SELECTED NEWS MAY 2021


May 2021


2021 ACADEMY AWARDS CEREMONY

The Academy has been criticized these past few years for its lack of diversity in selecting nominees.

In 2020, the film “Parasite” from Korean Director Bong Joon-ho won an impressive 4 Oscars, respectively for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Film. 2021 was the year the Academy confirmed its path, opening the door to more minorities within the film industry.

Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Animation, and original score.

TV ratings were at a record low with 58% less viewership compared to last year. This is over 13 million people who decided to watch something else. To be honest, without removing merits to those who won, the competition was not as fierce due to the lack of productions in 2020. However, we believe "Nomadland" would still have won. The $5 million budget feature film directed by Chloe Zhao won for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress for Frances McDormand, who is also a co-Producer.

Questions about the future of the ceremony remain. What will it take to come back strong and generate viewership at the same past levels?


THE INDEPENDENT FILM

We keep hearing we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Mass vaccination combined with lower infection rates and well-established protocols are making independent Filmmakers and Producers optimistic about resuming live production this summer, yet insurance companies and banks are dragging their feet. Small budget productions seem to be favored but large budgets are still considered a much higher risk with the pandemic slowing down in the US but gaining ground in other parts of the world. When financing and insuring a large film production, business plans take into account the international box office as much as the domestic.


Uncertainty is still flying like a dark cloud above many projects this year. Is optimism enough to launch the production machine again? As soon as insurance companies will lower their Covid-era premiums, it will be easier to resume production. Specialty insurances are still too high, and many projects remain on stand-by, as very few productions can spend up to 10% of their budget on insurance.

As for the banks, they will not lend for principal photography without a completion bond. A bond company cannot guarantee delivery without Covid-19 insurance. It is a situation that has battered the indie film world since the virus was declared a pandemic in March 2020.

So, can we really see the light at the end of the tunnel?


THE STREAMING WAR

Clearly, traditional TV networks are seeing VOD platforms as their future. CBS with Paramount+, NBC with Peacock, Disney+ and HBO Max were launched into a competitive landscape dominated by Netflix and Amazon. Discovery recent earnings report is showing that being a popular network does not guarantee success in streaming. Launched in January, Discovery + has reached 15 million subscribers in the first quarter yet is turning a net income way under expectations. On the other side, Peacock gained 42 million subscribers in the first quarter, beating earnings expectations.


The big challenge platforms face is the investment required to created dedicated content. With the weather warming up and summer coming, pandemic restrictions are relaxing. People are not going to spend as much time in front of their TV and we can expect they will make a final call on which platform to subscribe to and keep. They will not subscribe to all, and this is where the war will be raging. Of course, content quality and variety will be important in the decision making, and we can expect platforms to invest millions in marketing to gain traction over their immediate competitors.


PUBLIC BROADCASTING

In North America, PBS intended to celebrate its 50th anniversary last year, but the pandemic halted their roll out plans. The surprise, however, came from a strong desire on the part of viewers to get unbiased information on the pandemic and other subjects touching the lives of Americans, far from the usual bias found on private channels. The role of PBS in this polarized environment is more crucial than ever.


In many ways, 2020 has underlined the objective of the public network to inform, entertain and educate, a mission it has had for the past 50 years.

The daily "NewsHour" has seen its viewership increase substantially last year and the community oriented local stations have partnered with school districts to organize remote learning while schools were closed.

The ever-challenging aspect of public broadcasting is its financing. Part of it is coming from large institutions, suffering themselves with the downturn of the pandemic. Because of viewers searching for more public programing, there have been increased donations allowing PBS to survive.

Some of the documentaries and shows on PBS are simply not to be missed. Nature, Nova, the Ken Burns docuseries and soon, the broadcast of "Sergio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration". This film about famed Brazilian musician will premiere as part of special programming on PBS stations in June 2021 and is derived from the feature documentary “Sergio Mendes: In The Key Of Joy” by filmmaker John Scheinfeld.


