Artist View’s Scott Jones Talks Complexities of the Movie Market


NEW YORK: Scott Jones, the president of Artist View Entertainment, talks to World Screen about the complexities of working in the VOD arena, including managing windows, and the importance of delivering platforms the type of niche content they’re looking for.

WS: What are the greatest shifts you’ve had to deal with in the marketplace since founding Artist View some 25 years ago?
JONES: The biggest change, especially for us in the independent world, has been the reality that video stores are gone. Besides Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, there were a lot of smaller chains and a fantastic business to be had there. People were acquiring a lot more titles for the Walmart bins, Target shelves, etc. That income stream is now down to a very small percentage of what it once was. Because I was in the video business for so long, I could see that downturn starting to happen. We got very heavily involved in the television side of things, especially pay TV. That has allowed us to continue on down the river.

Dealing with new media and the VOD world is complex. It’s tricky because our job is to manage the properties that we represent in the best way possible, and every film now seems to take its own path. It’s no longer the good-old days when you would put [a movie] out onto video, then pay-per-view, pay TV and free TV, and those windows were all set. Now it’s the Wild West. Sometimes you have to jump over different windows, and you realize that maybe you’re leaving a little bit of money on the table in one spot, but you have to deal with what’s in front of you on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis as you try to figure out what the right path is for each title.

Along with the new technology, the market has also become a lot more sophisticated. “Joe Public” is a lot more sophisticated. [The everyday viewer] used to be happy to rent and watch all sorts of different programming, but because the business has grown up and it is so niche-driven, audiences are no longer compromising and saying, “I’ll just watch that.” Now they’re saying, “I’m going to watch exactly what I want.” For us in the independent business, we’re very fortunate to have channels like Lifetime, Syfy and UP that still buy features from independents. But they want round pegs in round holes. They know their consumer and if you have that product they’re happy to do business with you. It used to be that you could put something out and if it had good art, had a beginning, middle and end, and was in focus, you could make money! Now you have to have content that the [platforms and their consumers] want and it has to be the right thing.

WS: Are VOD and digital sales taking over from where sales of physical formats once were?
JONES: We still lean on our traditional “sure thing.” If you’re lucky enough to do a deal with HBO, Showtime, Starz or Sky, there is a very specific license fee for a very specific window, and you know what the deal is. In a lot of the VOD situations, unless it’s SVOD—which is paying flat license fees—you don’t know! It’s a little bit like throwing it up in the air and waiting to see what comes down. There is not enough history to make good decisions. In the older days of DVD, if you represented, say, an action movie with a couple of recognizable names, you would have a pretty good idea that you would be able to sell x number of DVDs. When

, the most DVDs that you could sell as an independent into Blockbuster was 20,000 units, and the most that Hollywood Video would take was 18,000 units. You knew that if you had a good independent movie you could get 38,000 units out of those two retailers. Today, it’s not unusual that if you have a good independent movie Redbox may take 35,000 to 36,000. So the number isn’t that much different; that main source of rental in society has just taken on a different shape. With VOD, you put a movie up and it sits there. How it’s getting out to the general public depends so much on social media and what’s going on behind the scenes. Does the movie have something interesting that’s going to hit social media and cause people to find it and watch it? There are a lot of steps down that path to get to a dollar, versus putting something in a physical format in a store and knowing people are going to rent it.

WS: Is having a wide breadth of genres to offer more important nowadays?
JONES: Artist View is unique in the fact that from the beginning I always acquired movies in the fashion of [having something for everyone], largely because I originally owned video stores. When I was filling the video stores, I would think in terms of, we need a new horror film or we need a new romantic comedy. Each person coming through the door had a different interest in what they were looking for and you wanted to keep those different categories refreshed. So from the day I started Artist View I always had that feeling. One minute I’m talking to Disney Channel and the next I’m talking to a Japanese DVD client. They want completely different product, and as a sales company, we want to be able to have both of those clients active with us. My goal has always been to get two to three new titles for each genre every year in order to have something to show [our various clients]. I’m obviously not showing Disney Channel my new martial arts movie, and it’s unlikely that my Japanese DVD client wants the girl-and-her-horse story.

WS: What kinds of films are you looking to acquire?
JONES: The goal for us is to find product that is family friendly, that can be played on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps. This is keeping in mind that TV is still alive and well! A lot of producers don’t like to hear this, but free TV’s main business is advertising. You need to have product that’s not going to offend Ford, McDonald’s or Kleenex. You want to have programming that draws in the audience but is also advertiser friendly. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about a boy and his dog; it just has to be something that anybody from ages 8 to 80 can watch and not be offended by. It can be action-adventure. Action is a very strong genre for us, but rather than it being violent, you want to think of it more like action that could play at 8 or 9 p.m. on television. Part of the problem with some young filmmakers is that they push hard toward the horror genre; I get way too many movies that are, Let’s take four good-looking Americans in the woods and how can we kill one? There is not a need for hundreds of those titles a year!

WS: How are you working to cultivate relationships within the independent production community?
JONES: If you’re fortunate enough to build a relationship with a good filmmaker—and it only takes one movie to prove if you’ll be [together] for a long time or not—you want to be careful with the creative ego. You want them to be open and full of great ideas, but at the same time, there are two words that we have to focus on, “film” and “business,” and every once in a while we have to talk about that second word. What I push with my producers is that by working with us they have a sales and marketing department. Why would you want to raise the money and spend a good half a year of your life, or more, producing a project that you’re not sure if people want, when you’ve got a sales team that can say, There’s a need for that in the market, or Yes, that’s the right person to put in the cast? A little bit of homework allows them a much higher chance of success with what they make. That’s always been my model with the producers we work with. There are now 14 or 15 production companies that I have at least three movies from and five that I have ten or more from. In one of my oldest relationships, we’re on our 17th film together.

I’m working with a group [of producers] right now who just did two horror films and they pitched me a third. I said, “Why don’t you do something different? Don’t get your company stuck in a niche.” One of the guys then told me he just directed a Lifetime movie and I said, “There you go!” For the sake of me not having too much of the same product and them being able to expand their horizons, I wanted to talk about other ideas and they were completely open to it. If a producer is willing to ask those questions, I’m obviously going to say what’s best for both of us.