Mixed feelings about AFM as market wraps

Empty

The 27th annual American Film Market emptied out Tuesday as buyers exited and sellers began totaling up business from the last few days of the Santa Monica shindig.

Sellers all seemed to agree that there was a consistent appetite among acquisitions execs for high-quality movies with a good cast and director in place. But buyers noted that this market certainly was not awash with such material.

"It has been very quiet, but business (has been) steady," one acquisitions chief said. "This year, there hasn't been that surprise, standout project that everyone ends up talking about. We knew about the Paul Haggis or Ang Lee projects coming here, so the hot projects were already on the radar."

Buyers also noted that, every so often in the market calendar, one of the events — apart from the Marche du Film in Cannes — often brings out no "surprise" hot property. "The AFM has just been one of those events where nothing sprung up from left field," one U.S. buyer said.

Several U.S.-based sales banners reported solid levels of business here in what has become an extremely cautious global marketplace.

Kimmel International president Mark Lindsay thinks the market is "always tough now" but pointed to the fact that, if sellers have good movies with U.S. distribution in place, buyers will snap up titles.

"It ain't easy, but if you have good films, you will sell out here," Lindsay said. His company practically sold out its slate, reporting strong territory sales led by big demand for the Frank Oz-directed comedy "Death at a Funeral."

"It was a brisk market. We have very large movies and a lot of deals for smaller territories," said Brian O'Shea, Odd Lot's executive vp worldwide sales and distribution.

O'Shea observed that presales have changed from being star-driven but "a director, a good concept and a U.S. (theatrical) release" remain "equally important."

Said First Look International president Stuart Ford: "In terms of foot traffic, it's a little bit muted. But sales often die after Sunday, and we've been closing many deals as late as Monday night. So (AFM) seemed very strong for serious buyers."

The AFM has certainly benefited from the demise of MIFED in Italy and its switch from February to November, sellers said.

"I would argue that the AFM's position in the calendar has made it clear just what the two biggest markets are — Cannes and here," said Mali Kinberg, international sales and distribution chief at Mandate Pictures. "We've had a lot of fun, and it has been a very robust market."

Meanwhile, one seller said he got the impression that some acquisitions budgets had been blown in Cannes this year. "It seems that some (buyers) are waiting until first quarter next year before putting the cash on the table, rather than spending in their fourth quarter now," the seller noted.

"This AFM, while it didn't have the excitement of last year, saw a lot of steady business done. We exceeded our expectations," said Kim Fox, senior vp for sales and distribution at fledgling QED International, which showed early footage of its "Spring Break in Bosnia."

"It's a very tough market," said Richard Guardian, co-president of Santa Monica-based Lightning Entertainment. "There's uncertainty about what's working from a lot of buyers, in particular those from Japan, Spain and France, places where we make the bulk of our money."

Said Jeffrey Chan, head of distribution and sales for Hong-Kong based Media Asia Distribution Ltd., referring to the market organizer, the Independent Film & Television Alliance: "Being an IFTA member, we want to support AFM. But honestly, this was one of the worst markets we've been to. Without the broadband (interrupted by technical difficulties), we were disconnected from our home office and our clients."

The Pusan International Film Festival, Asia's largest, added a film market for the first time this October. Said Kacy Andrews, CEO of Philippines-based Bigfoot Entertainment, "Asians who rely heavily on e-mail and cheap long-distance calling may soon place less importance on making the long journey to AFM, particularly since it's so close to Pusan on the calendar."

Hotel management spent Tuesday morning delivering letters to exhibitors detailing the level of compensation for the Internet failure during the market. The venue charges $190 for Internet access.

Gregg Goldstein and Jonathan Landreth contributed to this report.
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