A two-decade veteran of the entertainment industry, Anna Marsh began her career at Studiocanal—one of Europe’s leading distributors—in 2008. First joining the firm as vice president of international sales, Marsh rose through the ranks to become the head of international distribution strategy in 2013 and, shortly after, head of international sales. In 2017, she was appointed executive vice president, international distribution, and in March 2019, she was appointed managing director of Studiocanal U.K.
In December 2019, Marsh was appointed CEO of Studiocanal.
There have been seismic changes in the industry since you first joined Studiocanal in 2008. Do you believe it is harder to connect films to an audience today than it was 15 years ago?
The pandemic has certainly accelerated many trends we’ve been seeing encroach upon us for years and possibly changed viewer habits forever. More than ever, the audience is spoilt for choice, both in terms of the breadth of content on offer, as well as the ease and speed at which people can now consume. The industry has certainly lived through major upheaval, as lockdown accelerated the launch of multiple global SVOD services and exhibitors faced the unthinkable in unprecedented times. While we are now ready to return to a new normal, distribution strategies are constantly being questioned, encouraging industry executives to push the limits of their creative boundaries and figure out innovative ways to draw audiences away from their homes and back to the big screen by making each release a true event. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all method as there may have been 15 years ago; this exponential rise in content offer makes it increasingly challenging for a movie to cut through all the noise in oversaturated markets. We must think differently, create the unexpected, and endeavor to listen more carefully to our audience in order to take them by surprise! A film doesn’t always have to be for everyone, but it must cater to someone; understanding the specificities of our target audience is, more than ever, essential.
One thing that hasn’t changed however, is the importance of story. Whilst the pandemic may have put our businesses to the test, it also created the opportunity for us to take a step back and reset, affording ourselves the luxury to peel back the layers of the core of what we do: telling great stories. A lot of us dedicated more hours than usual to developing scripts throughout lockdown, reminding us that story is at the beating heart of all we do. We have the responsibility to dig deep and find powerful stories that will connect profoundly with audiences and inspire them to keep coming to the movies.
It is certainly challenging as we all adapt to this new landscape, but I remain optimistic as there have never been more ways to reach an audience than now—it’s just a matter of finding the correct approach for the right story each time.
Studiocanal has been an active distributor since cinemas reopened in the pandemic. What are the lessons you’ve learned about today’s post-pandemic audience? How has your distribution and marketing strategy evolved as a result?
Studiocanal benefits from being the only European studio to be integrated into a pay TV group with over 24 million subscribers spread across 40 countries. We demonstrate the utmost flexibility with our distribution strategy, allowing the opportunity to extend our films’ reach such as with The Stronghold (Bac Nord), which surpassed 2.2 million admissions in theaters in France before becoming available just six months later on the group’s SVOD service myCANAL, collecting millions of views in just its first weeks, and released by Netflix in the rest of the world.
As Europe’s leading homegrown studio for content production, it has been our mission to understand the unprecedented challenges and shifts in our industry. Of course, throughout the pandemic we remained passionate supporters of the big-screen experience and continued to release films theatrically in six major markets: France, the U.K., Germany, Austria, Australia, and New Zealand.
As mentioned earlier, audiences demand premium content and are more incentivized to go see a movie when it becomes an event. We will really go above and beyond to tailor our campaigns for each market, encouraging our key talent to connect physically with the audience, particularly coming out of the pandemic. It’s no secret that local promotional tours are incredibly effective in building awareness and garnering excitement pre-release. For the Philippe Lacheau–directed film Superwho?, we organized a promotional tour in over 110 cinemas all over France to build momentum within the targeted audience group, resulting in a record 60,000 admissions for the film two months before its release.
We’ve also found that the more specific the target audience, the better. This applies extremely well for family films. Gilles de Maistre’s The Wolf & The Lion has already accumulated over $20 million in worldwide box office receipts and was the highest-grossing French film on the international market in 2021.
Of course, we are led by the desire to produce films with broad international appeal that respond to the need to provide the audience with a diversified offering despite the changes the pandemic might have brought to their lives. We remain committed to strengthening our relationships with first-class European talent and creating I.P.s that transgress the competitive theatrical landscape. Sequels are already under way for a number of our hit French comedies 30 Days Max, Barbecue, and 10 Days Without Mum, as well as new adventures for Ernest & Celestine. We are also developing new installments for Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake and Hans Petter Moland’s Cold Pursuit … not to mention our beloved Paddington, who will make his return to the cinema. Our deep and rich catalog provides a wealth of I.P. from which we can really build part of our franchise strategy, while also betting on original stories that resonate with modern audiences—some of which may naturally evolve into the franchises of tomorrow.
