Indie filmers' $3 bil year beats slump

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Indie filmmakers appear to be defying a general worldwide boxoffice slump for U.S. movies with an estimated $3.08 billion in international sales in 2005 -- up from $2.91 billion the previous year, according to Independent Film & Television Alliance estimates.

Although the figures are unaudited and some question the method used to obtain them, the annual foreign-sales survey of IFTA members -- now gathering for their final mass sales effort of the year at the American Film Market that opens Wednesday -- provides the only comprehensive review on how indie film entrepreneurs may be doing in the international marketplace.

According to IFTA, the $3.08 billion relates only to non-U.S. sales and that the trade body has calculated that all sales, including from the U.S. market, "is closer to $4 billion." "The last year has proven that the independents worldwide are extremely strong both creatively and in the marketplace," IFTA president and CEO Jean Prewitt said Monday. "We believe that this year's AFM, which is the largest in the event's history, is a clear indication of the vibrancy of our business."

For the 2005, the Year of the Slump for the MPA companies, IFTA members' revenue -- based on figures compiled by the trade body's research and strategic analysis department -- are said to have increased year-over-year across all revenue from theatrical, television, home video and pay TV and from wherever else filmed entertainment can be marketed in the developing digital era.

Of the $3.08 billion estimated to have been collected last year, 61.2%, or $1.8 billion, came from Europe, with Germany (including Austria) crowned as the indies' best customer with a payout of $493.51 million, followed by the U.K., $287.12 million; France (including French-speaking Belgium), $272.83 million; Spain, $261.18 million; Italy, $258.39 million; Benelux, $108.94 million; Scandinavia, $96.95 million; and Other (Greece, Portugal and Switzerland), $106.8 million.

The Asia/Pacific region, excluding Australia, accounted for $454.73 million (14.8%), headed by Japan with $341.21 million, and followed by Thailand, $26.71 million; South Korea, $231.64 million; Taiwan, $17.31 million; and Hong Kong, $8.22 million.

Poland, at $80.31 million, beat Russia's $75.54 million to become the 2005 top buyer of IFTA-associated product in Eastern Europe, which contributed a total of $195.63 million, or 6.3% of the international total.

The Latin American total of $250.82 million (8.1%) came mainly from Brazil ($123.07 million) and Mexico ($55.53 million).

Sales to Australia/New Zealand were listed at $130.73 million, to Israel/Middle East, $76.18 million; South Africa, $22.69 million; and India, $6.87 million, all in the category of "other territories" that showed 9.5% of the offshore total.

The bulk of the sales for IFTA members appear to come from overseas theatrical placements from the larger financing-producing companies that release their films in the domestic market through the major studios. IFTA members also include such studio affiliates as New Line International, Miramax and Focus Features. At Academy Awards time, the IFTA is in the forefront touting "another outstanding and substantial showing for truly independent motion pictures."

IFTA members have been associated with such films as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "Crash," "Brokeback Mountain," "Million Dollar Baby," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," among many others

On the IFTA's official Web site, where the international membership sales survey is posted, there is an explanation of the methodology used to compile the annual sales figures. It indicates that about 43% of the members responded to a confidential survey in which reporting companies are grouped into different strata depending on sales. At the same time, nonresponding members were asked to place themselves in an appropriate sales strata. These responses result in total participation of about 57%, with the remaining 43% assigned by IFTA management to an appropriate sales strata based on previous year annual sales. Finally, the average sales figures for each strata are then used to extrapolate total sales figures for each market for the entire grouping.

But in fine print, IFTA offers a disclaimer: "This survey is for reference only. IFTA did not perform any audit or testing on the survey data and accordingly does not express any opinion on the fairness, accuracy or completeness of the underlying data. As such, IFTA cannot represent that these figures are accurate or complete, and therefore these figures should not be relied upon as such."
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