Asians at AFM project moves into int'l production

Firms from Malaysia, Korea, Thailand set sights overseas

International market trends to emerge at last week's AFM included a shift by several Asian companies toward international production and a continued drive by U.S. players to seek out exotic financing.

Malaysia's Kru Studios, Korea's M-Line and Thailand's 20th June Entertainment were among those talking up plans to embark on international projects after a slow week of sales.

Kru, which recently co-produced its first English-language film, the Brittany Murphy starrer "Deadline," said it is planning to work on financing and co-producing family-oriented features with American partners.

"We hope to have our own stand here by 2010," Kru president and CEO Norman Abdul Halim said.

Korea's M-Line said it hopes that the economy will settle soon enough to allow more Korean co-productions and foreign investment in Korean films, which a number of players have been pursuing in the absence of a rich source of domestic funding.

Thailand's 20th June Entertainment plans to launch into international production as well, including an English-language feature on the WWII battle immortalized in David Lean's 1957 "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

The "Kwai" project is just one of a number of ambitious films and series presented here by international players. Others included a remake of "The Wizard of Oz," from France's SND, and a colorful, "Simpson-esque" animation series and movie to be called "Immigrants: L.A. Dolce Vita," from Hungary's animation whiz-kids Klasky Csupo ("The Rugrats," "The Simpsons") and their partners.

"Immigrants" tells the story of a Russian and Hungarian immigrant chasing the American dream in a Los Angeles apartment full of global outcasts. Hungaricom presented it for the first time at the AFM.

Several companies made their market bow here alongside Kru and 20th June including Hong Kong's Distribution Workshop, the new Los Angeles-based Peak Entertainment (backed by Indian money) and Byzantium Entertainment (working with financing from Dubai). Byzantium was presenting a live-action re-telling of "Aladdin."

With the overall number of exhibitors down to 409 from last year's 433, and several first-time exhibitors filling market hotel suites -- some with only one or two titles -- an observation by Summit Entertainment's Patrick Wachsberger could well be on the money.

"What you have seen is that many companies one way or the other have managed to keep coming back somehow, year after year," Wachsberger said. "But what you are likely to see now is a purge."

Sales merely tricked in for many international companies, with several saving up long laundry lists of deals completed throughout the year to present here at the AFM, making business seem more robust than it perhaps was.

"Business here is just above the baseline," one New York distributor said. "It is shameless of these companies to be presenting all their old deals as if business was booming here."

Most Asian companies agreed that business has been slow, with deals thin on the ground, despite strong slates from several territories, notably Japan, and a revived interest in Korean remakes and ongoing interest in Korean art house films.

But not all marketgoers felt the event was a flop. Virginia Leung of Distribution Workshop said she'd seen more foot traffic this year than last. "Business has been good," she said.