Euro Ex­hibs Weigh Ways to En­gage Women Movie­go­ers

Con­fab will de­bate strate­gies to bol­ster fe­male au­di­ences and break down bar­ri­ers

Variety - - Cineeurope - By LEO BARRACLOUGH

What is in­ter­est­ing is now we are liv­ing in a world where that def­i­ni­tion of the char­ac­ters that fe­male au­di­ences are want­ing to see — the role mod­els — is evolv­ing.”

Jenny Bor­gars

Three of last year’s big­gest global hits — “Won­der Woman,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Beauty and the Beast” — demon­strated the biz po­ten­tial of tent­pole movies with strong fe­male leads. Ci­neeu­rope, the up­com­ing gath­er­ing of the Euro­pean movie the­ater sec­tor, will de­bate ways to keep en­gag­ing the fe­male au­di­ence at the box of­fice this sum­mer and be­yond.

Women want fe­male char­ac­ters in films who are more than just “eye candy,” says Laura Houl­gatte, CEO of UNIC, a body that rep­re­sents ex­hi­bi­tion com­pa­nies in Eu­rope. The suc­cess of films like “Won­der Woman” sent a sig­nal to the biz that films with strong fe­male pro­tag­o­nists “can in­crease your re­turns,” she says, and that such movies are not just for women, but men, too.

Eric Meyniel con­curs. “When you hook the fe­male au­di­ence, you also hook the male au­di­ence, too, be­cause they come with their [male] friends, hus­bands or boyfriends,” says Meyniel, in­ter­na­tional con­tent di­rec­tor at ex­hibitor Kinepo­lis, which op­er­ates the­aters across sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries.

It isn’t just Hol­ly­wood block­busters where fe­male leads are res­onat­ing. “Three Bill­boards Out­side Eb­bing, Mis­souri” and “Lady Bird” also demon­strated that in­die movies with pow­er­ful fe­male per­for­mances could gain trac­tion at the box of­fice.

The suc­cess of fe­male­pow­ered movies de­pends in large part on the con­fi­dence in­vested in them by dis­trib­u­tors. But “time and time again this is un­der­whelm­ing, even when a film has been crit­i­cally her­alded and has been a festival dar­ling,” says Mia Bays, di­rec­tor-at-large at Birds Eye View, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that cam­paigns for gen­der equal­ity in the film biz. “By the time a film is in the dis­tri­bu­tion pipe­line, of­ten all the con­fi­dence and faith has gone out of it in terms of the cam­paign and how many cin­e­mas are booked,” she says.

De­spite this, some dis­trib­u­tors are at­tempt­ing to un­lock the mar­ket po­ten­tial of the fe­male movie­goer. Lia De­vlin, head of the­atri­cal at Bri­tish dis­trib­u­tor Al­ti­tude, says that at least 50% of its films are tar­geted at a fe­male-skew­ing au­di­ence, in­clud­ing the up­com­ing biopic “Whit­ney.” Its strat­egy to reach women is multi-lay­ered, but word- of­mouth is the most pow­er­ful in­flu­encer. “A fo­cus for us is build­ing buzz as early as we can,” De­vlin says. “We know that crit­i­cal ac­claim, buzz and hype are hugely im­por­tant for a fe­male au­di­ence.”

Early screen­ings to “the right peo­ple” — those with in­flu­ence like fea­tures edi­tors and Youtube blog­gers — is help­ful. Sneak pre­views help gen­er­ate wordof-mouth, as do event screen­ings with a live el­e­ment, such as a panel dis­cus­sion or Q&A.

Al­ti­tude puts actresses at the cen­ter of its pro­mo­tional drives. “We have al­ways cre­ated bold cam­paigns that re­ally ‘hero’ our fe­male pro­tag­o­nists, even though they might be new faces to cinema, and are not A-list ac­tors who peo­ple will rec­og­nize,” De­vlin says.

Jenny Bor­gars, deputy man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Pathé UK, says her com­pany has long tar­geted an older fe­male au­di­ence with films cen­tered on iconic women like Mar­garet Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” or stories based on the ex­pe­ri­ence of real-life women, like “Philom­ena.” Its lat­est of­fer­ing is “Judy,” star­ring Renée Zell­weger as Judy Gar­land. Even when films fo­cus on well-known women like Thatcher or Gar­land, it is im­por­tant to hu­man­ize them, Bor­gars says. “You are tak­ing on iconic in­di­vid­u­als but you are also ex­plor­ing the hu­man side of their lives: their pow­er­ful po­si­tions in their work en­vi­ron­ment ver­sus the per­sonal dilem­mas that they are deal­ing with, and how they man­age that bal­anc­ing act,” she says.

Like other dis­trib­u­tors, Pathé is look­ing for ma­te­rial that will be­come a “talk­ing point” for au­di­ences, and be “some­thing they can unify their au­di­ence around as an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence,” Bor­gars says.

“What is in­ter­est­ing is now we are liv­ing in

Femme Force

Daisy Ri­d­ley is one of mul­ti­ple actresses to have demon­strated the abil­ity of fe­male pro­tag­o­nists to pro­pel re­cent block­busters.

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