FNE Europa Distribution: Distributor of the Month: Ivan Hronec, Czech Republic

Ivan Hronec Ivan Hronec

FNE together with Europa Distribution is launching a new chapter of the Distributor of the Month section. This time we focus on new strategies in film distribution and the importance of domestic film festivals in releasing new titles. We will also be looking at what distributors can do in order to prevent piracy.

film europe media companyThis month we speak to Ivan Hronec, the founder, owner and CEO of Film Europe Media Company. With offices in Prague and Bratislava, and also in London and Cannes, Film Europe is a media company specialized in financing, development and production, distribution, sales and publishing, consulting and broadcasting of European films. Film Europe secured the rights for Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence at the Cannes Film Festival, five months before it was awarded with the Golden Lion in Venice.

Ivan Hronec told us about the challenges and the innovative strategies that his company is applying in film distribution, but he also gave us more information about Be2Can festival, the festival launched by Film Europe running 6-16 October 2014. The event will take place in almost all key art house cinemas in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, screening almost 20 fresh 2014 premieres from Cannes, Berlin and Venice. The films shown in the festival will end up as part of the portfolio of Film Europe Channel.

FNE: What are the innovative strategies that you choose to apply in film distribution?

Ivan Hronec: I usually begin my day by asking that question. What are the innovative strategies, which help us to buy and distribute European films? How many of them are we capable of applying into our daily operation and how many from them really work. Testing new strategies is actually the very definition of the independent distribution. We are Indies, because we don’t have ONE safe pattern how to buy, launch and distribute Indie or author films.

Thus the innovative strategies and Film Europe business model are actually the same. We are most likely the only [crazy] company, which is solely buying, distributing and broadcasting European films. The fact that we are not a state sponsored company is adding another interesting flavour. We are a private, profit-oriented endeavor. The only difference comparing us to the other business entities is the artistic quality of our products, which are highly appraised films, mainly winners of A festivals, as well as the form of their distribution in the cinemas and televisions.

Our closest example from the other art sector is perhaps a concept of a modern art gallery. Similar to them, we identify, buy, curate, exhibit, broadcast and sale. Even though it sounds difficult from the business point of view, it is most likely the only way in which we may conduct our business. I don’t have enough acquisition and marketing money to buy commercially strong films, but I have enough taste, experience, relationship and confidence to buy top art house films often before they get the best price at the A festivals. This is the “innovative” acquisition strategy.

The innovation at the level of distribution is our vertically integrated distribution model. We have distribution teams in Prague and Bratislava, office bases in London and Cannes, we have so far one art house cinema, we are running two national festivals [French and Italian] and we are developing another two. Scandi [the name says what it is] and most importantly, from October 6 to 16, Film Europe is launching Be2Can festival, which seems to be the greatest festival echo of the Big three A festivals, Berlin, Venice, Cannes, perhaps not just in Central Europe. The event will take place in almost all key art house cinemas in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Be2Can is going to show almost 20 fresh 2014 premieres from Cannes, Berlin, Venice, including winners and awarded films.

In addition to theatrical premieres we have 50 VOD premieres including three day and date ones. Films such as La vie d'Adèle or The Great Beauty and Faust will be for the first time available on VOD. Our good partner at the VOD level is Telefonica 02 in the Czech Republic. Finally, almost 50 Be2Can movies will be shown at our own premium television Film Europe Channel. This very combination of film quality, film quantity and a distribution “globality” is indeed the unique and innovative strategy Film Europe contributes to contemporary European  and world film distribution culture.

FNE: Are there any challenges implied by these innovations?

I.H.: Definitely. Money. To balance the books based on income we can earn directly from the distribution fields as opposed on money just given by the national or European support scheme is a challenge. So far we have been capable of keeping our heads above water. Our profit is immediately invested into new rights of the European films. Another challenge is our daily workflow. People tend to dream about film distribution from the red carpet perspective only.

They are often disappointed and sometimes shocked that this is simply work, sometimes interesting but often technical service-providing work. If they are not realistic enough, they get bored and disappear. Another dangerous challenge is unfair competition with the state sponsored festivals, broadcasters and distribution companies. They are dealing with the same subject yet not bothered by the cash flow. 

