If you had it made, this AFM clicked

Global economy woes left the market polarized

The global financial meltdown left this year's American Film Market more polarized than ever between the haves and have-nots.

The haves were those sales companies and producers touting high-end independent projects with topline talent in front and behind the lens. The have-nots were sellers touting less mainstream or nongenre product who found themselves wondering where all the buyers had gone. The event ends Wednesday.

It seems that buyers have been able to play a wait-and-see game, with little sign of bidding wars breaking out on product. Organizers, busy adding up the number of acquisitions execs attending this year's jamboree, said initial indications are that there has been a slight dip in buyers from the U.S. and Japan.

AFM chief Jonathan Wolf said the organization had gone through its database ahead of this year's show to strip out some of the old names and people registered under the wrong category. Wolf said that accounted for the slight fall in U.S. buyers.

"Last year there were 54 companies from Japan, and this year there are 52," Wolf noted. "But there were 213 people from Japan (in 2007), and this year it's only 168 -- so two fewer companies account for a 27% fall."

But Wolf also noted that while it might be harder for filmmakers to raise cash to make films because of the "global liquidity crisis," there are still few signs that people are displaying less hunger to watch movies either on television, through subscriptions or in theaters.

"I think there probably are representatives from as many companies this AFM, but there are definitely fewer of them," one European-based U.S. buyer said. "Last year there might have been six acquisitions executives from one company; this year, it's only one or two."

Said Myriad Pictures president Kirk D'Amico: "We're relieved that the market didn't collapse and that we've made good but not great sales. Prices are down pretty much across the board. It's like the housing market: You have to decide whether to sell or wait for the prices to come back up."

Said one New York based distributor: "Business here (at the AFM) is just above the base line. It is shameless of these companies to be presenting all their old deals as if business was booming here."

Certainly attendees seem to agree that the market featured a glut of finished product -- numbers issued at the market start indicated more than 1,000 -- and a sense of caution among buyers and sellers alike.

Wolf said the silver lining for sellers here might be that the difficulty in raising finance for movies will mean fewer are made, which in turn will result in "a driving up of prices."

Some of the marquee indie sales and finance labels -- including Summit Entertainment, Lakeshore International, Mandate International, IM Global, Bold Films, Senator Entertainment, Lightning Entertainment -- all claimed brisk business and high levels of interest.

I.M. Global's Stuart Ford said the AFM also is about displaying a shop window for bigger ambitions. Ford, whose company sold to 31 territories in three days on Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity," also brought special technology never seen at the AFM before. The special screen and goggles, worth tens of thousands of dollars, helped show buyers a fresh 3-D CGI version of Aristomenis Tsirbas' "Battle for Terra -- 3D," whose voice cast includes Luke Wilson, Brian Cox and Danny Glover.

"If you sell well here, it marks you out as a serious company and can help show investors the scale of your ambition," Ford said.

But marketgoers should expect consolidation ahead of next year's show. Said Summit Entertainment's Patrick Wachsberger: "What you have seen is that many companies one way or the other have managed to keep coming back, somehow, year after year. But what you are likely to see now is a purge.
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