NYWIFT sits down with members of the film and television community for a look at how the global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the industry, particularly those who work in the indie and art house world. And how women are adapting, evolving, and growing creatively. If you would like to share your story please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are compiling a NYWIFT Emergency Resource Directory on our homepage – please continue to check back as we update it with the latest information.
By Heidi Philipsen
Clemence Taillandier is an independent film distribution veteran, having worked as a theatrical booker for over 15 years. She now operates her own distribution services company and provides theatrical, festival booking and consultation services to boutique distributors including Film Movement and Distrib Films, two distributors specialized in foreign films and documentaries.
She has been at the forefront of moving the cinema experience to a virtual space in the wake of COVID-19.
How did you first react to the news of the quarantine? How did it affect you? Your industry? How has COVID-19 brought on innovation in your professional “neck of the woods?”
Before COVID-19, the situation was already challenging for foreign films to find screens willing to take a bet on small “niche” films, but we were able to maintain a certain balance and what we could not bring in box office we’d try to compensate by offering powerful films, a great deal of flexibility, inventive outreach and a consistently high-level of services to exhibitors.
Then came COVID-19.
Theaters started to close around March 12; this was an extremely stressful situation for the distributors with whom I was working – as I had just opened a film the week before in NY and I had two other films about to play in circa 100 theaters.
In normal times, I have to keep a positive attitude, stay creative and think outside-the-box to come up with solutions; I also have to be relentless and service of art houses as much as possible. These qualities came quite handy when the crisis started. I just could not accept the closure of theaters without putting up a fight. And I thought that there must be a way to keep screening… so I thought of what would now be known as Virtual Cinema.
(I was not the only one thinking this way… A few other boutique distributors such as Kino Lorber and Oscilloscope came up with the same idea of Virtual Cinema around that time, using VOD platforms to offer newly theatrically released films to movie goers stuck at home and having them available through their local theaters.)
Our team experienced an exhilarating week—working pretty much around the clock to have the initiative of Virtual Cinema set up in less than a week. Most theaters enthusiastically came on board right away and we set up 70 or 80 streaming pages (one per theater).
A month-and-a-half-later, the situation is not perfect, but theaters are still embracing Virtual Cinema as a way to keep their audience engaged and generate revenues. There is definitely more virtual content available, more possible streaming platforms and more streamlining to do.
In the turmoil, I did lose my biggest client but was able to help three additional distributors with their virtual bookings.
What have you learned from this experience?
I learned more about my own resilience and that if you scratch your head hard enough — something magical can happen.
I learned that the potential power of a crazy, small idea might end up helping a whole industry in peril.
An idea that goes against our pre-existing principle, since VOD used to be the enemy of movie theaters and turned out to be its savior in a way.
What are things that you wish for the public to know? How can they be supportive?
Audience members can support their local movie theaters and help them staying afloat during closure by buying a ticket on the theater’s website. That will give them access to a great film, only available there, and allow them to enjoying watching it the comfort of their home.
Where do you go from here?
I think it will take time for audiences to fully embrace Virtual Cinema (as we compete with content available from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, cable, etc..) but there are so many ways to market it (co-partnership with a local businesses or organizations that share the same target audience, virtual watch parties, date-night at home, etc.) that I trust that it will pick up.
We (small distributors) face another challenge as people look to escape in ways other than watching art films. But [the] Virtual Cinema moment has given theaters a great opportunity to show more titles than usual and take a chance on showing “smaller” films, usually tricky for them to show on only one screen when jammed up with more commercial products.
It’s all been pretty fascinating to watch unfold, and most importantly, the audiences seem very appreciative of this initiative, which helps keep everyone in the game for when our world comes back to life, again, and theaters re-open!
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