x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Film industry has to choose freedom or profitmaking

The cinema industry faces a choice between making independent films or surefire moneymakers, a studio chief said yesterday.

DUBAI // The cinema industry faces a choice between making independent films or surefire moneymakers, a studio chief said yesterday.

Movies are a business, the president of Rotana Studios, Dr Hala Sarhan, told a panel discussion at Diff.

Changes in the studio system, pressures on filmmakers and crossing the line between independent and commercial were also under the microscope.

"The audience and market dynamic is changing, that is true. I have to keep a balance and check figures but we have both blockbuster and independent content," she said.

Peter Weir, the director of The Way Back, which was shown at Diff on Wednesday, said that when he started his career in Australia "commercial" was a dirty word.

"That is because, like everywhere, the aim is to make the money back. You had to tailor the budget to the idea while at the same time not give up on your idea," said Weir.

"There is gold out there," he said. "Some individuals in the industry ask why make a movie that turns a little profit as opposed to, say, a zombie animation that also has vampires and can bring in billions of dollars."

He said filmmakers should be given the choice of a full "keyboard to play with", and take some risks. "We must protect new filmmakers because we could be in danger of losing them. I took risks in my career, some were successes and some weren't."

Michael Werner, co-chairman of Fortissimo Films, an international sales and distribution company, said understanding audiences was key.

"Great films begin with great storytelling," he said. "We used to have those great classic movies, then came the studio system, so suddenly young stars and directors had a path laid out for them by these studios."

Another change he noted was when multiplexes replaced art-house cinemas, and he predicted the same will happen with DVDs and new technology.

The Cs that make up cinema, Dr Sarhan said, include creativity, concept, conclusion and "of course commerce", so films such as Microphone, an Egyptian movie about the underground music scene, could be classified as an initial risk.

"But look at what happened when The Hurt Locker won best picture over Avatar, produced with a much bigger budget it gained huge commercial success," she said

"Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 (Dh55,000) to produce and enjoyed at least $40 million in profit. So we cannot deny it is a business."

melshoush@thenational.ae