Francesca Bianchini is Business Affairs Executive of Amazon Studios where she is responsible for Italian commercial and business activities in original drama, film, documentaries and format. In this role Francesca oversees development (e.i. original scripts, book rights, format rights, etc.) and production deals, above-the-line talent deals and partnerships.
Previously, Francesca worked at Sky Italia Original Productions and Sky Studios where she contributed to build the business and financial structure of such international hits as “GOMORRA”, “THE NEW POPE”, “DEVILS”, “ZERO ZERO ZERO” and many others. She also supported the relationship between Sky Italy and Sky UK/DE/ESP during the transition process into Sky Studios. In her last year at Sky, Francesca worked on in-house contents launched by the Pay TV.
Francesca started her career at BeLaw: one of the most prestigious entertainment and IP law firms in Italy. She worked also in the Communication and Public Affairs Division of Sky Italy.
Francesca is graduated in law at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome with a final dissertation on Linear TV versus OTT business model.
What attracted you to Inside Pictures (IP)?
The reputation and prestige of IP is outstanding. I feel honoured to be part of the IP community. It is not so much a ‘course’, but an all-embracing, holistic experience that covers: theory, practice, growing your network and most of all, personal growth. IP provides a 360° perspective on the entire filmmaking process. From packaging and development, up to financing, distribution, marketing and exhibition. Working closely with some of the most ambitious indie producers and other film professionals will give me an opportunity to broaden my knowledge, and understanding, of our industry beyond my current role.
You’re responsible for Italian commercial and business activities in original drama, film, documentaries and format at Amazon. What unique challenges does that work represent?
As a Business Executive, I am in charge of negotiating the whole slate of Amazon Studios in Italy. This means handling a wide range of content from drama, film, documentaries and format. To be successful at it, I must build relationships with a range of stakeholders: producers, managers, agents and external attorneys.
You have to be a solid negotiator with both a strong judgment and empathy for your counterparties.
Scripted productions – especially high-end drama – entails many complex challenges. For example, managing a co-production structure, tax incentives, soft money, rights ownership, lock, and elaborate ATL packaging to secure. Whereas documentaries and formats tend to involve intense work around talent management and access.
Each show is completely different, and every day is a new story. Especially, when you work for a streaming service that is constantly looking to raise the bar.
Working for an American studio in a European territory is a challenge: it is very interesting to see how different countries approach contents both in terms of creativity and business models. Amazon, as with other global companies, has the economies of scale to look beyond what is being pitched and think much bigger when the right project comes along.
How are global streaming services changing the way local content, creative communities and territories think about their projects?
Global streaming services are committed to investing in local shows and homegrown talent in the territories they produce new contents. OTT* film and TV is a great opportunity because shows can travel everywhere a subscriber has access. Therefore, it is becoming more common to package a film or TV series with talents from many countries with a view to simultaneously satisfying local appeal and growing the global potential.
I see OTT as a way for the creatives to break boundaries and provide a platform for local talents to be recognized and enjoyed internationally. This process is, in a way, reducing a perceived cultural gap – and differences – between how US and European productions function.
This isn’t about trying to make everything the same across the globe. Part of our daily routine, and of the service’s scope, is to respect and protect local cultures, customers and tradition via the development of outstanding projects with high production values.
* OTT TV or over-the-top television entails all video content that reaches the end-user via the internet in favor of delivery by cable or satellite
What makes a good Business Affairs Executive? And what could producers, managers and/or agents do to get the best out a Business Affairs Exec when developing a project with Amazon?