AL SCHMITT

Recording Engineer extraordinaire, Al Schmitt passed away on April 26 at the age of 91.

Regardless of your age or music style preference, chances are you have a CD/Vinyl with Al Schmitt as the Recording Engineer. Along with producer Tommy Li Puma, Schmitt recorded hundreds of albums, balancing art and technique for our listening pleasure. Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Henry Mancini, Sam Cooke, Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young, Barbara Streisand, Al Jarreau, Michael Franks, Steely Dan, Toto, Diana Ross and many others have requested to work with Al Schmitt.

“This is smooth as silk,” said Al Schmitt when describing his work with Diana Krall, one artist with whom he had a long relationship. Al knew how to capture an artist sound to create a masterpiece.

Al experienced the evolution of the recording technology, from 2 track tapes to digital multitrack, and was a master at setting up a studio with microphones to record music. Al preferred older tube microphones and would set them up his own way, knowing the outcome in advance.

In many ways, Recording Engineers are artists of their own. Rudy Van Gelder created a specific jazz sound for CTI records and Blue Note, and Al Schmitt did the same for Capitol. He will be dearly missed.


SALTO

This is the name given to the new French streaming service, created at the initiative of 3 major networks: TF1, France Television and M6. These TV channels already had their own app with the possibility to stream live TV and content but with Salto, you can now enjoy a commercial free experience with programs from these 3 networks.

This new "a la carte" service costs 7 Euros per month ($8.50).

To attract subscribers, Salto is working on creating original content, and to follow the Netflix model, creating a kid’s area with exclusive content for kids.

The ever-growing streaming giants from North America (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) are gaining market shares everywhere in the word. The popularity of streaming platforms is a sign that European TV networks need to invest in the streaming race. Very much like in the United States, European TV see their commercial future in streaming.


CHINA AND THE FILM INDUSTRY

Chinese have developed over the past few years a strong interest in movies, attracting western operators to explore the potential of reaching over a billion viewers.

Selling a film made in the Western World to Chinese distribution is very difficult, the storyline being subject to approval and censorship from the government. Only a few get approved per year.

One way of being distributed is to film on location in China. The local laws, however, prohibits any non-Chinese Filmmaker to shoot independently in China. So, Producers have to find a Chinese partner, and/or a Chinese studio.

Even for local productions, censorship is very powerful. There are no ratings left to the appreciation of the viewers, and Censors are making decisions about which films are allowed in theaters and other medias.


Censorship in China is so powerful that you may be blacklisted for any film activities seen by the government as a danger to their establishment.

Another impediment is the lack of talented professionals in all categories. When co-producing with Chinese studios, Filmmakers will be forced to work with local artists and technicians, which could have quite different work methods.

The Chinese box office is highly manipulated and do not reflect accurately the success of a film in theaters. Quotas and time limits are also imposed on foreign films.

IP protection is still an issue, but the Chinese film industry is recognizing the need to protect IP regardless of its origin.

Reaching the Chinese market is difficult for non-Chinese Filmmakers and Producers, but things are changing, and China has realized that reciprocity is key to the success of their entertainment export. DOCUMENTARIES FROM AFRICA

"My Octopus Teacher" won Best Documentary Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards.

This is not surprising, the unlikely relationship between a human and an octopus off the South African shore is a very compelling and heartwarming story which was beautifully produced.

Documentary Filmmakers are now in high demand, and the multiplication of streaming platforms hungry for fresh content is giving them more opportunities for their projects. Africa beyond the traditional documentary showing wildlife, has a lot to offer, from unknown subjects to rich cultures and landscapes.

The road to success for African documentary Filmmakers can be long and filled with obstacles. Stories are not lacking, as there is much to film about, but until recently, most Producers were Europeans. Finding local financing is still a major issue, but the situation is slowly changing. Even as local funding remains scarce, international investors are recognizing talents and potentials and are willing to support local documentary Filmmakers. More and more African projects are also being selected in various festivals all over the world. This is encouraging and is opening the eyes of the streaming platforms when it comes to diversify their offering.