What role has local content played for Studiocanal during this period?
This period proved to all the importance of local theatrical content. As the release dates of major U.S. titles were being pushed, exhibitors saw that they could not survive on studio tentpole films alone.
The production and distribution of diverse and ambitious local content is part of our group’s DNA. The growth of the theatrical market depends largely on the strength of its local productions. While productions came to a halt during the pandemic, we shifted our focus to the development of our local projects (nearly 100 projects across all territories). On July 15, we will release our very first U.K. in-house production, The Railway Children Return, a sequel to the beloved British family classic.
During this time, we also used the opportunity to invest in our prestigious library of over 6,500 titles. We’ve spent over $20 million in the past five years on over 750 titles, establishing ourselves as the leader in this domain in terms of both quantity and quality. We are thrilled to have our brand-new 4K restoration of Orson Welles’s The Trial premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival within Cannes Classics. It will be followed by a theatrical release in France and the U.S., giving our classics a second life and a chance to be enjoyed by the next generation.
What can you share about Studiocanal’s 2022 slate?
We have a rich and diverse slate of 30 titles releasing theatrically this year. So far, the year has been off to a fantastic start with excellent performances in France for Philippe Lacheau’s Superwho?—so far the second-biggest French success of the year, and fourth-biggest success overall in 2022 with more than 1.8 million admissions. Fred Tellier’s Goliath has grossed close to 800,000 admissions, and Rise, by Cédric Klapisch, is still in the top 10 in its fifth week, grossing well over 1.1 million admissions and playing on over 715 screens in both commercial and art house circuits. We have been working with Cédric for decades and believed in this unique, heartwarming film from day one.
Our latest French release, Tenor, stars Michèle Laroque and rapper MB14 in a story rooted in the rich operatic culture of Paris’s Palais Garnier, by first-time filmmaker Claude Zidi Jr.
In October, Stronghold director Cedric Jimenez will be back to captivate audiences with another groundbreaking film with November, starring Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin.
Forthcoming, we also have Retribution, a high-octane action-thriller set in Berlin, emerging from our latest collaboration with Liam Neeson and our friends Andrew Rona and Alex Heineman from The Picture Company. Also in post-production with TPC is the chilling horror movie Baghead by Alberto Corredor starring Freya Allen and Ruby Barker.
With Working Title, we have made a joyous, feel-good, romantic drama directed by Shekhar Kapur, What’s Love Got to Do with It? starring Lily James and Shazad Latif that we will date imminently.
Cinema is the primary motivator behind Canal Plus subscriptions (in front of series and sports), making Studiocanal a key asset in subscriber growth. As such, we are committed to producing an exciting and diverse slate of films to help feed the increased appetite for high-quality content both on the big screen and at home.
After two consecutive years with an ailing box office, what are your expectations for 2022? How would you define a successful year for the industry?
2021 was a recovery year for movies, with much trial and error. Distributors around the world were forced to chop and change dates, opt for day-and-date, or release long-awaited films straight to platforms. With cinemas back open worldwide and restrictions lifted in almost all regions, 2022 is looking to be a promising one with an exciting lineup of films to come. This will prove to be a defining year in which we build on our lessons from the past two trying years and continue to readjust to a new, more demanding market that keeps us on our toes.
As we continue on this path to recovery, what do you think will be necessary for cinemas to reclaim the record-setting success we saw in the years leading up to the pandemic?
More than ever, theaters need to incite audiences to return by bringing added value to the theatrical moviegoing experience for all. No demographic or age group can be neglected.
Exhibitors need to continue to promote a diverse programming slate in order to compete and pull in a wide range of audiences. The market is already incredibly polarized, so without this varied offer, we risk creating a world where only one type of film survives, and midrange films stand little chance, which is unhealthy for the market long-term.
I truly believe theatrical brings an unrivaled premium experience to movie watching, as human beings relish the collective experience. It is more important than ever that we maintain constant dialogue with exhibitors to work hand in hand on finding creative solutions to attract audiences back to theaters … and keep them wanting more!