CinemaCon 2024: Boosting Mid-Budget Films Panel

By J. Sperling Reich | May 16, 2024 6:25 am PDT
CinemaCon 2024 - Working Together To Boost Mid-Budget Films

One of the first panel discussions at CinemaCon 2024 was also one of the more interesting, and perhaps, productive sessions. Titled “Strength in the Middle: Working Together To Boost Mid-Budget Films” the panel was held on the first day of the conference, which was held in Las Vegas from April 8th to the 11th.

The focus of the panel was, as its title suggests, all about finding and programming smaller, modestly budgeted films to fill in the gaps between the more costly Hollywood studio blockbusters. While, at times, tentpole titles have the ability to bring record breaking audiences into cinemas, exhibitors can not survive solely on high-priced releases.

CinemaCon organizers put together a session with representatives from distribution and exhibition that included Brock Bagby, President and Chief Content, Programming & Development Officer at B&B Theatres, Lisa Bunnell, President of Distribution for Focus Features, Elissa Federoff, President of Distribution at NEON and Rebecca Stein the Vice President of Marketing & Partnerships at National Amusements.

The panel discussed the significance of mid-budget and specialty films in the theatrical marketplace, emphasizing their cultural and economic importance. There was a lot of talk about how to make such movies more successful when they hit theatres, specifically around the need for collaboration between all interested parties including talent, studios, and distributors.

Moderated skillfully and with a light touch by Michael O’Leary the President & CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, the group shared their perspectives on various strategies for independent film distribution and marketing, including catering to different demographics as well as how to leverage social media and influencer marketing. The importance of a well-planned rollout strategy, early marketing screenings and giving movies time to grow was also emphasized.

The following is a transcript of the session, lightly edited for clarity and length.

Michael O’Leary: This is a panel about something I feel very strongly about and that is the continued development and creation of small and mid-budget movies. We simply cannot survive solely on blockbusters alone. We need to have different types of films that people can come and see. Not just from an economic standpoint, but because there’s an audience out there for those movies, and they’re important movies. I think it is incumbent upon those of us in exhibition to work with the folks in distribution to make sure that these movies remain viable, and that there’s a constant stream of them flowing into your theatres. The industry doesn’t just need more of these movies, they’re vital to our success. I’ll start with you, Lisa, in your view, what is the current state of the industry regarding small and medium sized movies?

Lisa Bunnell: This sort of sweet spot, is probably the hardest kind of film to make, because it’s not just when you’re looking at a film and you’re developing a film, it’s not just us going, we’re gonna make a USD $5 million film. It’s getting the talent to agree, which as you know, is not always the easiest thing to get talent to sometimes agree to a lesser salary than they might want, and getting those productions together in a way that makes it theatrical is not the easiest thing to do in the world. I do think it’s getting better. I think movies like “American Fiction,” which I’m a huge fan of, “The Holdovers,” obviously, and we’re seeing it right now with with “Immaculate” with NEON. You don’t look at these films and go, “They’re going to open up to USD $20 million or USD $30 million.” They exist. And they’re important. For us at Focus, we actually when we do our slate, and we do our budget, we actually look at doing these types of movies and taking chances on movies like director, Avi Rockwell who did “A Thousand and One,” which was also a very important movie to make for a lot of reasons. But you know, you make those decisions, you know that you’re not necessarily going to make a ton of money on them. But it’s important to get those audiences back. And I think we’re all moving in the right direction, but we’re going to need help from exhibition to make these movies work.

O’Leary: Rebecca, what do you think is the state of the industry in regards to these movies?

Rebecca Stein: I think that these movies are some of the best movies. We all know this, the content is really strong. The question I was sort of waiting for from you was along the lines of, “Are young people going to connect with this content? And how do we approach that?” And I think that’s not the question at hand. I think the question is, young people do connect with this content. It’s where they’re getting it and how they’re getting it and how we’re getting them to the movie theatres. We have seen that if the story is strong, it connects and they will come.

O’Leary: Well, Elissa do you want to comment on the state of these movies in from your perspective?

