MGM Motion Picture Group’s Pamela Abdy and Michael de Luca, president and chairman respectively, have affirmed their commitment to making original stories as other studios increasingly rely on existing properties.
Acknowledging MGM’s own big IP, such as James Bond and the Creed films being spun out of the Rocky franchise, the pair said they see their primary opportunity in this market as discovering new stories and focusing on theatrical. Their comments came during a panel hosted by CAA’s Roeg Sutherland at this year’s Zurich Summit, held as part of the Zurich Film Festival.
“We thought there was a lane open for the movies Hollywood used to make – bold provocative originals,” commented de Luca. “Not everything has to be a tentpole or a franchise entry.”
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“We felt that the legacy studios had left originality in the rear viewer mirror, they had become very risk adverse, making the same kind of movie again and again,” the exec continued. “We thought there was an opportunity for a studio to stand up and fly the flag of original films made by the finest directors we could entice.”
Sutherland asked the pair why MGM had doubled down on acquiring projects during the pandemic while many companies were reducing their output.
“We’re an indie studio, we don’t have unlimited resources,” de Luca responded. “I think whenever you’re at a smaller, scrappier company, you look to what the big guys aren’t doing. We’re very opportunistic. What can we be doing that they’re not doing?
“When we saw their response to the pandemic – that theatrical had an uncertain future – the streamers exploited that to their advantage. We thought, let’s do the opposite,” he continued. “It wasn’t fun shooting movies during the pandemic but it was possible, as long as we could lock them down safely. We decided to double down on production and have movies for release when this pandemic finally recedes – we thought there’d be an appetite for original movies on the other side.”
“It was actually a real opportunity for us – we were able to be really aggressive quickly and build up an arsenal of films that we could make when the world started to open up,” added Abdy.
It has been an incredibly challenging period for cinemas – though during other panels here at Zurich it was noted that certain territories such as Denmark are recovering positively – but the MGM duo affirmed they were committed to theatrical releases.
“Audiences are always looking for something original,” stated de Luca. “Theatrical has that FOMO [fear of missing out] feeling. We’re looking for projects with that special sauce. People will show up for something that’s not pandering, derivative.”
“Originality gets people back into theaters?” Posed Sutherland.
“Absolutely,” replied Abdy.
Both execs talked up the desire from talent for the movies they make to be released theatrically.
“The good news for us is we don’t have to do a heavy sales pitch – the filmmakers we work with prefer theatrical,” said de Luca. “They are two very distinct experiences if you’re Paul Thomas Anderson, George Miller, Ridley Scott, they all prefer the theatrical experience for their movies. We give them that choice.”
The pair admitted they had lost some projects to streamers, on one occasion because a particular unnamed talent “preferred not to have the burdening of an opening weekend on their shoulders”.
Their comments on theatrical come, of course, in the context of Amazon’s pending acquisition of the indie studio.
Regarding the Amazon deal, de Luca said that while it was under review by the FTC the two companies continued to operate as separate entities, and that neither of them “will know what the integration will look like until we’re on the other side of it”.
“MGM has been around for a really long time, they’ve made some of the best movies of all time. We hope to continue in that tradition – when the audiences see the lion they know it’s curated, they know there is thought that went into the slate,” said Abdy on the company’s future.
De Luca agreed that being selective was key to surviving in the current landscape. “I don’t think you win the streaming wars, or any war, with blanket volume. No consumer goes, ’I love that company, they gave me the most crap’. But they will remember, ‘I love that company, they gave me the best stuff,” he commented.
MGM is screening No Time To Die at Zurich next week, one day after its London premiere. “We are moving James Bond to next year…” De Luca said at the beginning of the panel, “… I’m joking,” he clarified.