The beating heart of Pathé U.K. is Cameron McCracken, the lawyer-turned-producer who’s been at the company for over two decades, with 15 of those years at the helm as managing director.
It would be an understatement to say the industry has changed over that time. The production and distribution landscapes have morphed almost beyond recognition, and McCracken acknowledges that Pathé U.K. must remain flexible to stay in the game. That includes moving into television for the first time as well as being open to new models of distribution — including potentially forgoing theatrical exhibition.
“At the core, we’re still a theatrical business,” McCracken says. “But we have to evolve to accept that the business model is shifting.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Pathé U.K. has shifted gears under McCracken’s tenure. In 2009, after “Slumdog Millionaire,” Pathé U.K. moved away from general distribution, instead focusing on exclusively developing, producing and domestically distributing its own films ever year, a meticulous process McCracken describes as “an haute couture activity.” (The exception to this rule is Pedro Almodóvar, whose films Pathé U.K. continues to co-produce and distribute.)
“That’s what the filmmakers like,” McCracken says of Pathé U.K.’s tightly curated slate. “That’s why they keep coming back, as opposed to just being another frock coming down the high street. It’s a very different world, that Pathé U.K. model.”
It’s a model that sees the company control everything from a film’s inception to its IP to its delivery, including P&A (Warner Bros. Entertainment U.K. handles the actual distribution across the U.K. and Ireland). While the haute couture route enables Pathé U.K. to craft a quality product, it isn’t without its challenges. “The pressure on that as a business model is that you really can’t afford to make mistakes,” says McCracken. “Because, obviously, you don’t have a wide slate of films. And we are still, all of us, working in a hit-driven business.”
To alleviate that pressure somewhat, Pathé U.K. plans to “increase the volume without sacrificing the quality,” says McCracken, moving from one to two films a year to three or four. As part of that, Pathé U.K. will be open to partnering with both studios and streamers, particularly in the U.S. “in a way that we maybe haven’t in the past.”
McCracken is also in the process of recruiting a head of television to oversee a new range of long-form content. “That will become a very important driver of the business moving forward,” he says. “Always still in the movie world as well, but we need to really invest in that TV aspect of the business.”
Will Pathé U.K.’s television output have the same brand sensibility as its feature films, which tend to be dramas aimed at an older audience? “Whoever is coming in has to come in with their own taste,” McCracken says. “And yes, I’m sure they will want to build on what we have. But there will be areas that they will go into where I would not and I think that’s absolutely right. So things like thrillers, or the genre stuff, that elevated genre, I have no idea how that works. But that does work very well on the small screen.
“What will run through it, like the writing through a stick of rock [candy], will be the quality,” he adds.
In many ways, the relationship between Pathé U.K. and its forthcoming television division sounds similar to the one Pathé U.K. enjoys with its French parent company, benefitting from Pathé’s 125-year reputation for quality, while being given enough of a free rein to craft its own brand.
“I can’t think there’s anywhere like [Pathé U.K.], and it’s a huge privilege entirely down to [Pathé topper] Jérôme Seydoux,” McCracken says. “Which is that we can do two films a year [and] very often we’ve developed these projects for eight years or more.”
Despite the changes to the business over the past two decades, including the devastating impact of the pandemic, McCracken is confident that the theatrical experience will survive. He points to the success of one of Pathé U.K.’s latest films, “The Duke,” starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. It opened in February after initially premiering at Venice in 2020.
“It’s a long-term game,” says McCracken. “This is just weathering the storm. Being smart, cautious, co-financed, spread your risk, survive. But don’t lose track of the fact that if you have the right story, you know your audience and it’s theatrical, then they will come to the cinema.”
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