an opportunity.”
“If supply decreases with Hollywood on strike, we need to be ready with our products for the international market as well,” said Francesco Rutelli, president of the Italian national audiovisual association Anica, speaking at a panel at the Venice Film Festival last week. Nicola Maccanico, CEO of storied Rome backlot Cinecittà, said the time has come for international filmmakers to “conquer the world market.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, several international distributors said they were already looking at non-U.S. titles to fill out their 2024 and 2025 slates. “Everyone is looking at the British, Australian, Canadian films with big stars,” said one London-based producer, saying English-language films can “feel Hollywood” in foreign markets, making them a good substitute for U.S. movies.
But Fabien Westerhoff at British production and sales group Film Constellation says he has seen several projects “exploring a shift to Europe as a location” to shoot during the strikes, he does not think long-term, non-American movies can replace missing U.S. productions in the market.
“U.S. productions cater to a specific corner of the market, so the opportunity effect for non-U.S. films is limited from a distribution point of view.”
Alex Ritman contributed to this report.