Big wheels prep for deals

New online tools offer a way to manage volume of upcoming mart

Following a rather tepid summer and fall festival season, generating few film standouts and pickups, indie industryites are looking to the American Film Market to get back to business.

But it’s not necessarily the kind of business that lends itself to headline-grabbing, festival fever-fueled deals. Much of the focus, as usual, will be on films yet to be made and on territorial deals.

“AFM is where the core international business is done,” reminds UTA indie division co-topper Rich Klubeck, noting that last month’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival is still far from being a major dealmaking hotspot like AFM or Cannes Market. “The reality is that in Toronto you can still have lunch with (Celluloid Dreams topper) Hengameh Panahi. In Cannes you can’t; she’s just too busy.”

Some sales may take place between official markets or at festivals; but AFM, Cannes and, increasingly, Berlin’s European Film Market, are about volume business, which involves back-to-back meetings and an insane amount of information and new projects to keep track of.

“There’s a long gap between AFM and Cannes, with this tweener (in September) that is Toronto,” says GreeneStreet Films Intl. topper Ariel Veneziano. “In theory, people have had a long time to put projects together for AFM.”

Sales company emails touting new films start flying out in late September and early October to get buyers prepped for the business ahead. Buyers can be overwhelmed, and sellers say the information flow needs to be more effective.

“The way in which people prepare for markets could improve,” posits Myriad Pictures chief Kirk D’Amico. “Buyers could go on companies’ websites, see trailers, and be more focused when they come to meetings.” He adds that most major companies are gearing their Web sites toward premarket-buyer prep by offering such things as film synopses and bloggers’ comments on certain projects. “It’s not about wandering into the bigger companies’ suites (at markets) anymore. It’s a more level playing field now.”

AFM organizer the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) also has set up a Web site dedicated to touting product from member companies that are exhibiting at AFM. The database, at afmfilms.org, went live on Sept. 22 and already houses info on more than 2,500 film entries — from development projects looking for financing to completed films. The site is free to all users.

Says IFTA board member and Sidney Kimmel Intl. prexy Mark Lindsay: “IFTA membership is over 170 companies, and not all big and well financed. There are a lot of smaller members that have libraries, so the Web site is a way for them to get that product out there. It’s about helping all members across the board.”

“Our goal is to put exhibitor product in front of buyers as easily as possible,” says IFTA exec VP and AFM’s managing director Jonathan Wolf.

He emphasizes that AFM’s site is not meant to compete with Cannesmarket.com, which Wolf says is focused more on companies and execs versus films. “On the film side, we’ve taken a huge leap forward,” he says, pointing to the “co-production request” function that allows users to search for films in a particular genre or language that may still be looking for all or part of their budgets. Site also gives times and dates for projects that will be screening at AFM and allows users to add the info to their computerized schedules.

“What we hope we’ve done here is to give sellers an opportunity to present films at every stage of production, so they can be found,” he says. “A producer or financier could be looking through that list to see if there are films they want to be a part of. It’s really about matchmaking. And it’s also about the buyers having as efficient a schedule as they can.”

Where available, the site provides trailers, thanks to a deal with Google Video. Plans are for the site to be a year-round database that will allow for updates on an ongoing basis. “We’ll remind buyers it’s there with emails,” says Wolf.

As for the market itself, which is entering its third year in the new November slot, AFM has added yet another floor of sales suites at Le Merigot Hotel this year, an indicator that the number of companies from around the globe continues to expand.

“It’s partly because of the date change,” says Wolf. “And it’s partly because of the growth of non-English-language product. We have exhibitors from over 30 countries. In 2001, we had eight exhibiting companies from Asia — four from Japan, four from South Korea. So far this year, we have over 54 companies from Asia. Part of the growth of AFM has been about the growth of product from around the world. But then AFM has never been just about American films.”

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