April 12, 2024

Fithian Group builds film production studio, direct distribution

  • John Fithian, former head of NATO, founded The Fithian Group, which aims to improve the production, distribution and exhibition of films.
  • The group is overseeing the construction of a high-tech production studio in Europe and a data-infused direct distribution platform.
  • The platform, which is free for theaters to use, provides data to drive decisions and reduce costs for theaters and filmmakers.

Three months after John Fithian retired as head of cinema lobby group The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), he was ready to return to work. What he didn’t realize was how much work needed to be done.

Fithian has fought for over twenty years to keep cinemas relevant in the ever-changing world of entertainment and technology. He has been on the front lines of issues ranging from theaters transitioning to digital projection, to the advent of films released via streaming, to theaters suddenly having to close their doors due to the pandemic. Now Fithian is taking on perhaps his toughest challenge yet: making it easier to make and release more films.

When he announced the formation of The Fithian Group in November, many thought Fithian — along with former NATO executives Jackie Brenneman and Patrick Corcoran, who are co-founders — would expand the work they did at the organization: advocating for the theater experience. However, the three have much more ambitious plans.

“The basic concept is that there are a lot of things that we think we can help improve the production, distribution and exhibition of films, things that we could never really do at NATO,” Fithian told Business Insider in an interview along with Brenneman and Corcoran. last month. “At NATO you represent the entire industry, so you cannot address competition issues. “I think all three of us enjoyed our careers there, but bringing the band back together and focusing on business models and competitive things that we think can really improve the business is really exciting.”

Fithian Group hopes to shake up the industry with the launch of a production studio in Europe and a direct distribution platform

Although just over four months old, The Fithian Group has found immediate interest from companies seeking help within the cinema sector on everything from mergers and acquisitions to consultancy.

But there are two projects in particular that Fithian, Brenneman and Corcoran hope will become key pillars of their business.

John Fithian, Jackie Brenneman, Patrick Corcoran

Fithian Group founders (LR) John Fithian, Jackie Brenneman and Patrick Corcoran.

Iah Bearden-Vrai

One of these is overseeing the construction of a state-of-the-art production studio in Europe that can handle both virtual and traditional physical production. Fithian would not reveal where exactly the studio will be located and would not name the partners involved, saying only that they are European investors. But he said the aim is for the studio to rival that of Britain’s famed Pinewood Studio in its ability to take on productions of all sizes.

“Major studios are well below the level of releases that can support this industry,” Fithian said. “We want to bring more of these mid-range and independent films to exhibitors and therefore to audiences. Having the latest and greatest virtual production technologies will make the filmmaking process more affordable.”

The studio is in the early stages of development and there is no scheduled start date for construction.

The other major project is an AI-enabled, data-driven direct distribution platform that filmmakers, independent distributors and theaters can use to get more films into theaters at a lower cost. For decades, theaters — through bookers — have engaged in an endless dance of negotiating with distributors and studios for titles that could play in theaters with little more than, as Fithian put it, “a lot of spreadsheets and a lot of phone calls.” This has led to the company often being heavily dependent on relationships instead of data.

The platform overseen by Fithian Group, which is in the early stages of development, will update that process and provide both parties with more informed decision-making capabilities, the group believes. A theater can use specific data through the platform to show a distributor why a certain type of film should be played in his home. A filmmaker or distributor can also use the platform to show data to a theater about why their film should be played there.

“A distributor in the past would say, ‘We never book into that market, we never book that kind of theater,’ but the theater now will have data that shows that this audience is here for these types of films. Book it,” Corcoran said . “We want to take away a lot of the gatekeeping, a lot of the mystery, and open up and democratize the system using technology.”

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The Fithian Group wants to get more films into cinemas and satisfy a larger audience.


More data to better program the audience would be a welcome tool, says a cinema director

Dylan Skolnick, co-director of Cinema Arts Center, an arthouse in Long Island, New York, said new releases at his theater have not consistently filled his home as they did before the pandemic. It would be useful to have more data showing which titles work best in its market, he added.

“It’s important to use data to develop the audience of people who really want to come,” Skolnick said when Business Insider told him about the platform The Fithian Group is developing. Skolnick is also his theater’s booker and said dates are never discussed much in discussions with distributors. “We can split the internal data we have to some extent, but they will probably have a lot more data and a lot more computing power, so it could be great to use that platform – if we can afford it.”

The founders said the upcoming platform will be available to movie theaters for free. A fee and a percentage of the box office is charged to filmmakers and distributors who use the service.

Fithian, Brenneman and Corcoran said they believe the efforts they are undertaking will cause a jolt to the film industry, which has suffered since the pandemic from lackluster box office, fewer titles being released and not enough variety in the types of films being made made. .

“We’re not just thinking about keeping the company as it is and just participating in helping companies reach and break out of the status quo and do the things they’ve always done,” said Brenneman. “We are at the dawn of a new era of cinema where it costs almost nothing to distribute a film. So there is a promise of digital cinema, which is more films, more flexibility, more understanding of our audience, and we’ We’re just here now, there’s a ton of AI out there to really help target the right films for the right audiences, and we think we can really work with companies and individuals to get more films into theaters and a bigger audience to satisfy.’

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