Elissa Federoff: Sure. I mean, I agree with everything that Lisa has said about putting these sort of mid-budget movies into the marketplace. It’s not easy. A lot of stars have to align in order to make this possible. But what we are seeing now is that what has happened is quantity of content is not what audiences want. They want quality of content. And because that has become a reality, and because we have seen these movies actually connect with audiences and make money financially for the studios, we are going to see more of it happening. And what we need is an intentionality. We need everybody to focus on this particular motivation. So we need the talent to come together to work for less.

Unfortunately, there was a streaming bubble that sort of put everybody in this position where, you know, talent was taking a big bigger paycheck, and there was a shorter life for a film. And that’s gone away. So there is an intentionality that we need that we’ve seen on the bigger budget side. We saw it with “Oppenheimer” this year, we saw it with “Barbie” this year, these films that everybody came together, they knew they wanted to make it, exhibition was behind it distribution was behind it. These are movies that were a massive gamble, but everybody gambled on them, and they delivered. And we can do that with smaller budget films, as long as we get everybody behind it in the same way.

“Immaculate” is a great example of that. This is a movie that was made for under USD $10 million, with Sidney Sweeney, who was a rising star, she is a producer on it. She’s loved the script for a really long time, she bet on herself and was a huge promotional aspect of the film. And it worked and worked in the marketplace. We need to see more of that. We need to see more of these, these young stars sort of going out there and putting traction behind these films, TV stars that we can turn into cinema stars. So that’s something that I would like to see more of. And I do really think that we will start to see it, because I think we’ve all seen that it’s working.

O’Leary: Brock, you sit at the top of I believe the fifth largest circuit now. What does the landscape look like to you? What is the market for these movies? Who’s the audience? And what do you need to have to be successful?

Brock Bagby: We’re seeing, I think, the resurgence slowly happening. At Christmas, we had a lot of great things drop in kind of fairly last minute with “Iron Claw” and “Boys in the Boat” and “Anyone But You” that all really took off. And we were very pleased with the results of those. In many circumstances, we had constant sellouts that whole Christmas season, which was really exciting. And the success of that will build and allow more of these to come. But I think Rebecca maybe said it needs to be good stories, right? It’s not quantity, its quality. And a good story gets people talking. So there is word of mouth.

O’Leary: So let’s talk a little bit about that. What does success look like from from your perspective, Lisa, when you put one of these movies into the marketplace?

Bunnell: I think that it depends on the movie. I mean, you know, we opened up “Asteroid City” and did USD $134,000 per theatre. So that was like, that’s obvious, right? You look at it, and you go, “Yeah, that’s the best per theatre average of the era.” So that makes sense. And then you look at “The Holdovers,” and it was a much, much smaller USD $40,000 plus per theatre average. And a lot of people, a lot of theatre owners, will look at it and think that’s not that good. But it actually is good for a movie like that. Paul Giamatti starred in the movie and it was fantastic and needed the word of mouth. Sometimes you need patience with these movies, and you need to work with us on it, because it takes time for movies. If you put “Poor Things” in 3,000 theatres to start, it would have died. If you put “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once” into 3,000 theatres, it would have died. Nobody would have understood what it was about. You need time, you need patience. And you need critical response to sometimes drive to your theatres, people who don’t even realize that they want to see this movie. They have to understand that that there’s a reason to go see it.

So I do think that we need to really be patient with these movies and understand that for every film there’s a different threshold for what success is. If you had said to me that a movie like “Holdovers” would do over USD $20 million with the per theatre average, if you were just using data, you’d probably say that would never happen. In fact, if you use data to greenlight some of the movies that we have greenlit, you never would have greenlit the movies. So data is great, but when you rely on it too much, then you would lose out on movies like “Blackkklansman” or “Promising Young Woman.” There’s no data to support making “Tar” let me tell you. But we did. And I’m proud of it. It’s one of the movies I’m most proud of. It’s one of Cate Blanchett’s best performance. It’s a miracle the movie was made. So I think we need more of those miracles. And we need more support on those miracles.

