After IFFM, pix’ sagas begin

Now what?

That’s the question most indie filmmakers will be asking themselves once the schmoozing and hand-shaking of the Independent Feature Film Market ends on Sunday. If the market is a crash course in the harsh realities of the indie film business, the following months could prove even more character-building.

Although the Independent Feature Project (organizer of the market) doesn’t keep official tracking statistics, a good year will see two or three market films end up in the hands of a major distribution company, while another 20 or so will find their ways to smaller distribs for the arthouse circuit and other niches.

According to market director Rachael Shapiro, about 20% of the films go on to post-market activity, from the fest circuit or distribution to foreign-rights sales.

“The big question then is where are the dollars,” said Catherine Tait, the IFP’s exec director, “and how will the filmmaker recoup his money. With the smaller distributors, there’s often little or no money upfront. And foreign sales agents won’t pay until they sell to foreign markets.”

And the waiting game extends even to the most buzz-heavy pictures, with the overwhelming majority of acquisitions coming after the films have traveled the festival circuit. Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” was picked up by Miramax based on the movie’s Sundance fest performance, but Smith is the first to point out that the film wouldn’t have made it to Utah had a member of the festival’s selection committee not seen it at lFFM.

A similar scenario awaited last year’s IFFM work-in-progress “The Brothers McMullen.” While the Ed Burns film drew repeated rejection from the distribs during and after its IFFM screening, it scored the attention of New York indie vets Ted Hope and James Schamus, who signed on as post-production supervisors.

A rough cut was accepted at Sundance and the fledgling Fox Searchlight bought a pre-festival first-look deal (providing enough funds for Burns to blow the 16mm stock to 35).

The breakout successes, though tantalizing, are few: This year, the market is screening 98 completed features and 96 works-in-progress, and 90% might never screen again, anywhere. But the good news for market helmers is that the market presence of festival programmers and curators is on the upswing, with at least six festivals sending scouts for the first time.

Among the newcomers: the Hamptons, Sydney, Texas, L.A. Intl. and Florence fests. These join a list of the 20 or so market regulars, from Berlin, Cannes, Rotterdam and Sundance to Toronto, Cairo and Locarno.

And Sundance in particular seems to be increasing its visibility at the market, this year co-sponsoring the No Borders sub-market designed to facilitate international financing.

As usual, some films are hitting this year’s market with a head start on the fest buzz. Neil Abramson’s “Without Air” snagged some good notices in Toronto, and Dirk Schaefer’s “Man of the Year” mockumentary just scored a distrib deal with Seventh Art Releasing following screenings in Toronto and on the gay fest circuit. Also coming direct from the recent Toronto fest are Todd Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and Gary Burns’ “The Suburbanators,” both of which are drawing some distrib interest.

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