Euros at Filmart

"Mr. Nice"

Old-fashioned meetings between buyers, sellers abound

LONDON -- A flotilla of hopeful sellers from Europe are due to bob into the ancient fragrant harbor of old -- or Hong Kong as a phonetic rendering of the Cantonese pronunciation -- armed with thoughts of recovering economies, the return of Asian buyers and a night out in one of the island's myriad karaoke bars.

For most European's embarking on the 12-hour plus flight jetting out from Europe to head for this year's Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (Filmart) the event is a timely reminder of the golden age of movie markets and everyone this year appears to be singing from the same song sheet.

The far flung Asian shindig is a throwback to markets of yore for international sellers where face time with buyers, producers and financiers was as important as the current climate of exchanging deal memos via email after fraught telephone conversations.

British sales and financier boutique Independent is traveling to the Far East armed with a promo reel of its Rhys Ifans starrer "Mr. Nice" among other things to show Asian buyers. Independent Film Sales managing director Andrew Orr says while Filmart is not as big a market as others such as those staged in Berlin or Cannes there is business to be done and relationships to build.

"We hope to do some business out there but if all we do is meet some of our existing buyers and others for the future then it makes it a worthwhile market to attend," Orr says. "I think, for example, the Japanese buyers go there in force, and as a market it is becoming quite important for us."

Paris-based seller Memento Films' Nicholas Kaiser agrees: "Hong Kong is a cool city. The days [at Filmart] are rushed with a lot of meetings crammed in but in the evening we can kick back a bit and meet producers and filmmakers in a relaxed way, do some karaoke."

There also appears to be cautious optimism that buyers for Asian territories are returning to the market place with renewed optimism after taking a hit like everyone else from the global recession.

Says Orr: "Asian buyers are coming back to market but at lower offer levels than before. But the smaller Asian territories are certainly back at the table."

Kaiser says: "Globally, since Berlin, it is picking up and Asia is back in the game. Everyone is looking to refurbish their (distribution) lineups which is good."

And in difficult economic times for traditional sales outfits, a financial leg up for such an exotic and expensive destination as Hong Kong is not just welcome but downright essential.

Familiar European sellers including Memento Films and Independent as well as Germany's Media Luna and French owned, U.K. based Pathe Distribution or Denmark's TrustNordisk are among the 17 sales banners taking hard cash support from movie promotion and trade body European Film Promotion to attend.

That's one more than last year according to EFP project manager Susanne Davis from her headquarters in Germany.

This year is only the second time the promotion body, which gets funding from the European Union's MEDIA Program, is providing support from a €500,000 ($690,000) Film Sales Support cash pool to European sellers.

It may seem like a small amount of cash, but a little goes a long way for the successful companies garnering the support.

FSS grants cover 50% of marketing campaigns for up to two European films, with a maximum of €5,000 ($6,800) for one film and €2,500 ($3,000) for the second film.

"We don't choose who gets the support, that's down to the individual country's EFP member to sign off on the support," Davis says. "The money can be used to go towards hotel costs and marketing materials for the movies sold."

The British Council, the Irish Film Board, Unifrance in Gaul or the Danish Film Institute are the EFP member organizations sorting through the multiple applications for market funding support from the FSS.

Set up to push platforms for sales of European films to countries outside of Europe, the FSS supported European sales efforts to both Filmart and Pusan's market in Korea for the first time last year.

The money can make the difference between going and staying at home. "We were planning to go to Filmart and then we secured the support from the EFP and it helped make us take the decision to go," Orr says.

For Kaiser and Memento, it removed a difficult debate once and for all. "We got support for both Filmart and Pusan which meant we didn't have to choose between the two. We wouldn't attend the EFP without the support."

There are also other reasons why Filmart, strategically placed between the behemoth markets of the Berlin-set European Film Market and the sprawling Cannes-set Marche du Film, is turning sellers on.

"It's smaller and manageable and the time spent with other financiers and producers feels like quality time," said one veteran from the calendar round robin of festivals and markets.

But for some heavy hitters from Europe, FIlmart is currently a market too far.

Russia's Central Partnership vp, international Armen Dishdishyan says that while the people going mirror regulars at both Berlin and Cannes, for him Hong Kong missed the cut.

"Because there is less Russian product now because of the crisis, and the main buyers are well known and present at other markets, like Berlin, Cannes and the AFM, many (Russian film sales companies) could decide not to spend money on attending another market," Dishdishyan says.

In this day and age, it pays to play strategically.

"The Tree"

One seller told THR the landscape for European based companies breaks down to increasingly stark choices. Sundance is looking for American indie movies, this year more than ever. Berlin is boring and unless movies are political, sellers are unlikely to make a splash. Cannes is, well, Cannes with its congested market size making it harder and harder to be heard among the white noise of promotion. Toronto takes anything and is an event valuable only for kicking off awards season hopefuls. And with Venice fading in strategic importance for European titles and the AFM costly and crowded, more targeted approaches are necessary.

The arguably harsh assessment certainly bears out for Orr and Independent. The strategy for "Mr. Nice" will see the promo materials land in front of Filmart attendees fresh from its world debut at the SXSW festival in the U.S. just a week before the Hong Kong event kicks off.

"We'll hopefully have some good review material and a promo for the buyers for "Mr. Nice" by the time Filmart starts," Orr says. "Other markets are getting more expensive so we have to think long and hard about which ones make sense for us."

And for Kaiser's Memento, Filmart is perfect timing in terms of talking to Asian buyers about the French company's Cannes hopefuls, weeks ahead of any official proclamations about the official lineup.

"We hope we have at least a couple of titles that are going to be in the Cannes lineup so we can talk to Asian buyers about those," Kaiser says. Memento is hoping to whet acquisitions appetites with Julie Bertucelli's "The Tree," starring Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marton Csokas.

The hope will be no one is singing "Sound of Silence" on the market's final night in The Parrot III Pub and karaoke hotspot in Harbour City after four days of meet and greet.

Vladimir Kozlov in Moscow contributed to this report
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