Indie sales execs play hopscotch

Tight market triggers flurry of movement

When David Glasser jumped from Yari Film Group this week to head international distribution at the Weinstein Co., it was just the latest move in a round of musical chairs sweeping the international sales arena, reflecting weakened overseas action and discontent in the industry ranks.

Among the many execs moving about:

> Former Weinstein Co. international president Glen Basner, replaced by Glasser, is finalizing plans to launch an independent sales company before this fall's American Film Market.

> Lisa Wilson, formerly of Ashok Amritraj's Hyde Park, is joining Graham King's GK Films as president of international distribution. She steps into the role that former sales and distribution president Eric Christenson vacated this spring.

> Christenson, who did consulting work for Peace Arch at Cannes, is in negotiations to join Morgan Creek, where CFO Howard Kaplan and senior vp international sales Liz Mackiewicz have recently departed.

> Mackiewicz will become co-president of Regent Worldwide Sales with Adam Wright, replacing Meggan Kimberley, who will continue as a consultant.

> Ariel Veneziano has exited as president of Icon Entertainment International and is working for Kirk D'Amico's Myriad Pictures for the next few months as a sales consultant.

The dizzying moves are reflective not only of a ho-hum attitude overseas toward U.S. indie product of late but also a worrying sign that the shuttering of Hollywood studio specialty divisions might be just the beginning of a retrenchment in the entire indie film business.

A drop in overseas boxoffice admissions for lower-budget U.S. films; video piracy triggering a slump in overseas DVD sales; and declining TV audiences (and hence license fees) for such indie film fare have combined to crimp things.

"Sometimes when business isn't going the way you would hope, company boards and owners have a tendency to change their executive teams, hoping new bodies will bring a new approach," Veneziano said.

"It's a difficult industry to promote from inside, and there's a relatively small circle of execs seen to have experienced reputations, which leads to a lot of people casting envious looks sideways," IM Global head Stuart Ford said of the new mixing and matching. "There are an awful lot of movies and sales companies but a general shortage of strong international sales titles. The top-tier market is robust, but films below have had a tough time."

One specialty division buyer agreed with that assessment but doesn't think changing sales execs is necessarily the answer.

"It's a 'let's get new blood' mentality, but it's a misplaced assignment of blame during a weak market," he said, citing poor sales in Berlin and Cannes this year. "Unless you're Summit or Mandate, you're having a rough time."

Summit is a well-established player — it has Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky" at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mandate, now owned by Lionsgate, scored last fall with "Juno" and has a hand in the upcoming comedy "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" and the horror thriller "Passengers."

D'Amico ties sales companies' declines to the credit crunch and the poor economy but noted that viewers still flock to films during a recession and sees this as a good time for a shakeout, in which the strongest films will survive.

Ford and others anticipate a shrinkage in the international marketplace — and in the number of viable sales companies — during the next year as these realities sink in to producers and financiers.

Glasser's cordial jump from YFG to Weinstein Co. with Yari's blessing (and possibly some Yari titles) may indicate changes at his former company.

And still more companies may be playing their cards close to their vest before making exec changes.

The next test of the marketplace takes place this month in Toronto, where film buyers will not only have to sift through additional indie product — but have to get used to seeing a multitude of sales folks wearing new hats. (partialdiff)