Inhouse production arm planned

In the clearest indication yet of the slowdown in the foreign sales business, Mark Damon’s Behaviour Worldwide is axing about 10 staffers from its sales, marketing and contracts administration departments.

The company said the layoffs were part of its gradual shift from selling into producing and it intended to create an inhouse production division, headed by a “former studio executive,” who has yet to be hired.

The move comes as Behaviour, like other sales agencies, adjusts to austere market conditions under which foreign buyers are looking for fewer but bigger-budgeted pics.

Damon, one of the best-known and longest-serving sales agents in Hollywood, said the consolidation was in keeping with a plan that Behaviour Communications outlined when the Montreal-based company bought Damon’s MDP Worldwide banner in March 1998.

“This is part of our strategic operating plan,” Damon told Daily Variety. “It no longer makes sense to be in the foreign sales business as such. We want to put the emphasis on production of bigger-budget, mainstream titles.”

In the past six months Behaviour Communications has sold its Canadian distrib operation and its new media division in order to stave off losses.

In its heyday, MDP Worldwide handled eight to 10 pictures a year, many of which it sold for a fee on behalf of other producers, or acquired from other companies. But in the past couple of years, as it has moved into co-financing its own productions, Behaviour’s slate has dwindled to four or fewer pics.

That clearly isn’t enough to finance the overhead of a major sales organization and a full complement of sales, administration and contracts staff.

The company is not pulling out of the sales biz completely. Rob Aft, Behaviour senior VP of worldwide distribution, will continue to oversee sales of Behaviour’s own productions. VP of distribution Eric Christenson, however, is one of the departing execs.

Damon said Behaviour would remain interested in acquisitions, “but just not as much as we used to be.”

Behaviour is in pre-production on comedy/romance “Love and Sex,” starring Jon Favreau and Famke Janssen. And with Moshe Diamant’s Signature Films, Behaviour is co-financing and co-producing “The Body,” starring Antonio Banderas, and David Fincher’s “The Black Dahlia.”

Other factors causing the exec curtailing include the growth in pan-regional buying, especially in Latin America and Europe. Therefore, with fewer individual territories to sell to, sales companies such as Behaviour need slimmer sales corps.

In addition, since the video market has subsided, demand has dramatically fallen for the sorts of pictures that Behaviour used to handle. Although the company quickly moved into making pricier fare, buyers don’t want as many of those pics.

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