Federoff: I think a really good point is it’s excellent stories, but it’s also this intangible that is called cultural relevancy that there is no data to support. You don’t know what the zeitgeist is going to pick up, you don’t know what is going to drive this word of mouth. And these are the movies that really really take off. Movies like “The Holdovers” movies like “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once,” movies like “Anatomy of a Fall” from NEON, these are the films that, for us are massive successes, and they end up in the same sandboxes as these studio films and and we have to sort of scale them differently. Because our version of success looks different. We’re making movies for smaller amounts of money, our campaign budgets are smaller. And for us, they’re massive successes. On Monday morning when there’s industry talk around it, they might be a perceived failure, and it shouldn’t be. The metrics aren’t the same for a specialty company that they are for a studio. I hate to see this Monday morning quarterbacking happen, because I think that we all really need to lift each other up right now.

O’Leary: I find it everything is decided the first weekend and the racehorse kind of feel to it is, we have to do something to try and change that narrative. Try to find some voices out there that will carry the message in a more productive way. Rebecca, coming back to something you mentioned earlier in identifying audiences and letting word of mouth build, let’s talk about young people, and how we connect with them.

Stein: We have actually seen growth in our loyalty program with a younger age. And at first I thought, maybe this isn’t something that I reveal in this room. Because for so many years, we were taught in certain ways to keep our secrets close. But I really think that now there’s more need for collaboration, not only among us and our studio partners, but as an industry as a whole. And I think when one of us rises, let’s look at what we’re doing, and do it together. The same way, if a customer has a bad experience in our competitor’s movie theatre, it hurts us all.

So going back to loyalty and how the age is changing for us, it’s actually getting younger. And we’ve done that with the collaboration of our studio partners; two very strong studio partners that I get to sit with on this stage, who have understood that if we are truly rewarding loyalty, and bringing value offers to loyalty, that the younger audience cares about those value adds. We have changed our loyalty program to go from points and specific rewards to cashback. And it’s made a huge difference. Studios are seeing the difference on not only that cashback, but helping us bring extra cashback, extra reward for specific movies. We’re not just doing that for older audiences, we’re doing it on horror pictures and smaller pictures. And it’s truly moving the needle. So that’s just one way certainly with younger audiences. We need to meet them where they’re where they’re at. It involves Instagram and TikTok and influencers. But that’s its own panel.

O’Leary: And when you say younger audiences, to me, every audience is a younger audience. (Laughter) What is the specific demographic that you’re you’re talking about?

Stein: I’m talking about the 18 to 34 year olds and getting them back. We have gotten in the pattern of offering them something for every movie that they’re coming to and differentiating. If you’re coming to us, you’re going to get more back. That drives them back to the next visit to the theatre.

O’Leary: Then you mentioned influencers. I think that’s one of those terms that is completely misunderstood. How do you think that that plays into what you’re talking about? Can you expand on that?

Stein: We, as a company, have over the past five years, really changed our marketing spend. It’s higher than it’s ever been before. And at this point, a big portion of our marketing spend is spent on curating the right influencers for each movie in different categories. Whether it’s moms or whether it’s horror fans, or whatever the case may be, we have built lists and relationships with influencers. I’m talking smaller micro influencers and some larger influencers. But the fact is that everyone is following someone. And these influencers are the voice and the truth and the word so we’re, we’re putting money into influencers.

O’Leary: Brock, can you explain some of the ways that B&B reaches audiences and how you go about it? I know you have quite an operation there.

Bagby: I mean, I am not the marketing guru. My sister is but I can speak a little bit to it. You know, we’ve seen tremendous success with our TikTok program, we have more followers than any theatre circuit on TikTok and then a lot of it’s just…

O’Leary: Can you slow down and repeat that? (Laughter)

Bagby: More followers than any theatre circuit on TikTok, which we’re really proud of. We try to create content that is real and people can relate to. That’s something we really focus on. The influencers we’re doing a lot of and same thing that people trust these influencers they’ve grown used to. They trust them, they follow them. So we’re doing a lot of that. Of course, our loyalty is a huge part of of our business. That’s our number one goal; get more loyalty sign up so that we have that data to send these unique special offers to them. But so much of our stuff has trended toward social TikTok influencers, and not traditional media, and we’re seeing great success. You know, if you have a Kansas City mom blog that says, “Oh, my gosh, ‘Kung Fu Panda Four’ is incredible. It’s great for all families.” They’re going to trust that mom versus me in a suit and tie going and welcome to B&B. Come see “Kung Fu Panda.” They’re gonna go “Who’s this Yahoo, we trust Mommy Blogger Number One!”

