Panel talks global biz

Industryites talk U.S. distrib'n, more at Zurich fest

U.S. distribution deals and financing are less important for international producers, according to industryites at the Zurich Film Festival’s Film Finance Forum on Saturday.

Presented by Winston Baker in association with Variety, the event brought together high-level entertainment and finance execs, who offered analyses of today’s global market and the economic developments that influence production worldwide, including the conclusion that U.S. distribution deals are less significant in a world where international investors, soft money and emerging markets play increasingly important roles.

Cross Creek Pictures prexy Brian Oliver, producer of “Black Swan” and “The Ides of March,” which unspooled at the fest on Saturday, said in his key note address that the current financial crisis should be seen as an opportunity for investors.

“Until the U.S. financial markets correct themselves, the studios are looking to people like us to come in and co-finance or fully finance these movies. That is what we are trying to do at Cross Creek and so far it’s worked out really well. If we, meaning investors, continue to be nimble and make movies and move quicker and do things that maybe the studios can’t do, it would allow us to carve a niche in the financing market.”

Offering the European perspective, Martin Moszkowicz, head of film and TV at Germany’s Constantin Film and exec producer of “The Three Musketeers,” said positioning a film correctly was vital to its success yet it’s something “producers are not always eager to think about, but in today’s environment, it’s the major part of getting a movie made. You have to know where your audience is before you get started and then you have to basically mold the movie in a way so that it fits to that audience pattern.”

Moszkowicz said U.S. distribution was not as important for Constantin as it used to be.

“That doesn’t mean that it’s not a huge market and there’s not a lot of money there, but we make about a dozen pictures a year and many of them we started to do without U.S. distribution. These are movies that are up to the range of $120 million-$130 million, and it’s not such an essential piece as it used to be — at least not when you get a project going.

“There are a lot of companies now in the U.S. that have made that their business model,” he said, citing Lionsgate and Summit. “They raise the majority money for making the movie from the international soft money and pre-sale market and whatever they make in the U.S. is basically gravy on top. It’s a business model that works well.”Nigel Sinclair of Exclusive Media, producer of such pics as “The Woman in Black,” “George Harrison: Living in the Material World” and “The Ides of March,” said U.S. budgetary contributions to his company’s projects were very varied.

“Typically producers are only looking to the U.S. for one thing, which is to get theatrical distribution and get the film marketed. There’s been a tremendous redress in the balance of economic power worldwide.”

Moving on to digital distribution and the fundamental changes it will bring to the industry, R. Uwe Placzek, CEO of pan-European VOD operator Acetrax, said it was a major challenge to acquire film rights from the Hollywood majors, but the fear of iTunes convinced them otherwise.

“What played to our advantage was what happened to the music industry a few years back and the inherent fear of content owners of being exposed to one powerful partner, like the music industry was to Apple. Apple brought down the music industry as we knew it. So we made the right proposition at the right time and won the majors over from the top.”

Launched in 2006, Acetrax currently has VOD agreements with most of the major U.S. and European studios as well as deals with most leading consumer electronics players such as Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Toshiba, which embed the Acetrax Movies app on new Smart TVs and Android tablets.

The panelists agreed that the industry was still grappling with the idea of digital distribution and bowing pics on VOD, which for many is still seen as a black mark against a project in the same way direct-to-video is. Yet there was also broad consensus that the desire of filmmakers and auds to see films on the big screen, not to mention the industry’s love of glitzy premieres, would keep cinemas alive.

Indeed, Sinclair said that while VOD would not replace the theater experience, it would eventually absorb pay TV and DVD.

“Aside from the pay TV comment, I agree,” said Leonard Glowinski, Studiocanal’s head of acquisitions and coproductions for France.

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