Hooked on a biz-friendly mantra

Buying and selling movies just got easier on the Lagoon

It’s almost hard to remember, but there was a time before “Brokeback Mountain” was a worldwide hit with dozens of awards. Last summer, that was far from the case, remembers the pic’s co-producer, Focus topper James Schamus.

“Before Venice, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was more or less a latenight TV joke — by the end of the festival, its reception in Venice had given it invaluable credibility.”

It may not always penetrate the American media clutter, but a stop at the Venice Film Festival is de rigueur for fall movies hoping to make a splash across Europe.

“There’s nothing like a photo of your stars getting off a boat onto the Lido for that red carpet. It’s an inherently classy festival, and those images travel all over the world,” says Schamus, who also notes the fest likewise drew early attention to “21 Grams” and “Lost in Translation.”

Warners is hoping for the same boost for “Infamous,” the “other” Truman Capote movie. It’s already gathering buzz, but distinguishing the biopic from “Capote” and breaking through the fall indie clutter requires the right game plan.

Taking advantage of bringing the talent to Venice, Warners prexy of international marketing Sue Kroll is holding a junket for the film and bringing in key press. “It’s prestigious, it’s efficient. Everybody who needs to be there can see the film,” she says.

“We use Venice to create long-lead press interest,” Kroll adds. “Otherwise you have to bring the talent to different countries, and people don’t have that kind of time.”

But like Cannes, while the stars are busy on the red carpet, there’s plenty of business getting done behind the scenes. It’s just getting done a little more quietly, without the trappings of sales booths or market screenings.

Coinciding with the demise of Mifed in the fall, the fest has been working on making it easier to do business without actually holding a market.

“Venice is not the place for a real market,” says Edith Grant, the industry office consultant for Venice who formerly worked with the Cannes Film Market. “The main thing was to give people opportunities to meet.”

Improved facilities include the Casino’s Industry Lounge with Internet access and a bar plus the pool-adjacent buyers lounge and meeting stations at the Hotel Excelsior, which is close to the offices of Unifrance and Cinecitta.

Grant says organizers took a hard look at how to make the fest more business-friendly, taking into consideration everything from air conditioning to mosquito control. Biennale organizers added discounted hotel rates, better food and drinks access and stepped-up boat service.

Until more screening facilities can be built, the fest has added an industry video library with nine screening booths so buyers can screen promo reels and completed films not in the festival selection.

First Look Studios’ Ruth Vitale prizes Venice for its centralized setup. “It’s well organized because all the screening facilities are within walking distance of each other,” she says. Vitale adds it’s useful to view international films in the fest not just for the purpose of acquiring finished pics but also for checking out upcoming directors.

“Looking back, it’s amazing the amount of long-term business that can result from the more civilized interactions Venice enables,” Schamus observes.

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