O’Leary: Lisa, how big is what they’re talking about? How do you factor that into when you’re marketing a movie, and when you’re developing plans to try and get something that’ll stick?

Bunnell: It’s a very large part of what we do when we’re planning for films. But one of the things that we talk about at Focus is an elderverse, because there are older people who want to go to the movies. There are a lot of folks who are older who just don’t… my mother wouldn’t know what TikTok was. She just never going to look at that. It’s interesting, because on movies like “Holdovers,” we actually went backwards to go forwards. So we did a little bit of print. And we tried to appeal to the older audience and we kind of got them in. And then like the grandmas brought in their kids and the kids liked the movie, and then the kids told the other kids that “The Holdovers” was okay to see. It wasn’t like a dorky movie. So I do think that TikTok and influencers which, you know, it drives me crazy how much these people charge me. I’d like to be an influencer! can I influence anybody? I’m very happy to be an influencer about wearing black! (Laughter)

Stein: Show us how many followers you have, we’ll sign you up. (Laughter)

Bunnell: Thank you! We did it even with movies like “Asteroid City” where that movie took on a whole different level, because young people were discovering Wes Anderson. And it did bring that movie to another level. And it brought in a lot of young people to understand who Wes Anderson is, and go back and see his library, which in the in the scheme of things, that’s what you really want. You want young people to be influenced and inspired to go watch these master’s movies. So I like to look at those TikToks of the world and the influencers of the world as ways and conduits to educate younger people about movies and going to the movies because that’s the future.

O’Leary: So I’m going to hope that I’m somewhere between the younger demographic and the elderverse. That’s my goal. Elissa, can you talk a little bit about how neon reaches audiences?

Federoff: We we use sort of all of the things that you’ve talked about here. You have to. There’s there’s really no way around it at this point. But something else that we’re seeing that I think is really interesting is that what is old is new for these younger audiences. These retrospective films… we brought back “Old Boy” this summer, Park Chan-wook made it, I think at this point, 21 years ago, and we programmed it for a week long run. We met audiences where they wanted to be. We met exhibitors where they wanted to be. Nobody was totally sure how it was gonna go over. So we said play it two times a day. You don’t have to put it on its full slate of showtimes. And it really worked. We saw a mass of younger audiences come in because this movie had never been in cinemas. I mean, it had a small run 20 years ago, but people had never seen it in theatres. They had seen it on BluRay, they had seen it pirated, and all they wanted to do was see it on the big screen. And it was a great success for us. I mean, you saw what A24 did with Talking Heads and “Stop Making Sense.” That was a great success story.

All of this together is also retraining a younger audience, or training a younger audience to come back for cinema, which is really special. And I think the other thing that happens is that we have a little bit of a price resistance for young people. And for older people. You know, we just did a promo on immaculate we did 666 Wednesdays. So every ticket was USD $6.66 and we didn’t see the revenue go up, but we saw the revenue stayed the same, which meant that twice the number of people were coming to the theatre. That was a really great example of a marketing hook that we got exhibitors involved in and they got really excited about it. More excited, actually, than I thought they were going to get about it. Because it was a little bit blasphemous. But so is the whole movie.

Bunnell: Blasphemy is okay. It was a great idea, by the way. One of the things that we could all do together is… I think Wednesday is a great day to do specialty films. You know, we all have our bargain Tuesday’s right? When you do bargain Tuesday’s everybody knows it’s bargain Tuesdays. And this is something I used to talk about at Landmark, and I wasn’t able to really get it done. But it’s like, suppose we do this and anybody who wants to participate in it can and we do some type of a special program where we take NEON’s films, Focus’s films, A24’s films, Sony Classic’s films, and we make Wednesday a special day, that’s the day that we’re going to spotlight specialty film. You know, we put it at the top of the webpage. We make it a thing. It’s just a way to start getting those people back into theatres again. It’s just those are the types of ideas that we need to have that are kind of out of the box. It’s a good idea to think about those types of things that we can do together because we have to collaborate in order to make these movies work.

