Resources & Reports

EFM Industry Sessions 2024

Joining all sessions, filmmaker and consultant Andrew Houchens brings together the key learnings below.
Catch Up on all EFM Morning Briefs 2024 and Industry Insights episodes published during the market here.

FEB 16

“Nick Shumaker, leader of US-based Anonymous Content’s sales and financing wing since 2022, is cautious yet “heartened” by the current state of independent cinema. Alluding to the theatrical successes of recent arthouse hits like The Zone of Interest and The Iron Claw, Shumaker spoke on his learnings running the international co-production arm of a veteran American company and their experience in the world market. Nodding to the significance of good storytelling as a marker of smart global strategy, he highlighted the fact that the class of 2023 indie hits share one thing in common: “utterly distinctive stories”. He also argued the importance of fostering strong, enduring industry relationships to forge opportunities across production and distribution: “I do think industry events like EFM are what curate the next generation of producers and storytellers”. Shumaker further suggested that - as in any healthy feeding ecosystem - “the Hollywood and the independent world need to coexist to continue to propel people to go into different fields”, underlining the crucial nature of their financial codependence. Closing on a high note, Shumaker is “hopeful and optimistic that the trend of going back to theaters will continue over the next years.”

"Producers, generally speaking, must wear many proverbial hats. But how can you strategize for the next three to five years, let alone tomorrow, if you are stuck putting out fires today? In partnership with ACE Producers, this session imagined how producers can be better leaders and film collaborators - somewhat surprisingly - by prioritizing themselves first. Like the example of a parent on a plane adjusting their own oxygen mask before helping their child, a producer must first ensure their own well being in order to guarantee a healthy and productive environment for their team. And thinking ahead is key. “It's sort of like seeing the wave and being able to actually surf it, as opposed to crashing into it,” said veteran Canadian producer Damon D'Oliveira. Italian independent producer Marica Stocchi agreed, and noted the significance of “learning to accept that the best producer you can be is who you already are.” In other words, it’s important to lean into your strengths and weaknesses, and try not to conform to a specific mold or model. The producers candidly spoke of other unavoidable challenges like racism and sexism in the industry. But by facing these ugly realities with patience and grace under fire, and by constantly ntly adapting, producers can be better prepared to plan and strategize their business structures rather than simply fighting against the waves. Both producers championed programs like ACE that encourage a safe space for continued learning and exchanging, but that also significantly create a support network. By being vulnerable and cultivating trust, producers can foster improved psychological safety that in turn makes for better sets and office environments."

FEB 17

“In an ever changing and volatile media landscape, AI has gone from being film’s strange bedfellow to becoming a significant resource empowering and assisting creators in the field. And it continues to evolve from day to day. Speaking to the video quality of AI image and video generating software, AI expert and educator Jacques Alomo noted this was a real problem “until yesterday… but it’s interesting because we couldn’t have answered yesterday, yesterday.” Alomo was referring to news about Sora, a brand new tool from OpenAI which generates incredibly high quality video from simple text prompts, and is sure to be a gamechanger for AI in the audiovisual industry. Learning how to use these tools now will be incredibly beneficial, because it seems they are here to stay. Though content and story will always win, so when working with AI you must always begin with an original, creative idea. Great storytelling, curation, and being flexible were recommendations for working with the medium from AI filmmaking pioneers Curious Refuge. AI can also enhance optimization and creative collaboration across teams. “The possibilities are endless”, was the takeaway from Volodymyr Ovsiienko of Respeecher, an AI tool that generates human voice. They are currently busy at work on an AI-generated animated biopic of Edith Piath. Having faithfully generated the famed French crooner’s voice with the magic of AI, Ovsiienko’s statement on the possibilities of AI doesn’t feel far off.”

"No longer just competing against the Hollywood system in the US, European broadcasters and producers over the continent are now increasingly competing with each other. With the trending desire for local content still high, panel experts discussed the challenges posed by meeting this demand as well as distributing to different audience sectors across borders. While production is exploding with almost a glut of content and tons of incentives available, the experts agreed that there is real need for improved infrastructure and financing around distributing this content. But also, a need for better comprehension of how to reach audiences. “Distribution is about understanding how you reach people in a meaningful way”, said Matthieu Zeller, President & CEO of the Belgian production company Nwave. But at the core you must have quality, unique IP to offer. Only then one can strategize distribution, of course ideally with the support of a healthy ecosystem. Unifrance Executive Director Daniela Elstner expanded on her idea of reaching audiences: "There is no magic. I still think it’s about creating desire… The more we create awareness we can create environmental fulfillment, trying to use more tools like Instagram to get out our content… If we can create more desire with these tools, the gatekeepers will follow.” But it’s clear that the European audiovisual landscape of today needs the help of public institutions and enhanced funding for these strategies to flourish."

