AFM attendees want longer market

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BUSAN, South Korea -- The consensus around Busan's Asian Film Market was that it was a good place for buyers and exhibitors to meet, get to know each other and lay the groundwork for deals. But the cool atmosphere at this year's confab left some calling for change and, of all things, asking for more.

"The market is too short," said art house film agent Maren Kroymann from Germany's M-appeal. Her company closed a deal for the Polish drama "Trick" with Korea's Coral Pictures, but that deal was set up before AFM opened.

"In Cannes, where we're present for eight days, we have more time for negotiation, screenings and close deals," she said. "Three days in Busan is too short for art house films to close; it should be five days."

In large part because of that short window, many marketgoers were more inclined to use AFM to set up deals that they will close next month at the American Film Market in Santa Monica. First-time exhibitors said they were happy to have the opportunity to meet Asian buyers at the market.

Sellers of larger-scale films with blockbuster potential held back from closing deals at the four-day market, they said, due to not enough buyers or two-day buyers.

Big-name Asian distributors including Japan's TBS, Gaga Communication, Toei and Korea's Showcase all decided to close deals in Santa Monica instead. Some, like Taiwan's Three Dots or North America's Cinemavault, said they were in Busan to meet buyers and prepare the deals, but they didn't expect to close anything here.

"We're here to meet the Asian buyers and establish relationships, and to know more about the Asian market," said Racquel Mesina, Cinemavault's director of international sales.

Others, like TBS, said they intentionally withdraw from the negotiations in Busan to wait for the American Film Market, where there will be more buyers and offers.

Smaller films also suffered here because buyers were too busy in meetings to go to see the films. "Too many screenings are scheduled at the beginning of the market, when people are busy with meetings," said Christian Were of Australia's Madman Interactive. "To have some more scheduled on the last day, when the market is closing, would have been nice."

Meetings and screenings were competing for buyers' time, so most of them chose meetings -- where, even if deals were not made, at least relationships were built. On average, only about 10 buyers attended each screening; in extreme cases, no one showed up at all.

It's not a good deal for sellers, said Unijapan's Yuri Kubota. "Sales agents spent money on booking the venue, but if so few people come to the screenings, then it's not worthwhile for them," she said.

The same is true from a filmmaker's point of view.

"Asian buyers should go to more screenings to know more about our films, that's why we're here," said Freddy Mas Franqueza, a first-time director whose debut, "Awaking from a Dream," was presented in the World Cinema sidebar.

One of his goals coming to Busan was to find a sales agent or buyer in Asia. Although no deals were signed, he found the market useful to make contacts, especially at the parties, where the casual atmosphere made it easier for distributors, buyers and filmmakers to discuss business.

The casual atmosphere is what buyers and sellers like about the Busan market, but some felt that it is now going in the wrong direction.

"I wish they could dismantle it," said Thierry Wase-Bailey, managing director and sales head at London-based Celsius Entertainment. "Busan's AFM is supposed to be an informal market. It is well organized, but it was more casual before, when people just hang out at the Paradise Hotel bar and meet each other to discuss business. That way you can meet more people.

"Now at the market we have to sit in the booths and arrange appointments. It's a bit formal, like the American Film Market. I'd rather have something different."

The more formal structure also took time out of seeing what the festival had to offer, Wase-Bailey said. Moreover, problems arose because the market, the Pusan Promotion Plan and the festival were too spread out. "The festival venue is so far away, like it's in another city," he said.

As a suggestion, Wase-Bailey would like to see the whole PIFF be more integrated so that he could spend more time with buyers and find out more about Korean producers.
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