September 22, 2021


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Cinematic docs like ‘Summer of Soul’ capitalize on streamers demand

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A few years ago, John Sluss was concerned that major talent companies had uncovered his secret sauce formula. The founder of Synetic Media established himself as a business consultant for a specific type of writer, helping to find buyers and supporters for Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” and Lee Daniels’ “Valuable”. Now companies like CAA and Endeavor were fighting, which made Indie Maverick’s life even more difficult.

“All of the scripted projects are sold exclusively by agencies trying to get us out of business,” Slus said. “As soon as they put an actor in a movie, they say we won’t put them in this movie unless we can sell the movie. We could not compete with it. ”

So Synetic has blended its business model. Capitalizing on the thirst for streaming services for documentaries, Sluss began combining more non-fiction movies and series such as the hit “Summer of Soul” and the upcoming Todd Haynes-directed “The Velvet Underground”. At the same time, he diversified, expanded the company’s management business (clients included Linklater and David Gordon Green) and moved on to consultations such as Nat Geo and The New York Times.

Now, with the start of the autumn festival season, Sluss and his team are hoping to benefit from streaming battles as they challenge veterinarians like HBO Max and Paramount Plus Netflix. This is a time, he believes, when disrupting the gold rush and distribution strategy for creators who need to attract customers. “Summer of Soul”, for example, has sold 12 million since its debut in Sundance from Hulu and Searchlight.

“Until the next five years or so of integration and competition is over, I think it’s going to be the healthiest time of my professional life,” Slus said. “It’s incredible how blurry things are. Once you realize that the Netflix content budget is 18 18 billion, you realize that there aren’t enough blockbusters to make that much money. So you need to replicate the full range of storytelling that existed in previous generations. It’s good for someone like me. ”

But there are still worrying signs. In the old days, the top talent was rewarded for a big hit by linking profitable backend payments to box office performances in the deal. Scarlett Johansson’s recent lawsuit against Disney over her decision to keep “Black Widow”, which claims the move is a sign of instability, is flowing calculus. Slus wants to see talent that is driven by customer gain or audience, but that means companies like Netflix need to provide data that they hate to share.

“They’ve been under pressure for a long time to do it, but nothing adds to the pressure like a collision,” Sluss said. “If we don’t put our work together and enjoy talent for a short period of time, these platforms, which are benefiting from their work, can reward these creators.”

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