Toronto panel: Indie sector predicts carnage

Many indie films could miss out on North American deals

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TORONTO -- A sector in turmoil will inevitably see a slaughter, and producers' rep/sales agent David Garber foresees bloodshed at this week's Toronto International Film Festival.

"You'll see carnage at this film festival. There are movies that are wanting and they will make deals that don't make economic sense," the CEO of Lantern Lane Entertainment told an Ernst & Young townhall meeting in Toronto.

Garber was pointing to around 140 indie films, many with A-list directors and actors, that came to Toronto without North American distribution deals, with most likely to leave empty-handed.

A panel that aimed to crystal-ball about the future soon developed in a discussion about who will die off or take a hair-cut in today's business climate, and who will be left standing and reinvented in ten years.

Todd Wagner, co-owner and CEO of 2929 Entertainment said entertainment industry players will need to constantly rework their business models to monetize old and new platforms.

Wagner pointed to early skepticism when 2929 Entertainment acquired the Landmark Theatre chain.

"We're having our best year. People still go out," he said.

Likewise with Magnolia Pictures, which today is revived after the major studios left the specialty distribution space.

The HDNet Films production arm has taken a hit along with the rest of the indie film sector, but Landmark and Magnolia help keep the ship steaming ahead in stormy waters.

"The production business is nasty. So we go to where the action is," Wagner said.

Much debate was given to the incongruity of indie film in disarray and consumers flocking to the local multiplex.

"People cocooned for a while, and now they want to get out of the basement," Michael Kennedy, executive vp of filmed entertainment at Canadian exhibition chain Cineplex Entertainment told the industry gathering.

"There's only so much you can do on a computer before your head explodes," he added.

Patrice Theroux, president of filmed entertainment at Canadian distribution giant E1 Entertainment, agreed that young people especially, who can ably digitally download a movie for free, still go out to theatres.

"They value the experience," Theroux argued, echoing Wagner in seeing opportunity in a specialty distribution sector where the major studios bled losses and fled, and smaller film producers and upstarts can now innovate and grow.

But Stuart Ford, CEO for film sales agent IM Global, brought the town hall back to the topic of carnage after the current recession upended movie-making's traditional business model, especially when it comes to DVD sales.

"The model for financing doesn't work. The films won't get made. So people won't work and there will be shrinkage," he warned.

Ford added film tax credits were "really keeping the indie sector alive."

Glen Basner, CEO of FilmNation, another sales agent, agreed: "The old $30 million film is now the $20 million film and the tax credits help make up the rest."

The Toronto International Film Festival continues to Saturday.
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