Technology, theatrical windows and superhero movies were among the topics discussed during 20th Century Fox Film Chairman and CEO Stacey Snider’s wide-ranging session with CNBC senior media and entertainment correspondent Julia Boorstin at Recode’s Code Media conference in Dana Point, Calif., last week. Here’s a recap of the discussion:
The importance of technology at 20th Century Fox Film
“I think we’ve recognized that the competitive advantage we have is to create transportive, immersive, global spectacles, and that in order for them to be value propositions for the audience, they have to be presented in the most cutting-edge way,” Stacey said when asked about how embracing technology influences the way she runs the studio.
She added that 20th Century Fox has many people dedicated to considering new film innovations, which entices filmmakers “who want to know that the people they’re in business with are speaking the same language.”
Pursuing new innovations for the studio often starts with seeing something in a film and saying, “That was cool,” Stacey said. For example, after she saw “The Jungle Book” last year and was blown away by the end product, Stacey picked up the phone and called director and producer Jon Favreau to learn about the technology and process that made the film’s visual storytelling possible.
Competition at film festivals
When the conversation touched on increasing competition for films sold at festivals like Sundance, Stacey cited Fox Searchlight’s recent deals for “Step” and “Patti Cake$,” which were both done for less money than what competing bidders were offering. She credited the “curated, hand-carried approach to market” that comes only with years of experience and people who can “speak an artist’s language.”
Stacey also mentioned 20th Century Fox’s reach into mediums like television and Broadway, thanks to the proximity to sister businesses within the 21st Century Fox family. The ability to offer storytellers a chance to get their story out to large audiences through various formats is “alluring,” she said.
When asked about the current film distribution model, Stacey noted that most films make 90-95 percent of their money in the first 3-4 weeks and that lifting the theatrical window sooner seems to make sense. Yet “it’s not about smashing the window; maybe it’s about opening it up a little,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s controversial to say that for a business to not be able to sell what it makes for periods of time is anachronistic.”
The success of “Hidden Figures”
Stacey noted that the broad success of “Hidden Figures” has been a pleasant surprise and that the various stakeholders for the film – NASA, coders, academics, teachers, etc. – spread word of mouth for the studio.
That said, what drew the studio to the story was not a calculated play at particular audiences; it was simply the shock at stumbling upon a remarkable story that had never been told.
“I always have felt that when I try to calculate a creative choice from the outside in, I face-plant,” Stacey said. “Whenever I’ve said, ‘Oh this will appeal to that group,’ or ‘This is a no-brainer because it has these elements,’ I’m almost always disappointed.”
But when a creative choice is made from the inside out, “it’s almost always a pure and more successful experience.”
The culture at 20th Century Fox
Stacey recalled the cultures at the other Hollywood studios she’s worked at. At 20th Century Fox, she said the entrepreneurial culture is perceptible.
“At Fox, that it was built by an entrepreneur and in stewardship of great entrepreneurs is palpable, and it coincides with my own management style, which is decentralized.”
Superhero film overload?
At the end of the session, an audience member asked Stacey about whether we have reached “peak superhero genre” in films. Pointing to the genre-breaking “Deadpool” and the soon-to-be-released “Logan,” Stacey talked about how 20th Century Fox is mindful of differentiating its superhero films from the competition.
“We acknowledge that the form is valid, but that within that form, great creativity is required,” she said.
Watch Stacey’s full Code Media session: