Black Nights panel scopes North American market

TALLINN, Estonia — European producers hoping to hit the big time in the U.S. should do their homework first and think genre rather than art-house, top North American indie producers told industry professionals in Estonia Tuesday.

In a market that has seen more than 300 horror movies in theatrical release in the past 15 years and with rich opportunities for sales in VOD, cracking the North American market is the dream of many filmmakers in Europe.

Sales in North America can open up other international markets and mean major success if producers get the recipe right, leading producers of U.S. and Canadian indie product told guests at a Tallinn Industry Days 2012 panel, “Hot in Hollywood — Getting your foot in the door in North America.”

But genre matters and producers were advised to think beyond art-house to the sort of mainstream genre movies that U.S. audiences love at the earliest stages of a project’s development.

“Genre helps showcase the director,” said Peter van Steemburg of Magnolia Pictures, a company that cherry picks some 40 indie productions for distribution annually.

“We look at the concept and execution and follow the gatekeepers, whether they are festival programmers or sales agents to help direct us to movies.”

But with more than 60% of their releases U.S. features and documentaries the field left to European and world films is narrow.

Studying the market and designing projects to take advantage of as many potential profit centers as possible makes sense, as does a festival strategy that targets showcases such as South By Southwest or Sundance.

Co-producing with Canada is a good way into the U.S. market, Steven Hoban, who produced sci-fi yarn “Splice,” starring Adrien Brody said.

“Canada’s tax credits are available to international producers and we’ve more co-production treaties — 53 — than any other place in the world. Our tax credits are the most bankable in the world, with banks willing to lend up to 90% upfront based on the tax credit.”

Hoban said for funding purposes producers could legitimately claim to have around 20% of the film’s budget based on the tax credit when seeking other coin.

Best partners for European directors seeking a way in were French and British producers who tended to have long-established experience of working with the North American market, the panel, part of Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival, agreed.

The festival, which closes Tuesday night, gave its top prize, worth Euros 10,000 ($13,000) to Ukrainian director Eva Neymann for her atmospheric and bleak black-and-white pic set in wartime Soviet Union, “House with a Turret.”

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