AMC Networks’ Scott Shooman Talks Indie Movies, Cannes Film Fest

AMC Networks Film Group head Scott Shooman and his team really took the phrase “dinner and a movie” to heart. When they released The Taste of Things, the Juliette Binoche-starring French-language movie that IFC acquired out of last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the distributor partnered with restaurants like New York’s Frenchette and Los Angeles’ Petit Trois for a special Valentine’s Day screening experience.

“We really made it a reason to get out of the house,” says Shooman of the film, which grossed an impressive $2.6 million at the domestic box office. “[During the pandemic] people figured out how to log into streaming services and have a lot of options at their fingertips. So what’s that decision process that gets someone into a theater now?” The answer for The Taste of Things? Steak frites.

Formerly head of acquisitions at storied specialty distributor IFC, Shooman took over the reins at AMC’s film group in July, with a purview that now includes, in addition to IFC, genre-focused home video stalwart RLJ Entertainment and popular horror streaming service Shudder. He says Shudder looks to release about 30 films a year, both direct to platform and theatrical, while IFC and RLJ have about 20 films a year.

Ahead of the Cannes Film Festival, Shooman talked to The Hollywood Reporter about why he’s excited about the Cannes lineup, how his company adapted to the dual strikes, and the ongoing battle to get moviegoers back into theaters.

What were your first thoughts about the Cannes lineup when you saw it?

Cannes delivered one of the most impressive auteur lineups we’ve seen in a while. When you look at the other lineups, whether it was Toronto or Sundance, there weren’t really those kinds of star-studded alums that we traditionally expect at those festivals. But when you have an Andrea Arnold movie next to a Francis Ford Coppola movie next to a Paul Schrader movie, next to a [Paolo] Sorrentino movie, I think they are showing that they’re the Cadillac of film festivals and that this is the place to be and the place to premiere. 

Ahead of Cannes last year, we didn’t know it but we were headed into dual strikes and six months of work stoppages. How did you and the team use that time?

We were in very good shape heading into the strikes. We had a full slate. We have three distribution verticals between IFC, Shudder, and RLJ, so we had a lot of chess pieces to move around on the board. In the year that I took over, what we did was really focus on the institutional stuff. We needed to figure out how to make those three divisions function together, move together, mobilize together, and work together in buying strategically, developing a slate. For us, every release is bespoke. The theatrical and ancillary marketplace has really evolved in real-time. We’re deep into the reeducation of the consumer as they start to come back to theaters.

How do you reeducate the consumer?

It’s not an overnight thing, it’s a gradual thing. We sit there and try to figure out: What is that tipping point that gets anyone to a theater? People don’t hear from one person, “There’s this movie out right now, you should go see it,” and say, “Great, let me pull out my phone and buy a ticket.” It’s usually three to five touchpoints, and we are having to think about what those are. We don’t have television ads and newspapers. You’ve got to figure out how to do it organically, and that’s a mix of earned and unearned uniqueness. On When Evil Lurks, it was sending out flavored ice cream, which is a thing from the film. On Late Night With the Devil, it was re-creating a broadcast that we did with [live event producer] BBQ Films in New York. Our films are some of the highest-rated in the marketplace. That’s just the entry point, now. There’s no idea too silly, we’re trying everything. That group of friends who maybe saw a movie every Tuesday at noon, that’s not the easy audience anymore. It’s figuring out that audience that may go to the movies once a month and figuring out how to be their first choice. 

The IFC title BlackBerry got a lot of love last year, with more than $1.4 million at the domestic box office in limited release, play on streaming, and a lot of “best of” year-end lists. When did you know the film was going to work? 

We were still trying to figure out what to do with the film, and it was premiering at the Berlin Film Festival. I was sitting in the room, and about an hour in, there was a medical emergency and they stopped the film. There is nothing as good for knowing if a film is going to work as sitting in a room with strangers. So, I look around the room and they’re all sitting there just pushed back in their seats. It’s an hour and 15 minutes into the movie and, while it’s on medical delay, I called back to our office in New York and I was like, “Let’s figure out the window, it’s got to be a theatrical, we’ve got to go out big.” When festivals were online — and for theaters, it was tough to figure out who was open and who wasn’t — that was the thing that we were all missing.

Sundance had a solid showing in terms of sales. What do you think that means for the rest of the year, including Cannes, for domestic sales?

Anytime that amount of capital is infused into the independent ecosystem, it’s a win for everyone. There was some hesitation around some films that may have sold quicker in earlier generations, but I think a lot of what made me happy is it felt like the right places got the right films in a lot of situations. We walked out of the market and couldn’t have been happier with buying GhostlightFruitvale Station was the last time I saw that much emotion pouring out in a screening room at Sundance. Is it a film we bought for $20 million? No. Is it a film we’re going to try and connect with people the way we connected with it? Yes.

As compared to the past couple of years, it did appear that there was a wider breadth of sales, as opposed to a handful of films going for eight figures.

The reality is that some of the big players could sneeze an output deal that could save the independent ecosystem. They don’t seem inclined to do that, so the next best thing is them paying a financier who’s going to finance another movie that we’re going to buy. Money coming back into the system is really healthy and gives me optimism. Seeing the first quarter and how my competitors and I have done gives me optimism. What A24 has done is fantastic. Their success benefits all of us. When I see Civil War come out and do that number [the movie grossed over $25 million in its opening weekend], it’s great for the foreign presale market because those distributors are hopefully slightly more flush after Civil War than before Civil War. I really do think that while the studios are trying to figure out how to navigate their way [in theaters], the indies are always on the front lines of change, both creatively and institutionally.

It was announced recently that Sundance may be leaving its Park City location. If you were the one in charge, where would you put Sundance? 

I’d like to see it have a direct flight with affordable housing. 





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