Studio toppers attend mart's finance conference Friday

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AFM News | Mart pulls out the big guns

Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum will be running MGM within three or four days after a federal court approves the Lion’s reorganization plan on Dec. 2, Barber said Friday.

But that’s all Barber would reveal about his new gig when appearing at AFM’s annual finance conference on Friday in Santa Monica. Even before Barber took the stage, moderator P. John Burke of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld sternly instructed that Barber wasn’t able to discuss MGM.

Barber spoke on the first of two panels addressing the financial state of the global film biz, including foreign sales, the downturn in the domestic DVD market, the growing importance of digital delivery, 3D and the expanding role of local distributors overseas.

Sitting to Barber’s right was Weinstein Co. co-chair Harvey Weinstein, who injected levity into the morning when talking about the company’s “Piranha 3D,” which is doing big business overseas.

Weinstein joked that James Cameron’s criticism of “Piranha” (Cameron said “Piranha” was “exactly an example of what we shouldn’t be doing in 3D”) was “good publicity” for the Dimension Films pic.

“It was actually a planned remark, and a part of our publicity campaign,” Weinstein said.

Panel turned more serious when talking about the decrease in foreign presales.

The Salter Group’s Eric Briggs and Patrick Russo shared statistics showing that foreign money used to make up more than 70% of a film’s budget; now that figure has dropped to 62%, on average.

Veteran investment banker Joseph Cohen, who has advised a wide array of film companies, including with the recent debt restructuring of the Weinstein Co., said this means producers have to raise far more equity. Cohen is a principal with the American Entertainment Investors.

During the second panel, Icon Group chief exec Stewart Till said producers used to be able to hit anywhere on the dart board, in terms of being able to raise money for projects.

“Those days are over. You have to hit the bullseye. Everything else is gone,” Till said.

Sierra Pictures prexy-CEO Nick Meyer and Optimum Releasing CEO Danny Perkins agreed, saying projects have to be a perfect fit for a particular audience. Meyer added companies must help foreign partners in understanding how to sell a film.

WME Global and Finance Distribution topper Graham Taylor said there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity because of the chaos in the global market.

“It’s the most dynamic time in the film business in 50 years,” Taylor said.

Financial conference, held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, continues today and is sponosred by Akin Gump.

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