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AFM: Change offers challenges

IFTA members have tackled diverse market conditions over 30 years

Mart impacts art | IFTA takes its global role seriously | Change offers challenges

In 30 years, the indie film market has seen much change, from technology to the way technology allows business to get done. But there are far more significant changes since the first AFM opened for business that challenge members of the Intl. Film Trade Assn.

The constriction of funding, maturing of ancillary markets and the nationalization of audiences and piracy have deeply impacted revenues and the ability of IFTA members to make the deals that finance independent films.

The international pre-sales market, which consistently provided a significant percentage of financing, has all but disappeared except for only the most commercial projects.

“Previously, we could pre-sell almost any kind of film and leverage those pre-sales for funding,” says IFTA board member and Foresight Unlimited’s Mark Damon. “Today the international marketplace is much more selective, and some territories won’t pre-buy at all.”

Adding to financing woes: the maturing of international TV, video and DVD markets and a flood of product. “So many bad movies got made, in effect we cannibalized ourselves,” says Ann Dubinet, Unified Pictures’ prexy of distribution and acquisitions.

“Buyers swarm to one type of film — the star-driven film,” finds Dubinet. “Films like ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’ ‘Amadeus,’ ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and ‘The English Patient’ wouldn’t be pre-bought in this market,” she notes. In order to make a nontentpole pic, equity and individual investors are sought out. Risk is a thing of AFM’s past.

Paralleling the consolidation of indie domestic distribution companies and the closing of studio specialty divisions is the shrinking number of international buyers and the added corporate layers and approvals to negotiations.

“That’s been a huge change,” advises Dubinet. “For the first 25 years in the business, I sold directly to the head of a company, not to a committee.” One person could greenlight a deal. Dubinet and other seasoned IFTA execs concur that now corporate committees approve deals.

Rare is the instinct buy.

International theatrical deals don’t happen without the equal participation of TV and video partners. “I used to be able to sell on pitch without script or cast,” recalls Damon. “Those were the good old days.”

But it’s not all gloom. While the homevideo market stumbles along, innovations like pay TV, satellite and video-on-demand markets are growing. The digital revolution has also been a cost-saver to indies, with everything from EPKs to digital dailies to the Internet’s rise as a major marketing tool. Summit Intl. prexy David Garrett points to mobile phones and email as game-changing to the biz. The lessened formality of face-to-face meetings — no more suit and tie — is a major plus too, he says.

Creatively, IFTA’s advancement of indie filmmakers is without compare. “What excites me the most is that so many careers have been launched and grown,” says Dubinet. AFM’s legacy includes Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh, Oliver Stone, Gus Van Sant, Darren Aronofsky and Todd Solondz.

“I plan to continue to discover new talent and bring it out,” says Dubinet.

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