O’Leary: So Lisa, earlier, you mentioned the challenge of putting one of these movies in a lot of theatres at once, they won’t sustain themselves. One of the challenges that we frequently face, particularly amongst some of our smaller members, is film availability, and getting access to to some of these films. Can you elaborate a little bit on what you were talking about? And how those two problems seem at odds with each other? And how do we do more to get some films into the theatres, particularly the smaller independents that are kind of not in that first run?

Bunnell: I’ll use “The Holdovers” as an example because it’s just, it’s a movie that’s that’s recent. You know, the second weekend of “Holdovers” everybody wants to come in. And if you don’t take them, everybody gets insulted because we’re not taking you. But the problem is, that movie needed time. And it needed some space to sort of become something in the culture. You have to have people want to see it and know about it. And unfortunately, it takes time for that to happen. And what happens is when we go wider with these films, unfortunately, and sometimes they don’t always gross… You know, we’re not “Iron Man” and we’re not “Star Wars” and we’re not “Lord of the Rings.” Our $5,000 Gross, which is in the middle of the theatre and when we go in the second week, by the third week. It’s like, “We’ll take you off for the National theatre on Saturday. Nobody will care. Oh, we’ll take you off for the UFC on Saturday night. You don’t need the Saturday night show.” And then we come to Monday. And it’s like, “Oh, well now you’re at the bottom of the theatre. So you’re done. Goodbye.”

So if you don’t nurture and take care of these movies, then we can never go wider with them because we’re not able to do it. These movies are different. They need time. And eventually I swear to God, we’ll get to you whether it was “The Darkest Hour” or it was “Blackkklansmen,” we will get to those theatres. But please be patient with us because, we go slow so that we don’t lose runs, so that we can build the movie. I don’t have the money to be able to put out some of the huge campaigns. We don’t have that money to put into TV. We need time. Please look at these movies a little bit differently. We need help. You know, people are so quick to just slash them for the third screen of whatever Marvel movie there is, or the fourth screen of “Star Wars” or whatever it is. We need time, we need help and we need to be taken care of and then we will take care of you but you have to be patient with us.

Stein: So Brock and I were both looking at each other. I don’t know what he’s got…

Bagby: The exhibitor response.

Stein: So the exhibitor respone… So using this panel to really start a bigger discussion. You’re talking about collaboration for a Wednesday program. From a marketing perspective, and for us to give it the understanding and the time, we need to see this stuff sooner. We may not get it earlier, but we need to see it sooner. I know when I see something at CinemaCon it gets me excited. And it sticks with me and when I am able to screen something not just a week and a half before at a trade screening, my brain starts going. “The Holdovers” was definitely one of my favorite movies of all time. And I think if I had seen it and it stuck in my heart earlier then we would understand what needs to be done and together we could do more.

Bunnell: We don’t have a problem screening our movies early. “The Holdovers” was in the Toronto Film Festival. It was in Telluride. It screened in August. It screened in September. There’s sometimes there’s some stipulations where, if somebody’s going to screen it for the New York Film Festival, they’ll ask us not to trade screen it early so that people don’t see it. But if anybody wants to see one of our movies, and we have it available, please ask me, I’ll be happy to screen it for you for marketing purposes.

Bagby: I agree with everything you just said. I think knowing the rollout plan and knowing and reasoning is super helpful from a film buying perspective. But also knowing the premium video on demand (PVOD) date is helpful. Because if you’re in the final week, and then next week it’s on PVOD and I have to do a two or three week commitment, that’s hard for me. And what we saw with the success of “Anyone But You,” they didn’t go to PVOD for a long time, and look a movie that opened to USD $9 million and it did USD $90 million all in. And I think they saw it, they nurtured it. They waited and they didn’t put it on PVOD for a while. So if a movie like that you think needs time to grow? Give it the time. You know?

Bunnell: When we go wide with a movie, that’s when the time starts as far as PVOD goes. It’s not off of any platform release. It’s always off of the widest point of the release. But I always say give me a reason to go back to anybody at Universal and tell them we need more time for people. I’m happy to have that discussion. It’s not a closed door. Donna Langley, Peter Kujawski, everybody who we work with, are happy to listen to it.

