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Arguably no one has seen — and epitomized — the ebb and flow of foreign sales more than Stuart Ford. As an executive in the acquisitions and then the international divisions of Miramax during that company’s heyday in the late ’90’s and early 2000’s, he helped shepherd deals for blockbuster titles ranging from “Shakespeare in Love” to “Chocolat.” He then took that expertise to First Look’s international division and then, in 2007, to IM Global, the international sales and financing company where he’s served as CEO for nearly three years. THR’s Steven Zeitchik caught up with him at AFM on the state of IM Global in the wake of “Paranormal Activity’s” boxoffice break-out as well as the turbulent international market.
The Hollywood Reporter: We’ve been hearing for several years that the shakeout in the indie-financing world isn’t actually a bad thing — is that true or is that just trying to see a half-empty glass as half-full?
Stuart Ford: I think that it is true. With fewer movies getting financed and fewer movies being brought to AFM, we’re seeing a more efficient, focused marketplace. For serious buyers, the process of evaluating projects becomes easier when things are leaner on the slate side. Buyers are able to clearly identify their target projects from the outset and hone in on the ones they like.
THR: Do you expect this to continue — in other words, is there a fundamental shift going on or is it, like so many things in the film business, cyclical?
Ford: To some extent it’s cyclical. In a difficult economy buyers shy away from incomplete packages or packages that look risky. If times get a little better people will start taking risks. But for now buyers want projects with a sense of reliability.
THR: Speaking of projects that would not seem to be at all easily reliable or risk-free, you’re behind “Paranormal Activity,” one of the biggest indie phenomena of the decade. Are you surprised how much it took off among buyers given their recent caution?
Ford: “Paranormal Activity” sold like wildfire after we screened it despite the fact it didn’t have dependable elements, so in that sense it bucked the trend. We were able to get buyers to say, ‘I don’t care what happens to this movie; I just like it so much that I want it.’ But we were also able to tell them that Paramount had it in the U.S., which was really important. And then things went from there. It was a fabulous movie that offers something fresh to audiences and it was supported by a highly innovative and devastatingly effective marketing campaign.
THR: So can that translate, say, to (director) Oren Peli’s next film, “Area 51”?
Ford: There’s a degree of lightning in a bottle for a film like that to work on a scale like this. But Oren Peli is an incredibly talented filmmaker and we’ve sold a lot of international rights on “Area 51.” To some extent that’s about Oren. People want to be in the Oren Peli business.
THR: Do buyers continually say to you they want another “Paranormal,” whether with Oren’s next movie or with any other project?
Ford: Buyers are extremely savvy, and expectations about another “Paranormal,” when it comes to any movie, are sensible. We’re in a climate where people are looking for sensibly budgeted and commercially viable films. Ninety-nine% of buyers are not looking for the next “Paranormal Activity.”
THR: You had a strong Toronto with the sales success of the Tom Ford awards-contender “A Single Man,” and you have a number of high-profile projects in the market at AFM this year — Brad Anderson’s “The Vanishing on 7th Street,” Will Ferrell’s “Everything Must Go” and Liam Neeson’s “Afterlife,” to name a few of them. What do you think happens to these movies and the market in general coming out of AFM?
Ford: We’ve had a lot of strong sales and are very confident in all of our pictures. Overall, it’s absolutely been a wild ride but I think it’s a fascinating time of evolution in the business both commercially and technologically, and I think we have to keep that in mind when we evaluate anything. We have to remember just how early we are in that evolution.
THR: Finally, I have to ask. Given the success of “Bitch Slap” among buyers both at the Cannes market and beyond, will there in fact be a “Bitch Slap 2”?
Ford (laughs): The script for “Bitch Slap 2” is currently being written, and we’re anticipating bringing it to the market next year.
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