Europa Distribution and Venice Production Bridge bring together distributors and producers to enhance the workflow from creation to audience engagement

By Jesús Silva Vilas

In a new effort to foster collaboration within the film industry, Europa Distribution organised the first international working session bringing together distributors and producers. This initiative marked the launch of a new partnership with the Venice Production Bridge in the framework of the 80th Venice International Film Festival. On Sunday, 3 September, a diverse group of over 30 professionals from both fields, coming from all over the world, gathered at the Hotel Excelsior in Lido for a closed workshop titled “Connecting the dots: Film distributors and producers unite to streamline workflow from creation to audiences”. The activity was moderated by Christine Eloy, Managing Director of the international association of independent film publishers.

Divided into five groups, comprising both distributors and producers, the workshop consisted of a 2-hour-long brainstorming session aimed at discussing shared interests and challenges spanning the entire lifecycle of a film. “We are trying to create bridges with other sectors […] The idea is to find ways to ease the workflow between us by exchanging best practices, ideas, needs, and anything that could potentially help improve the cooperation among both parts”, said Eloy. Following the discussion, representatives from each group summarised and shared their collective findings with the rest of the audience.

Vera Herchenbach, Acquisitions Executive at Australia’s Madman Entertainment, began by expressing her group’s concerns regarding the post-COVID landscape. Participants highlighted a few significant changes, including a notable shift in audience behaviour towards cinema attendance and a growing gap in performance between major productions and smaller arthouse films, while the overwhelming number of titles being released leaves limited room for independent films to reach their target audience. Distributors also noticed a lack of innovation among certain filmmakers, who appear to create works focused on the festival circuit but with limited potential for wider distribution. Furthermore, the discussion also addressed rising budgets and increasing minimum guarantees (MGs), which pose a greater risk for distributors. “The unsteadiness of the numbers of people returning to the screens makes it very hard to calculate what you’re actually getting into in terms of financial risks”, in Herchenbach’s words.

The most recurring topic across all roundtables was the necessity to enhance the workflow in relation to promotional materials. Despite the advances in technology and the new possibilities opened up by social media, everyone agreed that the trailer and poster remain the main channels for engaging with the audience and monitoring their interactions. These tools have proved to be remarkably enduring in the ever-evolving landscape of film promotion. “Good materials are essential”, said Mira Staleva, producer and distributor at Art Fest Ltd. (Bulgaria), who insisted that publishers should have early access to a “diverse range of quality posters and stills, allowing them the flexibility to choose and adapt the materials” to suit the particularities of each territory.

Summing up the overall consensus in her group, Staleva underscored the pressing need for a systematic approach to ensure the timely production of promotional assets. One of the ideas that emerged during their discussion was that public funding bodies at a national level should consider implementing guidelines and regulations to compel producers to create and supply the essential materials for the distribution of a film. “They’re interested in their films being distributed, but there are no standards”, said the Bulgarian professional. Based on their experience, various distributors observed that, in numerous instances, they have to start their work while promotional materials are still not there, resulting in delays and inefficiencies. Participants defended that the introduction of such guidelines could effectively solve this issue, streamlining the distribution process and ensuring that quality promotional materials are readily available when needed.

This concern becomes even more prominent in territories with multilingual diversity, where distributors need different promotional materials tailored to various regions, as illustrated by Pascal Traechslin, CEO of Basel-based production and distribution outfit Cineworx: “As a Swiss, I often use two different posters because the taste of the German-speaking people and the French-speaking people are so different […] It’s impossible to work all over Europe with the same assets”. Traechslin acknowledged that obtaining all the necessary promotional materials can be a struggle at times, resulting in a common point of friction between distributors, producers and sales agents. Moreover, he commented on the growing demand for English subtitles, notably in regions such as Scandinavia and Switzerland, where there is substantial interest from the international community.

Unsurprisingly, another important point of discussion was the actual relationship between producers and distributors, starting from the different goals that define their roles in the film industry. While producers have an interest in producing as many films as possible, distributors seek to be more selective and minimise the number of titles they put out, especially after COVID-19. Participants agreed that theatrical remains the main window for distribution, particularly for a considerable number of independent titles. Within this context, the role of producers can prove fundamental, especially when it comes to ensuring the involvement of the film’s talents during promotional activities and special screenings.

As for enhancing collaboration between both sectors, some conclusions revolved around building trust and nurturing relationships based on human interaction. “Nobody mentioned algorithms or AI”, said Charlotte Lund Thomsen, representative for FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers Associations). “On the contrary, we talked a lot about how to have a say, how to have an almost peer review between distribution and production so that the distributor can enter as early as possible in some creative decisions and bring his or her expertise”. Lund Thomsen stressed that distributors play a pivotal role in the industry and suggested that producers should actively seek to engage more with them, forging effective partnerships.

“In terms of future and best practices, we also talked about sharing of materials, social media, talent participation, and collaborative international campaigns”, recapped Eve Gabereau, Founder & CEO of UK’s Modern Films, mentioning the case of the Estonian film Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Anna Hints, 2023), which prepared a comprehensive international campaign for all the distributors to use and customise according to their needs. Herchenbach also underlined the urgency for international cooperation, providing an example which arose from their group, where members from several countries (including Poland, Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania) work together to acquire titles in an almost multi-territorial deal with specific production outfits through individual contracts. “That doesn’t necessarily save money on the MGs, but what it does is leverage”, she explained. “It helps to be taken seriously, being seen as a partner group and possibly as a preference over a studio deal”, considering that local distributors can offer a more attuned connection with their audiences.

The session provided a valuable opportunity to explore new ways for more effective collaboration and to establish meaningful connections, aiming at bridging the existing gaps in the industry. “We don’t have a roadmap, but I think we really came up with a very organic range of ideas”, recounted Lund Thomsen. Based on the positive feedback from the session, Europa Distribution is determined to continue its mission of facilitating a productive exchange of knowledge and best practices between producers and distributors. One of the next steps will be translating the workshop’s findings and recommendations into a set of essential criteria for the creation of promotional materials that producers should provide to distributors to facilitate the implementation of effective marketing campaigns. This toolkit would then be shared among producers to enhance communication between both groups, paving the way for an exciting future in which the film sector can thrive through shared experiences and cooperation.