Stein: While we’re on a roll of asking for things, (laughter) I have been talking about this for a long time. And we see how Tom Cruise is a role model and he works hard for his movies. Then we saw it happen with “Anyone But You” and they worked hard for that movie. And I think that we need to be asking of the talent to work hard for these movies. Let people know, first of all, that they want them to see it in a movie theatre. We need to be thanking customers, whether it’s before the show or after the show. Something that feels like custom tailored content for people who are sitting in the movie theatre who chose to come to the movie theatre. The talent needs to work for these movies, too. As a general rule it’s such a big piece, because talk about an influencer; those are the jumbo influencers really, at the end of the day.

Bunnell: I was just gonna say that I agree with you 100%. The issue with getting talent, and Elissa you can speak to this too, is that they’re not always the most cooperative in the entire world to be able to get to do it.

Federoff: We need to teach them. Retraining our audiences. Retraining the talent. I think everybody has probably found themselves over the past few years working harder than they’ve ever worked before. And so many of these campaigns that we have built, we have so many more asks for our talent than ever before. Some play ball and some don’t. We need to have them feel the responsibility for it. The same way that we’re all taking this on together and see the long term benefits of it. That’s one of the the massive things we saw with “Immaculate.” Sydney Sweeney was a producer on it. She was an incredible participant in that campaign for us. We have a comedy coming out in May called “Babes,” Ilana Glazer, who’s the writer and the star of the film who’s in a show called “Broad City,” these women who are part of this film, Michelle Bhutto and Pamela Adlon, they want it so badly. They want to work for it. And we know that there will be success around it because of that. And we want to give you special content. We want to give all this circuits special content. So we we build it into everything. And we’ve started to do that a lot more.

Bunnell: Yeah, I think we have more press days now than we ever had before. You can’t force these guys to do it. But there are a lot of people who are very motivated to do it. Then there’s other people who just quite honestly say to us, “Love the film. Not doing anything. Bye.” We try very hard, and we will continue because it’s it makes a big difference. I agree.

O’Leary: So in the last year, the two things I’ve been asked about the most are Barbenheimer, and “Sound of Freedom.” And so I’m curious now having had some time pass, what lessons, if any, did we learn as an industry from “Sound of Freedom?” And what are kind of the takeaways from each of your perspectives?

Bagby: The movie was wildly successful for us as a Midwest based circuit. We over-performed by 106%, or some crazy number. The biggest question I got from the press was, “Are your auditoriums empty when you’re saying they’re sold out.” And they weren’t. We were completely full. It was insane sellouts across the board. In fact, we even had to put some in the PLF just to get enough seats. And when that rumor started, we had managers actually go count. And we were full. There were no fake tickets. But there’s a huge demand for something different and even remotely faith based. It was a huge surprise hit for us. We saw it coming with pre-sales, but never knew it would take off like it did. And it just continued and continued. And then we had Barbanheimer. So July was absolutely incredible. But yes, we love diverse movies. We love faith based, especially as a Midwest based company, it was incredible. And we all know that mid-budget movies, when they break out, they are a success for everyone.

Bunnell: I think it’s important that we don’t take anybody for granted as far as the content goes. And we talk about people making cultural differences. That became a movie in the zeitgeist. And it wasn’t like a new topic. It was like, if you watch any “Law and Order SVU” episode, you will see what went on in that movie, but the way that it was put out to people, the way that it was received. It made a big difference. Anytime that you can get people to go in to see movies that you wouldn’t normally expect to go to the movies, I think that’s fantastic. It gave you an opportunity to have your theatres full and then people got to see how great your theatres are. And they probably came back and saw Barbaranheimer.

Bagby: They needed to laugh after “Sound of Freedom” because they were so depressed (laughter). The Pay It Forward campaign I think was so big on that as well. The QR code at the end to send tickets to friends. That was huge. And I think tha helped propel it to that next level, because people were so moved in the moment, they got out their phone and bought tickets for a friend, which was an innovative idea. And it worked.

