“We’re in the most difficult time in which I’ve worked in my entire career,” veteran sales agent Alison Thompson told a packed audience of producers, financiers and other industry delegates in London Oct. 15. The assessment of the film sales landscape came during the keynote discussion with Thompson that kicked off the eighth annual Production Finance Market (PFM), organized by Film London. The PFM is a two-day event that runs concurrently to the London Film Festival and brings together producers and financers from all over the world, organising over 1,100 face-to-face meetings.
Thompson’s career has spanned the past four decades including working at U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, the Sales Co., Pathe Intl. and Focus Features Intl. In January of 2014 she formed new London-based sales and production company, Sunray Films.
“The situation now is about as bad as it can be, but that applies to everybody,” continued Thompson, citing the sudden collapse of the television business for movies that formed an essential underpinning of business for independent distributors and the drop in DVD sales as a cause. “We took a double hit. That’s been really challenging.”
She also highlighted another “fundamental change” that has occurred that makes film sales harder. “A huge change is the volume of films we make today,” she said explaining that 1,250 are currently made per year in Europe compared to 750 10 years ago. “There were a lot less than that in the early ’90s so it was easier. There were a similar number of distributors working but far fewer films to go around. In my experience audiences for independent films haven’t shifted that much. That seems to remain a constant, but there is much more noise in the marketplace.”
Thompson also had tough words for the room full of producers. “In my experience every good film has a great producer behind it no matter the talent. I think some film producers don’t understand what their role should be,” she said. “The producer has to be all things. They have to be whizzes at production finance and the business side and this is something often lacking. I think we are lacking good producers in the U.S. Producers in the U.K. have forgotten how to put together co-financing deals. Those wonderful relationships we had dissipated over the noughties. British producers have to relearn that skill.”
Thompson revealed she has bigger plans for Sunray, trying to put together a “model for a production finance sales company that makes sense in the modern world” similar to The Sales Co., where she worked for 14 years. Key to this goal is having a guaranteed product stream. “I’m exploring bringing in production partners to the company. I hope to do output deals with smaller territories if can get a critical mass of product.” She said she is in discussions with US and European companies about partnering in the new enterprise. “I’m in the process of putting that together and hope to launch in 2015.”