Vet duo starting o’seas megaplex consultancy

Steel, Friedman form El-Mar, focus on exhib strategy

HOLLYWOOD — As U.S. exhibs chew their nails about megaplex saturation, most foreign territories are just entering a screen boom.

The contrast is seen in global B.O. figures, which increasingly show foreign grosses surpassing domestic. Current major releases like “End of Days” or “The World Is Not Enough” could make twice their domestic cumes overseas.

Sensing the profit potential of this scenario, foreign rights specialist Gordon Steel and former high-ranking AMC exec Robert L. Friedman have formed a new consulting venture called El-Mar Entertainment. The firm will focus on overseas multiplex and megaplex exhib strategy.

Standing apart

L.A.-based El-Mar, whose name blends abbreviations of the partners’ wives’ names, will stand apart from the Steel Co., a distrib and financing outfit run by Steel for nearly 20 years.

Steel Co. has served companies such as Fujisanki, Canal Plus and Samsung as a sales and distrib consultant. It also pacted last year with Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin for overseas film financing services.

El-Mar’s first client is Prime Pictures, which wants to build theaters in the Middle East. Friedman and Steel said they have contacted all major exhibs and are near several more deals.

“There are consultants in the industry, so that role isn’t unique,” Friedman told Daily Variety. “But there isn’t an entity that is global in its reach.”

Avoiding missteps

Steel added, “The potential for growth overseas is greater, but there are also a lot of key missteps companies can make in trying do business there.”

Especially attractive territories for development include Japan — which Friedman said is only built to 25% of its potential — as well as South America and Western Europe.

Friedman and Steel have a combined 75 years of showbiz experience, most of it in the distrib and exhib arenas.

Friedman ended a 15-year tenure at AMC in November. He last had the title of prexy of the company’s motion picture group. Prior to AMC, he was distrib chief at Columbia Pictures and held several posts over two decades at United Artists. (Woody Allen cast him as a studio exec in the 1980 pic “Stardust Memories.”)

The Scotland-born Steel started out as an actor who, fittingly enough, found more success abroad than in the U.S. He also worked for two years as an agent before exploring film finance. Typical of his grasp of the overseas film biz was his role in setting up the first multiplexes in Argentina.

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