As Ken Basin states in his book guide “The Business of Television”: The “business affairs” viewpoint is conceptually (but also concretely) extremely distinct from that of “legal affairs”. The business context of the industry is defined more by customs and practices than by abstract legal principles, and the industry’s key substantive deal structures reflect the particular characteristics of the television medium. So, a good Business Affairs Executive should have a strong knowledge of the commercial and strategic side of the industry. It is also crucial to be a good listener and communicator, try to understand counterparties’ needs and find the fairest balance between competing interests. It does not mean only implementing corporate policies or negotiating ‘fair’ fees. It entails other important skills: be inventive when finding alternative solutions, be the trade off and synthesis between different stakeholders (Creative, Production, Post Production, Marketing, PR, Social, Finance, Music, etc.) and develop new strategies that supports content providers. Most of the time you have to be extremely proactive and go above and beyond the role.
We are facing rapid and constant change in the industry. Producers, managers and /or agents should view the Business Affairs Executive as a way to better understand a studio’s way of working. They should see us as the person to guide them into this ‘world’. We are there to support content development and be quick to resolve issues that may occur during the entire process.
Your dissertation about Linear TV versus OTT business model… What did you conclude? And how much has the market place evolved since you wrote it?
We can synthesise the OTT impact in three main pillars: as space shifting (availability of unlimited content space), place shifting (consumers can watch what, where and when they want), time shifting (no appointment viewing).
I wrote my dissertation when streaming services were entering into European markets. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other non-linear services had not yet been launched in Italy but were extremely popular in US.
In 2013/2014, Linear TV (Free and Pay) still controlled the market. The disruption to that dominant model happened when OTT started to invest in high end, original content. Suddenly, OTT was competing with the traditional broadcasters in terms of innovation and volume. In order to be more attractive, traditional players responded by launching their own ancillary OTT and increasing their investment in original programming.
I remember that at the time some books referred to OTT as “newcomers”. It’s amazing to think how much change would follow and how much the impact was underestimated at the time. It was fascinating to see how technology was affecting entertainment but also production processes. Like in other industries, these new technologies have altered the market boundaries. For example, consider the debate about the release windows and theatrical distribution now, compared to 2014.
The global pandemic and associated lockdowns meant many people around the world were stuck in their homes, and they watched a lot of streamed contents. This served to accelerate an on-going transformation of streaming services having a greater presence in their lives.
In the new normal, where everyone with a mobile phone, iPad, laptop or smart TV want to binge-watch TV shows at will, it is important for professionals and creators to see OTT as both ally and a land of opportunities.
I am very curious to see how it further evolves in the coming years.
What’s been the greatest impact on you/your company from COVID?
I have been impressed by how Amazon Studios has faced up to the pandemic. The company shaped a protocol (safety and testing procedures) to be adopted on set and continued to commission, develop and produce new shows around the world.
Amazon demonstrated a strong commitment in order to support the creative community during the crisis. For example, in 2020 Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Studios donated €1million to support the Italian entertainment industry through the pandemic. The donation had been made to Scena Unita Fund (created by a group of Italian artists and celebrities).
I joined the company during lockdown and I have been working with COVID protocols from day one. We have many online tools to keep in contact and collaborate with one another between cities and countries from our desks.
That said, I look forward to travelling again and meeting, in person, the international Amazon community that I know only from the screen. I am a ‘social animal’ and I think that personal contact is a crucial part of the job for people like me.
What’s changes or innovations, in response to COVID, have you seen in the film industry that will be for the greater good of the industry going into the future and what can’t you wait to see be ‘normal’ once again?
A great strength of the film and TV sector is that when there is a problem, there’s a desire to figure it out, create a work around or come up with a new way of working. Moreover, it is recognised that creativity increases during a crisis, so new, and inspired, stories will hopefully come from this period of uncertainty.
To be honest I cannot wait to see movie theatres fully booked. The theatrical experience is precious and we need to find the right way for it to coexist with the non-linear services in our homes.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, it’s raining, you’ve nothing else to do that day, what film are you putting on to relax with?
Asian films and culture obsess me. Therefore, a Hirokazu Kore’eda movie like “FATHER AND SON” or a Wong Kar-wai hit like “IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE” will for sure warm up my day. Or, a feel good TV series like “TED LASSO” or “MODERN LOVE”.