Critics blast org for L.A. bias but it seeks to rep worldwide interests

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

To its critics, the Independent Film & TV Alliance just organizes the AFM and represents a certain breed of L.A. producer. But over the past decade, the org has done its best to transform itself into an effective international trade organization with a political voice that speaks for all its members worldwide.

Originally named the American Film Marketing Assn., it was formed in 1980 by a handful of independent producers to run the American Film Market on their behalf. Over the next two decades, it gradually developed services such as collections, licensing agreements, market intelligence and arbitration.

But it wasn’t until Jean Prewitt arrived as president in 2000 that the org really began to expand its role as trade association.

Michael Ryan, a founding member who served as chairman from 2003-07, says, “The difference now is that IFTA has become a proper independent version of the MPAA. Under Jean Prewitt, it’s a very respected organization. It really works for its members now, whereas for many years it was just this odd organization that ran the AFM.”

Ryan, a Brit based in London, argues that his own election as chairman marked a turning point. “The intention was to internationalize it a bit. It had become an L.A. boys club for a while, run by that L.A. clique, which was a dangerous period. But now it’s properly international, half the membership comes from abroad and it’s listened to as an international organization, not as a bunch of L.A. producers clubbed together.”

During Ryan’s tenure, the name was changed to remove the word “American.” That coincided with the 2004 decision to move the AFM itself from February to November, in order to kill off the wobbling Mifed market in Milan.

Some Europeans saw that as a coup on behalf of the big American sellers, although many Brits also backed the attempt to rationalize the market calendar. Suspicion remains in some quarters that U.S. members get more value out of IFTA, but such complaints are expressed as private grumbling rather than open revolt.

“IFTA serves a certain member and does a lot of important lobbying in the U.S., but it does nothing at all for any of the Europeans, though not because they don’t try,” one Euro sales exec says. “They do provide a certain solidarity for the independent business, and the AFM is incredibly well run, so out of respect we pay our dues. But if I saw a faction break away, I’d be completely fine with that.”

“Our role is different for our American members,” Prewitt concedes. “In every other country, our members have two sources of service — their local distribution organizations and IFTA — and they look to those organizations for different things.”

Nonetheless, when Prewitt and AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf travel to foreign markets, they spend all their time canvassing the needs of their overseas members. IFTA has also extended its lobbying on issues such as Net neutrality, copyright and media consolidation from Washington to Brussels and London.

On a practical level, after a trial with an Internet-scanning operation in Australia, it has negotiated rate cards for its members with several such antipiracy services.

Ryan says it’s up to the overseas members to make use of what IFTA has to offer.

“It has great arbitration, the legal service is brilliant, the credit control and collection is second to none,” he says. “If you bother to go into it, the website is great — it can save you a lot of money. Possibly the L.A. members have more access to IFTA’s employees and services for geographic reasons, but a lot of international members use them a lot. If you want to be effective in the international market, you need those standards IFTA lays down. People now want to become members for that purpose. That’s why we have new companies applying every month.”

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