Meet Olivier Tena, Executive Vice President of Paramount Home Entertainment International, who has shared with me an insight into the studio system, his philosophy and what it takes to succeed in the film industry.
Discover Olivier’s mindset exclusively on Film Industry Network
Oliver Tena Interview with Iain Alexander
Iain: What do you like about the film industry and how did you get in to it?
Olivier: For me it was totally opportunistic to be honest. I came to the film industry because I was called by DreamWorks and I was living in California at the time. It was a very attractive company. I had been working for Johnson & Johnson for 18 years and I went to the interview and met the DreamWorks people. I was expecting the big Hollywood ego but I met people I really liked.
The interview was supposed to last for 45 minutes, but it lasted nearly five hours. Then I said to myself I like these people; this is something different I would like to try.
Iain: What was special about DreamWorks?
Olivier: I found DreamWorks to have an entrepreneurial spirit. DreamWorks had this flavour of a start-up, and the business model was a bit easier as before I had been creating products at Johnson & Johnson and building the product pipeline. Here I was more on the distribution side, so the movies were created as opposed to planning products 36 months ahead at Johnson & Johnson. I focused on consumer purchases.
Iain: How do you work for Paramount and DreamWorks?
Olivier: Paramount produces its own movies and is also a distributor for other companies. DreamWorks Animation focuses on producing content and Paramount has been distributing their titles since 2006.
The six major studios have their own infrastructure because they produce at least 12 movies a year. They distribute them everywhere in the world, so they need an infrastructure. Some studios decide to distribute movies from other producers, and sometimes they co-produce them.
Iain: Is there a lifecycle of a film?
Olivier: In the typical home entertainment life-cycle a new release is 12 to 18 weeks. It then becomes a recent release. You don’t get the space at retail in the new release section, and therefore it moves to the catalogue section. If a movie is a really strong success, it can last as a new release for a longer time. For example in Japan Transformers was considered a new release for a full year.
Iain: Why was Star Trek a big success?
Olivier: Star Trek was something very special. For every film, we ask ourselves, who is the core target of the DVD? We look at screening reactions and then we build the DVD for this type of target. It is in our interest to give the most consumer value. In the case of Star Trek we tried to develop content that would satisfy Star Trek fans as well as those new to the franchise.
J.J. Abrams did something amazing with Star Trek . I was impressed with how he redefined the story and had a vision for how it would move forward. This is what makes it successful; when you have a director who understands the roots of the story, and creates something exciting and builds something very unique. For us it was huge.
Iain: Was that the vision of the director, the studio, or both?
Olivier: It’s both. I’m not working at this stage, but there are discussions between the director and the studio because they are going to commit a lot of investment into the movie. What they are trying to see is how unique and big it can be. This is where the studio and director make choices and work together.
Iain: Are there successful film genres?
Olivier: Yes you have genres that are usually successful, and genres that are lucrative. Comedies are working very well in America but not in Japan. If you have a studio that releases a comedy, it will usually work well in the US, UK and Australia for example but not in other countries.
Comedy is a genre that American studios like. It is quite predictable in terms of business. If you have a big action movie, it is usually successful, but expensive. If you take the James Bond franchise, the Mission Impossible franchise, the Transformers or Harry potter movies, these are huge.
Iain: Is piracy a big issue?
Olivier: Piracy is a major issue for the entire entertainment industry. Studios and governments are working hard to address it around the world, but it clearly impacts our business.
Iain: Will there be fewer films?
In France where you see that Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis was illegally downloaded as many times as there were theatrical admissions, it’s worrying. A movie that gets released in the US will be available in Ukraine and China three days later. In India we are working with big producers who are very worried about piracy. I think there is a solution, but it will not be popular because people have been used to getting free content. They don’t think they are committing a crime when they download illegally, but piracy is linked to organized crime.
There is so much money involved that piracy is one of the key business focuses of organized crime, just like drugs and prostitution. When you are at home downloading a movie illegally, you may not think you are doing something wrong, but you are indirectly sending money to the mafia.
Iain: Would you say movie investment was falling?
Olivier: I don’t have the numbers but I think that studios have become more selective about what they produce out of necessity. It depends, but in general the green lighting process is very rigorous.
Iain: Is marketing the most expensive part of a high budget movie?
Olivier: I think the production is the most expensive part. If you make a big animated movie it is a 4-year project with several hundred people. It’s a big financial investment.
Iain: Is education important to succeed, and does a degree have value?
Olivier: School definitely teaches you the basics, but what I think is important is your leadership skills. How do you build credibility and how do you work with other people? The educational system should focus more on teamwork.
In France I learned a lot of individualistic approaches. But at Johnson & Johnson I learned about how to work with others. I thought I came up with all the answers, but I left their workshops with much better ideas. I am a big fan of teamwork. If you are not open and you don’t listen to other people you are finished.