"Bringing together players behind the Berlinale 2023 Generation hit Dancing Queen, Screen International’s Wendy Mitchell interrogated how finance, production, sales, distribution and exhibition must all collaborate across the life of a successful film. Norwegian director and producer Thomas Robsahm charted the nearly 10-year trajectory of the film, citing its inspiration from his young daughter’s passion for dance films at the time like High School Musical. He teamed up with his screenwriter wife who penned the script which eventually became the film, with plans now for a sequel. Sales agent Tine Klint of LevelK came on board early, slightly helping shape story elements but mostly encouraging marketing strategies while in production, like ensuring the creation of high quality stills and a poster. LevelK brought live dancers to the Berlinale premiere that created a buzz on Instagram and Facebook, boosting international sales. Buyers and exhibitors were hooked and took the film back to their territories, investing in subtitling and sometimes dubbing given the film is for families and youth aged 6-12. While the theatrical premieres were generally successful this didn’t always translate to great box office over time, but all were content with the film’s overall reach and reception. The work still continues selling to broadcasters and TVoD and SVoD platforms. A year out from the Berlinale premiere, LevelK will also now focus its attention on Latin America and English-speaking territories. Klint nodded to the possibility of working with new AI tools for the English dubbing as a budget-friendly strategy. Robsahm is comfortable with this, as long as it helps connect the film with more audiences. Pre-sales have already begun on the sequel, so get ready for more of the Dancing Queen at a Berlinale to come…"

FEB 18

"Despite an estimated 1.85 billion disabled people globally who represent $13 trillion in disposable income, industry decision makers and gatekeepers have still been slow to realize the potential of making audiovisual content accessible to disabled audiences, across accessible formats and screening locations. How can ableism be dismantled through proactive steps to reach disabled audiences, and to support content coming from disabled viewpoints? Experts and advocates on the panel spoke to tools they are working with to empower increased awareness around needs for disabled individuals at places like film festivals, which Disability Screen Office Executive Director Winnie Luk of Canada said were “the heart and soul the hub of the industry, where everyone whether you're new or established comes together, including audiences and the public.” The hope is that enhanced festival environments can influence the rest of the industry. An “Accessibility Scorecard” surveying festivals and festival attendees has been created to rate experiences around accessibility at any given festival, and to talk about recommendations going forward. The Scorecard was co-created by Amanda Upson of FWD-Docs’, who also discussed the significance of having accessibility coordinators at festivals and on sets for improved conditions for people with disabilities. And it should not just be a contact person, it should be someone trained in various different aspects of various different disabilities. Going further, Luk argued that the role shouldn’t be called “coordinator” as it should be given early and given decision making power to influence budgets, locations, scheduling, and to provide training to teams and crews. But there is still much shame associated with disability, so disabled people should be more and more encouraged to be their authentic selves and speak openly about their experiences in order for the rest of the industry to catch up."

AI is increasingly empowering producers and creators to better understand audiences and movie preferences and to execute better marketing campaigns, enabling higher levels of engagement and improved film performance. While audience design is not a new concept in itself, uing AI as a tool for implementing audience design is still in its relatively early days. Speaking specifically to documentary, experts on the panel discussed how AI generative software can help measure the contemporary interest in a film’s themes, taking a temperature of the cultural zeitgeist around a given topic. Audience design should ideally happen as early as possible, but the technologists emphasized that AI capabilities around audience metrics should only be a tool and are not intended as a means to generate film ideas. In other words, AI shouldn’t be used just to meet perceived audience expectations. A human idea and passion for a subject - especially important for documentary filmmakers - must come before all. And there must be trust between the audience designer (AI or human) and the filmmaker, so that goals and expectations are clear. While AI audience design tools are breaking ground and saving valuable time, there’s still a need for financing and financing structures around them. Many small studios and indie filmmakers still can’t afford to work with these tools along with fundraising for everything else in their already limited budgets. “If we can use the technology to follow this path better I think it would be really nice”, said Paul Rieth, Strategist, Speaker & Author. But Rieth underlined that the implementation should still be hybrid alongside human contribution, as the limitations of the AI tools for example to adequatey predict audience engagement across different platforms were pointed out.