Federoff: The direct address, which is not necessarily new in film, it was just slightly turned and that turn just made all the difference. It was the Pay It Forward campaign. It was a thriller, it was a genre that people like to see. There was nothing totally unusual about it. It was all of these things that came into place together, you have a movie that’s entertaining, in the summertime, faith based for an audience that wants that kind of film. And then you have this direct address that sort of pulled it all together. And then Barbanheimer, I mean, forget it.

Stein: I don’t have too much to add. We did have fake tickets. I mean, we’re a Northeast regional, and we had less full seats in the beginning, although when the movie got so much attention, and curiosity that helped build it. So I was going to address that kind of Pay It Forward concept. You talk about what we can take away from these movies, and what we can take away from Barbaranheime? That is something that if you know you have a movie where the story is good and you want to tell a friend, that’s something we can take away.

Federoff: And all three of those movies had the intentionality that I was talking about, this sort of long vision of what they wanted from the film, from the campaign, from the exhibition community, from the audience, and everybody went all in on it. And “Sound of Freedom,” they went all in on it, the direct address, that plea to the audience that that they obviously created to put on the end credits. And so it was just this sort of way of thinking ahead, that we need to be doing more of.

O’Leary: And is it fair to say that innovative thinking like that is coming with these size movies.

Federoff: No, I think it’s coming from all sized movies, but I think that what we’re seeing is that these these mid-sized movies are less expensive to make and can yield a lot greater in the back end. And that’s why they’re a valuable commodity.

O’Leary: What is the one thing that your friends in distribution could do to make these movies more successful for you? And for our friends in distribution, what is the one thing that exhibition could do to be most helpful to you, Brock, do and start?

Bagby: Better terms. (laughter) No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. I actually love Rebecca’s comment. Because I think, especially for the marketing side of the business, especially if it’s something you’re passionate about, you think this could break out, sow it to us early so we can start brainstorming together. And let us come to you with ideas, which many studios are letting us do. Collaborate and work together on a budget that makes sense to target our specific audience. We know our customers better than you do. You know your movie better than we do. So let’s see it early. Let’s work together, especially on the creative front.

Bunnell: I think my quick answer would be a better presence on your website. Like with trailers… I’m an old film buyer. So once a film buyer, always a film buyer, you know, but we we don’t have the money to get the placement that many others do. We don’t have the money to get the placement on your website. If we don’t have the money to get your placement in the theatres we might not be the first standee you put up in your lobby. We need help there. We aren’t able to do what the big studios can do, including my parent company. I am not Universal. I’m Focus. We have Focus budgets. Our budgets are very similar to your budgets. So we need help. And I would say we really do try as much as we can and I hear you, you want to see our movies earlier. I get it you want to our talent to participate more. Totally get it. You want personal PSAs, those types of things. You want some time with our folks. We’ll try to do that. But on the other end, we need more coverage. We need more social media. We need we need help from you. And we might not be able to pay what the studios can pay for their big money movies.

Federoff: Yeah, I’ll totally second that. Trailer placement, poster placement, web banner placement, whatever it is, we definitely want to be represented in your ecosystems, because that’s what’s gonna get us ahead and that’s what’s going to get audiences to learn about NEON, to grow with NEON, to grow with Focus. And then on our side, we are happy to show you the movies early. And there are a lot of movies that we can do where we should program them for your loyalty audience. And we can take one or two showtimes and pack those and really, really build an audience for one particular showtime just to get your audience familiarized with our types of films. Then they’ll want it and they’ll come back for more.

Bunnell: Yeah, because we all have loyalty programs. And you know, maybe we don’t do mystery Mondays, maybe we do art films on mystery Mondays, and maybe it’s not such a mystery. I don’t know.

O’Leary: Rebecca, you get the last word.

Stein: I think that the partnership between us and the studios is the most important and has never been more important. We know our customers. We now have technology that is so powerful at not only targeting them, but targeting them with what they want, in their specific lane with things like Movio. Think of us as the top line item in your marketing for that reason. Sometimes theatres are lower down, but we can really drive and move the needle. So I think think of us as a top line marketing item is really important. And our team, we’re talking to your teams all the time. You have to know your studio people, build the relationships, because from that, good things come.

J. Sperling Reich