FNE: What festival is the most important showcase in your country for your films and why? Are there any other showcases in your country besides this festival?

I.H.: We must make it clear. There are actually only three festivals in the world, which are capable of radiating sufficient marketing resonance in almost any territory. Berlin, Venice, Cannes – the last with the biggest impact. All others are either local imitations or they are deliberately focusing their programming on a niche. It could be national cinematography, genre, distribution premieres… just name it. Having said that I don’t mean that those other festivals are bad; they have their own local or even international role. For the general public though, the big three are the most important.

So if you have films from those big three festivals you are actually supporting the local festival more than the festival is supporting the film from Cannes or you as its distributor. The Golden Palm winner is not getting more revenue by being shown at the local festival; on the contrary, the local festival is benefiting by having such a film in their catalogue. Thus, all local festivals which are tending to show films from Venice, Berlin, Cannes are the alternative way of distribution for those films. And this creates a problem. Local festivals are actually either our clients or our competitors.

In case we do not reach fair financial agreements, they are a fierce and dangerous competitor. They have big budgets, they are selling the tickets and they are eating into our potential audience. They tend to pay nothing or insufficient screening fees. And they don’t want us to be their partner either. Last year it was indeed critical. In 2013 we had almost 30 hours of our films in one of the most prestigious festival in the Czech Republic. To get the material in time we had to pay 100% of the licenses plus all material and production cost. Altogether we paid to licensors almost 100,000 EUR upfront. From the festival I received something like 5,000 EUR.

Those films were scheduled for the regular distribution several months after its national festival premiere. From the festival we did not receive extra promotion of our films and, actually, no extra attentiveness towards us as a distributor either. We were treated as a necessary complication, not as a partner who is actually sponsoring the festival. So I said, enough. And we created our own festival. In October, we are launching Be2Can, which is the abbreviation for Berlin, Venice [in Czech “Benatky”] and Cannes in a key Czech and Slovak art house cinemas. Altogether, almost 6,000 seats. The deal with the cinemas is strict 50/50. Be2Can is going to be the most important festival in our countries for our films.

FNE: How does a success (or "disappointment") in a festival relate to a success (or "disappointment") in cinemas?

I.H.: We must distinguish between A festivals – Berlin, Venice and Cannes – other major festivals and local regional festivals. All festivals are naturally interested in creating their own success and glamour, and the local festival director’s first priority is to promote the festival, not a particular film and definitely not a distributor of that film. They are in bed with directors and actors, sometimes producers and sales agent and they – sorry to say that – try to push distributors out of the frame.

The logic is simple. The distributor actually shows that a local guy next door already discovers the film, which should be discovered by the festival.

Of course they don’t like it. Let me make it clear though, we should not have had such a conversation if festivals would pay a fair festival fee. Since they either reject paying entirely or they offer a small amount compared to the fact that their audience pays regular cash for the festival tickets, we were forced to create our own distribution platform. And call it a festival.    

FNE: Does piracy affect your VOD/DVD releases and is there anything you can do in order to prevent it?

I.H.: I am furious once we find that someone else is offering our films. The anti-piracy union actually helps to get it off from the Internet and in a few minutes the film is back. So, we have to accept piracy as a fact, even as a part of the film ecosystem. I am not sure how, but I know that we must find a way of “cooperation” rather than confrontation with the “culture” of piracy.

FNE: Which film do you think might describe your work in the most accurate way and why?

I.H.: Our best example, which describes our work, is the overall concept of Film Europe as a vertically integrated distribution company. We are not about film; we are about films, predominantly awarded films from the competition from Cannes, Venice and Berlin. We try to cooperate with the best local festival (and I am sure we will find a common ground in the future) then we distribute those films in theatres, including our own cinema, partner VOD platform and our own television channel. Last year we premiered 55 European films in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and via our partners in Hungary and Poland, among them titles such as The Great Beauty, La vie d'Adèle, Child Pose, Sacro Gra, Faust, Shun Li and the Poet. In short, winners.

Film Europe s.r.o.
V jámě 1
110 00
Prague, Czech Republic
Phone: +420 222 521 257
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