"‘Complexity’ seems like exactly the right word,” described research fellow Roderik Smits in his overview of the contemporary landscape for online releasing in Europe. Presented in association with Europa Distribution, buyers and distributors discussed the particular challenges and opportunities facing each of their distinct territories. Anastasia Plazzotta of Wanted Cinema in Italy pointed to the disappointing profits for AVOD, which was heralded only a couple of years ago as a potential boon for distributors. All agreed that the panorama is constantly shifting. “The taste of audiences is always changing, but also how they're watching is changing. So it's also about buying the right stuff”, added Elise Maria F. van Marcke of The Searches, representing Benelux. “But every movie is a different approach and has a different audience”, she said, emphasizing that predicting audience tastes is still as challenging as ever. Describing her company’s strategy as “fierce” and agile, they’ve taken multiple approaches to forging necessary collaborations with big players like Amazon and Netflix. “I think the key question for us at the moment is how do we make sure that we are visible enough and attractive enough for people to actually watch films at home”, said Ivo Andrle of Aerofilms in the Czech Republic, alluding to the neverending audiovisual choices available to today’s consumer. “Let's be honest, producers don't know what distributors do and distributors don't know what producers do. We need to get them to work better together and I think you can get a more interesting landscape.” These were the closing words from van Marcke, encouraging enhanced collaboration across the value chain for all players to succeed."

FEB 19

"With the Chinese film industry having radically shifted during and after COVID, the producer’s association Bridging the Dragon has expanded its scope beyond the country to explore collaborations between Europe and the Pan-Asian region in general. Chinese audiences certainly haven’t disappeared, it’s just that their appetite for hyper-local content now happens to be stronger than ever. European producers working with the territory may want to consider other horizons at the moment. Chinese distributor Haiyi Wang of HiShow Entertainment also cited complicated censorship laws as a difficult but not impossible hurdle for the international market to jump. On the other hand, Showbox’s Judy Ahn of South Korea said her industry is more open than ever to co-produce with the EU, citing decreased theatrical numbers in the region as an impulse for producers there to strategize new collaborations and ways of approaching feature production. Fran Borgia, a European producer based in Singapore, spoke to the recent success of his film Tiger Stripes - a Cannes Critics’ Week winner in 2023 - mentioning the feature was a co-production of a staggering eight countries. They don’t say that cinema takes a village for nothing! But collaboration across Asian countries still isn’t necessarily the norm, so Borgia noted it was more significant than ever for Asian producers and distributors to work together to get Asian films to better circulate cross-border. Major markets like Berlinale and Busan’s APM (Asia Project Market) were cited as the best places to spark these collaborations and to ignite co-production relationships. New international co-production funds available in Hong Kong were also mentioned as an opportunity for European producers to consider, but as is the old maxim, the storytelling must be universal in order to travel."

"Taking a snapshot of the panorama of market performance and audience preferences in seven EU countries (Estonia, Lithuania, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium [Flanders], Croatia, and Portugal), CresCine is on a mission to help European creators survive and thrive by promoting knowledge exchange. Their intensive research - powered by Horizon Europe until 2027 - uses data to better understand how Europe can compete in the global marketplace. The research further interrogates how the EU can be more innovative by looking into how EU audiences think, and by giving insight into the fallout of Covid and other still relatively new developments like AI. The value of partnerships was highlighted as a crucial strategy for sustainability, especially for smaller markets like those of the seven countries in the study. A diverse international mix of partners generally meant that the country’s films traveled better to international audiences. The study also looked at skills that European producers are keen to develop, finding that the majority of producers surveyed do not feel secure in the industry and still feel they have much to learn. The survey told that the EU film industry overall showed a skills gap, and that opportunities and accessibility were generally provided only to those who could financially afford it. There’s also a glut of production. On the audience side, films could benefit from more marketing, with the public generally lacking knowledge about films being released in their countries. Though audience interest is often focused abroad - particularly on Hollywood - audiences will watch domestic films if they know about the film and find it relatable, or find personal or cultural connection to it. We are also highly influenced by our personal and social spheres, so if those around you are talking about any given film, there’s more likelihood you’ll be drawn to see it, too."

