Net outage 'painful' for sellers in 'quiet' AFM

4:00 AM PST 11/06/2006 by Stuart Kemp, AP

Empty

Another day, another apology for an Internet meltdown Saturday that left many sellers hamstrung for a second day at the American Film Market. It might be just as well then that traffic has been solid but the market has been slow, according to most buyers and sellers, with few emerging buzz titles to whet buyers' appetites.

There still is no hint of compensation for attendees as marketgoers walked in Sunday morning to letters from both market organizers and hotel management offering another round of apologies for the Internet mess after Thursday's disconnect.

"We understand how seriously the hotel's Internet failure has affected your ability to administer your business. It remains our highest priority," wrote Independent Film & Television Alliance vp and AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf in a statement pushed out to all AFM exhibitors in the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.

Wolf said that his organization had set up a stand-alone Internet office space for the remainder of the market -- separate from the hotel system -- and that AFM also would offer a screening attendance report hand-delivery service for sellers to keep information flowing.

For its part, the hotel blamed a combination of equipment failures, service-supplier inactivity and a lack of contingency planning for the outage. But as sellers pointed out, that doesn't do much good if all you want is for the problems to be solved.

"It has been painful to have been without the Internet," said Michael Werner, chief of Swedish seller NonStop Sales. "It is so hard to do business without it because we can't get into our systems back home remotely. They haven't even mentioned any talk of compensation, which I find surprising."

Werner is debuting Peter Lindmark's "Exit" at the market. The film stars Mads Mikkelsen, who will appear on everyone's radar next month after joining the long line of James Bond baddies in the upcoming "Casino Royale." Despite the Internet problems, NonStop sold all German-speaking rights to "Exit" to Berlin-based Galileo Medien.

"The quality (of movies) is good, but the market this year has been surprisingly quiet," Werner said.

Kimmel International sealed a slew of territory deals across its slate, headlined by memos for its Frank Oz-directed comedy "Death at a Funeral."

Kimmel president Mark Lindsay said "Death," which will be distributed in the U.S. by MGM, has sold to Concorde TeleMuenchen for Germany, Da Planeta in Spain and Mikado in Italy. Nu Metro has snapped up the movie for South Africa. He added that he is in negotiations with "several interested U.K. distributors" for the movie, which stars Matthew Macfadyen, Peter Dinklage and Ewen Bremner in the story of a dysfunctional British family in the wake of their father's death.

Kimmel also has struck a deal with Mikado for Italian distribution rights to "Breach," an FBI thriller starring Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney. Universal has U.S. rights to the title.

"(The buyers) want to know that there are enough elements in place: all the cast, a good director and a good domestic theatrical release plan," Mandate Pictures international sales and distribution chief Mali Kinberg said.

Mandate is handling international sales on "Bruno," Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to "Borat" and one of a handful of hot presale titles at the market. Universal and Fox found themselves in a bidding war over Baron Cohen's gay fashionista character for U.S. rights, with Universal winning out.

Meanwhile, China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong continue to come in serious numbers, though business hardly is booming.

"The market is surprisingly quiet this year," said Jeffrey Chan, head of distribution and sales at Hong Kong-based Media Asia Distribution Ltd., which presold Southeast Asian rights to director Feng Xiaogang's "The Assembly," now in production in China.

"We're using the market to catch up with our regular distributors, but we've heard of very few solid deals being closed," said Gordon Cheung, executive vp at Hong Kong-based film production company Celestial Pictures.

"AFM is a fantastic venue for Japan's small- and medium-sized film companies to get the attention of international buyers," said Keizo Tsujia, chief executive director of the Los Angeles office of the Japan External Trade Organization, at the market to support 11 Japanese sellers.

European buyers said they find themselves holding out on making offers because sellers have not adjusted prices to reflect market fragmentation.

"At least we know that if we wait it out, most negotiated prices come down from the initial threshold," one high-profile Italian buyer said. "You just know they always ask for too much and then have to adjust."

GreeneStreet Films International president Ariel Veneziano said: "It's a very polarized marketplace right now. If you have the right project with a high level of cast and script and behind-the-scenes talent, then you'll do well. But if even one element is off, you're pretty much dead in the water."

Added Sony Pictures Classics acquisition exec Dylan Leiner: "I've been surprised by how empty the halls are, but the market is still very user-friendly and efficient."

Jonathan Landreth and Gregg Goldstein contributed to this report.
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