2023’s American Film Market may be shaping up for “a rather quiet year,” says Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the executive board at Germany’s Constantin Film. That said, Moszkowicz will stay in Los Angeles for around 10 days. “We have so much business there – and much of it is not related directly to the market,” he says.
That seems very natural for one of Europe’s not only biggest but most ambitious and successful production-distribution companies, producer of “Resident Evil,” which has diversified fast, consolidating a robust domestic production-distribution business while shaping major plays for the international market and ramping up TV revenues.
Moszkowicz hits the AFM just weeks after “Dear Child: Limited Series” has hit Netflix’s Top 10 of most-watched non-English language TV series in the global streamer’s history. For 2024, Constantin has “Hagen von Tronje,” a revisionist retelling of the Nibelungen saga, which weighs in as one of its biggest movies ever.
Also lined up is “Chantal im Märchenland,” the upcoming fantasy spin-off from the “F… You, Goethe” comedy franchise from director Bora Dagtekin, and “In the Lost Lands,” starring Resident Evil’s Milla Jovovich and “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” Dave Bautista, directed by Resident Evil helmer Paul W.S. Anderson, adapting a George R.R. Martin Story.
Roland Emmerich is leading “Those About to Die,” a 10-part gladiator series budgeted at over $150 million but already sold to Peacock for the U..S and Prime Video for multiple markets in Europe. It marks the first show from High End, a joint venture of Constantin Film and Herbert Kloiber, and is made with key U.S. companies such as AGC Studios, Emmerich’s Centropolis, Harald Kloser’s Street Entertainment and Gianni Nunnari’s Hollywood Gang.
Variety initially sat down with Moszkowicz on Friday to ask how the AFM is shaping up. The conversation soon grew to how Constantin was navigating what Moszkowicz called “a perfect storm of issues,” most of which aren’t going away soon.
Some highlights as the AFM opens Oct. 31 in Santa Monica:
How is the AFM shaping up?
Martin Moszkowicz: So far it’s a rather quiet year. There’s not a lot of [big] projects as of now, though some sales companies have been holding back titles which are coming in as we speak: Lionsgate projects including “Idris Elba starrer “Above the Below,” and “Now You See Me 3,” and Jason Statham starrer “Levon’s Trade,” from Black Bear and Block Film. But a lot of the Asian buyers, South Americans, are actually not coming or coming with very reduced teams.
Moszkowicz: It’s very difficult in this environment to get cast attached to a project because of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, though we really respect the right of American actors to go on strike and try to get a fair deal. It’s basically impossible unless you go into a European cast and do a movies outside of SAG jurisdiction which some producers do and we do it obviously on our German language and European shows. We’re not as heavily affected as many others who are dependent on English language studio type movies.
The challenges to the film business nevertheless look multiple….
Moszkowicz: We have an output deal with Netflix for pay one rights, and an output deal with RTL for free TV. So we are in a good position to buy and make movies. We also have a very strong streaming and television production business, which about half of our overall sales. But yes, the challenges are multiple.
Could you drill down on some?
Moszkowicz: The industry faces a perfect storm of issues, most of which aren’t going away soon. We still have huge inflation affecting production costs and P & A. Interest costs are high in most countries. Markets have pretty much disappeared, like China or Russia. We have an ongoing strike of the world’s most major actors union. Theatrical attendance is still 20% below pre-COVID levels. COVID is lingering. There’s the spending reduction for the streamers, as much as for traditional television. And who knows what’s going to happen in the Middle East in the near future.
How do you face up to such a “perfect storm”?
Moszkowicz: We’re aware of the issues. But we also see a very bright way forward. We have rested our company on many pillars. That is going to help us for the foreseeable future. We are not dependent on one single stream of product. We have multiple areas, whether it’s acquisitions in the U.S. or acquisitions in Europe, in-house German and English language productions, television, streaming: All these pillars help us manoeuver around problems that affect the industry.
Is diversification a whole answer to the problems?
Moszkowicz: No. We need to do other things on top of that, which is to make better movies, better shows, produce smarter, and better all those things that we have been doing for the last years in order to get better product and not to bore our audience.
Surely when things are tough in the short term, companies tend to meet with others, intelligent people with whom you would like to talk and maybe do business. A lot of the AFM will be about planning a roadmap.
Absolutely. We’re meeting with every bigger distributor and seller and some of the studios. That’s really what is important. We’re discussing ways of how to cope with the current list of problems, how to get around them, and also how to really build this business into a more robust model for the future. And that’s what everybody is thinking about. There’s a lot of very smart people in our business who think about nothing else. Hopefully, over the next months and years, we’ll find ways to be more immune to those short term issues that we’re facing today.
At a European conference at San Sebastian, some of Europe’s biggest players – Pathé, Beta Film – underscored that what Europe needs is ambition. You have some very big titles indeed for 2024, based in different ways on big IPs.
Yes, we have a very, very strong slate theatrical slate for 2024 with some of the biggest movies that we have ever produced slated for next year. These include “Hagen Von Tronje,” “Chantal im Märchenland,” from Bora Dagtekin, who is the most successful German filmmaker of the last decade with a new, very, very, very promising, huge comedy, and we have “In the Lost Lands,” with Dave Bautista and Milla Jovovich. We’re in post-production on that.
Some of those titles obviously have domestic traction while others seem aimed more at international. Also, if you make good movies, they tend to break out in foreign…
We see that all the time. We are just producing a TV series based on one of our properties called “Smilla’s Sense of Snow.” We did a movie with Billy August directing in 1996. Now we’re doing a TV show based on that material with a fantastic cast and great director aimed at the world market, even though it’s based on a Danish novel. Recently, we produced “Dear Child,” a Netflix show, a German-language series which was No. 1 among non-English language shows in every single territory. So we’re doing titles that originate in our home market that are basically also made for the world market.
So what kind of buying appetite will you have at the AFM?
With the really big, big, big tentpole movies that we have produced in-house and will drop next year, we’re not in the short run desperate for product. And on top of that, we’ve bought movies over the last couple of years and some of them are getting ready and and will go into theaters. So we are very happy with our 2024 slate as it is.
You seem pretty focused on “event” shows.
The biggest mistake that a lot of people have made over the last five years is thinking that our business is volume based: The more you produce, the more successful you are. That is a complete misconception of our business because our business is hit-driven, not volume-driven. A single hit is more important than a higher volume. Our efforts should not be in producing more, it should be in producing better. American studios are actually trying to achieve that now, the independent world, we still have to get there.
And do you have any upside for independents in studios and platform pulling back on production?
The studios are reducing their theatrical output substantially, which means there’s there’s a larger possibility of niche product breaking out. Set in Berlin’s Neukölln district, David Wnendt’s period drama “Sun and Concrete,” which we co-produced and distributed, is one of the most successful German-language productions this year. David, who’s one of Germany’s top directors, thought about how he could make this movie for a containable budget without going into crazy numbers but also creating a quality production quality that’s outstanding. That opportunity probably wouldn’t be there if every two weeks there is a major tentpole movie coming out with a $250 million budget.