Americans setting up EFM shop

AFM plans to rent building as outpost for '09 market

The American Film Market is poised to plant its flag on the doorstep of the European Film Market, with plans for a Berlin outpost of the Santa Monica-based market taking shape.

The Independent Film & Television Alliance, the organizer of AFM, is in negotiations to rent a building near the EFM's base in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2009.

IFTA chief Jean Prewitt on Tuesday hosted a closed-door breakfast meeting in Berlin with a who's who of world sales companies to outline the strategy.

Prewitt is still playing nice with the European Film Market, insisting that any Berlin satellite will complement, not compete with, the EFM, a sentiment echoed by EFM chiefs. "There is no conflict; we are all trying to do what we can to accommodate the companies coming here," EFM director Beki Probst said.

The grumbling about accommodation has fueled calls for action, especially from U.S. buyers who didn't make the cut at the sold-out Martin-Gropius building and found themselves either scattered about in Potsdamer Platz hotels or in the lower-traffic EFM offices at the Renzo Piano building.

The problems are unlikely to improve next year. The EFM is in negotiations to find a new space on Potsdamer Platz to replace the Renzo Piano offices, but Probst said it would be "similar in size" and thus likely to sell out early.

The IFTA plan would see sellers grouped in one location, something that has strong appeal for most Berlin attendees.

Keith Kjarval of Unified Pictures, here selling the film noir "The Perfect Sleep," said he likes the idea of grouping the sellers but said being at the Ritz-Carlton hasn't affected his business at all. "I think the idea of a centralizing the market is a great idea," Kjarval said.

He confirmed that a major issue that is pushing IFTA members to back the plan for a new Berlin site is soaring hotel costs. "The price has increased 50%-70% in a matter of three years. In some cases it's doubled," Kjarval said.

Wolfram Skowronnek, sales manager at German sales giant Telepool, which long abandoned the EFM offices to set up shop at the Grand Hyatt, backs the IFTA, hoping that a centralized site will drive foot traffic.

"If we were all in one spot, you would see traffic shift there, as much, or more, than in the Martin-Gropius-Bau," Skowronnek said.

One veteran executive at a North American sales and production entity said he found the IFTA plans "interesting" but said a decision to move from his company's location at the Ritz would depend on where the new market is and how much it costs.

"It all depends on the cost and the space and the quality of the space," he said. "It's all about value."

But one sales and distribution president said he had no plans on making any moves. "We don't rely on foot traffic," the executive said plainly.

That was a sentiment echoed by Fortissimo Films co-chairman Michael Werner.

"Some people have been talking about this kind of thing for years," Werner said, adding that Fortissimo had no plans to move out of the Martin-Gropius. "We are strong enough that the buyers will come to us, wherever we are. We are staying put."