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'Studios will keep financing' quality, diverse projects: Will Packer Productions President

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Will Packer Productions President James F. Lopez joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to break down his outlook on diversity in film, and how movie theaters with fare post COVID-19.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. Now, the film industry has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, while audiences have really been demanding greater diversity in stories and film talent that they are going to be seeing on screen. So let's talk outlook for this sector and more with James Lopez, President at Will Packer Productions. James, thanks so much for joining us today for this conversation.

So I want to start with the outlook looking forward. I'm wondering when you think the film industry will be back to normal, so to speak, or do you think that the film industry has been forever changed by this pandemic?

JAMES LOPEZ: You know, it's hard to predict. Obviously, life gets back to normal as more vaccine rolls out and herd immunity is achieved. I happen to think that there are audiences out there that are clamoring to get back into theaters. We've been locked in our homes for over a year, close to a year now. And I just have to believe that once we come out of this, the, the appetite for in-person entertainment and getting out of the home will be fervent. That same goes for live music and just public gathering in general.

So I happen to think that the theaters will come back. And it's all about the content that's being offered. You know, the-- obviously the movies that will be more of eventized, the big tentpole projects, will continue as in the past. The question will be, what is the threshold for a film that is theatrical worthy versus streaming, because obviously during this pandemic a lot of habits in terms of viewing have been formed. So some of those may be harder to, to break, or in terms of what types of programming people are willing to leave the home for.

But as a whole, as an industry, I have to believe that theaters are going to bounce back, because I for one am clamoring to go back into a theater. I can't wait to go back to a venue to watch my favorite bands and artists perform. So I have a very positive outlook.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to very quickly ask you this question, because I want to move on to diversity in this space. But do you think then that we're going to see a lot more films taking the root of a movie like "Tenet", for example, which did do a very short release in theaters and then went straight direct-to-consumer and was available on streaming platforms.

JAMES LOPEZ: I do believe so. I believe you're going to see a lot of, of differences in terms of windowing. You're going to see a lot shorter windows in theaters. You know, the studios and the streaming platforms will have to strike some overall deals with the exhibitors so that there's a happy medium that, that basically benefits both platforms. I think because of the pandemic, like I said before, there's a lot of habits that have been formed, and we have to adjust as an industry. Just like streaming, you know, and digital downloading affected the music industry a decade ago, the television and film industry is going to have to adjust as well.

So you will see different-- you will see different windowing strategies, depending on the projects.

KRISTIN MYERS: And I don't know if you understood "Tenet," and if you do, I hope you and I can chat later so you can explain it to me, because I still don't get it, and I've read a couple of explainers. So I want to move on to diversity in this space. Will Packer Productions, as you can see over your shoulder, responsible for some films that I have loved in recent years. "Girls Trip" is one, "Little" is another. "The Photograph" I recently watched. I'm wondering how you imagined diversity in this space moving forward. Are we at a point where really film studios can no longer get away with or act as if it's not profitable to only tell white stories with only white actors?

JAMES LOPEZ: Absolutely. You know, I think it's a business decision, and you know, at the end of the day, it's all about the green. And when you have projects that are proven to be profitable, the studios chase those same dynamics for future projects. So it's all about the performance of the content that's being produced. As soon as they stop working, you're going to see a drawback, but I don't think they're going to stop working. It's been proven over and over that diversity sells. And as long as you have a quality project and there's diversity in front and behind the camera, they're going to-- the studios will keep financing those projects.

And it's good business all around. It's been proven over and over. The biggest hurdle has been international, and those barriers are slowly breaking down as well. So it's all about the green, you know. Let's not fool ourselves and say it's all altruistic. It isn't. Studios, you know, it's a business. And as long as you continually have successful projects with diversity in them, you will continue to see more. And it's up to us as producers and content creators to keep providing that quality content and making sure that the studios and the, the financiers are getting their return of investment.

So it's a business. It's been long overdue. And as long as the diversity continues in terms of thought, in terms of story, the audiences will become more and more accustomed to seeing people who look different.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm so glad you mentioned that, because for a long time, it was said that women aren't funny, and then to see a cast like "Girls Trip" led by black women being, not just funny, hilarious, and performing well, was, I think, really just shattered a lot of those expectations. Really quickly for you here,

James, I'm curious to know your thoughts on representation when it comes to African-Americans versus other actors as a part of the diaspora. This was an argument and a debate that came up for example when "Harriet" came out, when Cynthia Erivo took on that role. We hear a lot more black actors saying you know what some of our Black American heroes and historical figures should be portrayed by African-Americans, Black American actors. What's your take on that?

JAMES LOPEZ: Well, I happen to be very close friends with a lot of actors across the diaspora, Nigerians, Brits, obviously Americans, and I have very spirited discussions about this subject with a lot of them. And, you know, did anyone pause when Forrest Whitaker played Idi Amin and was nominated for an Oscar? You know, we have to get over these issues within our own community. The best actor for the job should play the role, period. That is my opinion as a content producer.

So I don't want Africans saying to African-Americans, hey, you cannot play Nelson Mandela, for, you know, Morgan Freeman. That should not be. I think the producers, the filmmaker, the studio, have to put forth the best cast possible for these projects, and if they happen to be not of that country, I think it's OK. As long as everyone gets a fair shot to read or audition or be in the discussion. Now if there is a barrier to entry for, say, African-American actors not even getting the opportunity, that's an issue. But if the best person wins out, then I have no issue with that.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, James Lopez, President at Will Packer Productions. I could have had another half hour long chat with you, however I know my producer absolutely would not allow me to do that. We just unfortunately ran out of time. Thank you so much for joining us for this discussion.