While the animation industry has enjoyed a rejuvenation in recent years, producing and distributing animated work still comes with its own unique challenges. Panel experts candidly discussed their experiences with the medium - good and bad - all agreeing that the majority of their time was spent in development. Animation producers are constantly developing and tweaking their projects and likely juggling several at once in order to keep the lights on and pay their teams’ salaries. Compared to live action, development is an especially long process in animation and producing pitch/pilot materials is also comparatively higher. This can pose a special challenge and require highly strategic planning, especially when funds are still not as widely available to animators as they are to live action content creators. Canadian producer Galilé Marion-Gauvin said for example that there is only one public animation fund available in Canada, and that they provide only 50% financing, so he must be creative with financing the rest. But animators can have the advantage of often standing out against live action projects when applying for financing. International co-production was cited as an important approach to close gap financing, but one must be flexible and adapt to differing workflows and cost differences from country to country. “It's good to discover talents all around the world because there is money available everywhere, so collaboration and co-production is very interesting,” acknowledged French producer Ron Dyens. While IKKI Films’ Nidia Santaigo said her experience forging a co-production between France and Italy was good overall, she admitted it was “complicated” due to unexpected burdens of bureaucracy on the Italian side. But being able to complete the film was the most important thing at the end of the day, so having patience with complex paperwork can indeed pay off.

FEB 20

The cinematic opportunities working with archive are endless. Spotlighting the creative process of archival filmmaking with a focus on the responsibility of artist engagement, panel experts highlighted their triumphs and challenges working in archive today. “It’s so important that we live in a democracy where we have archives that are open… For many archive producers, there's often a wall or something that hinders you from getting to the material, or maybe you get to it but you can't use it. Archives need to be accessible,” said Visual Researcher and Archive Producer Monika Preischl. Another challenge discussed was maintaining the delicate balance of gatekeeping, and rewriting the collective memories of audiences in times of destabilisation and “fake news.” A cinematographic, graphic translation of history, social movements and global crises and wars, it’s important to recognise that archival material can create new spaces and open our eyes to lived experiences, but it can also build bridges. Filmmakers talked on the possibilities of using archive as a useful political tool to shape ideas but also a tool for creating empathy. “One of the wonderful benefits of archival filmmaking is that you're not only making a film, but you're preserving it and making sure that it continues to exist because of the very fact that you've been working with it. So often material disappears or it's thrown out or destroyed. So that preservation is valuable,” stressed Archive Producer and Clearance Specialist Elizabeth Klinck. Panel experts agreed that there can be plenty of barriers when working with archive, but that there are no limits to creativity.

Think Tank Reports

The European Film Market (EFM) held three invitation-only Think Tanks during its last two digital editions. Industry experts, stakeholders and professionals were invited from around the globe to reflect and brainstorm about three highly topical areas of reflection for the international film ecosystem today.

The 2024 edition included two events, the first giving focus to vertical integration in the European film landscape, and the second looking at developments and opportunities in generative AI in series and film.

In the spirit of an open discussion the Think Tanks applied “Chatham House Rule'', wherein participants agreed to speak transparently without being identified. Encouraging a growth mindset, the EFM Industry Sessions Think Tanks aim to provide a collaborative environment for identifying challenges and exchanging knowledge in order to generate better solution-oriented, future-facing approaches and strategies.

The acknowledgement of “Shift Happens” was the overarching theme of EFM Industry Sessions 2023. The intimate working-group format Think Tanks explored the following relevant topics: audience retention and expansion strategies, protecting IP for European producers, and the future of film markets.

The overarching theme of the EFM Industry Sessions 2022 was Shaping Change. Each of the three Think Tanks took a more specific look at the changes impacting various sectors of the film and TV industries.

The intimate, closed-door discussions concentrated on several key topics: the future of the film ecosystem, changes in distribution and changes in production.

The intimate, closed-door discussions concentrated on the ever-increasing digitisation of the industry, heightened to never-before-seen levels during the pandemic; the current and future roles and responsibilities of festivals and markets; and expanded access, diversity and inclusion in a business still controlled by a few.