Mifed sees mid-sized crisis

MILAN — Judging by the cold winds blowing at the 64th Mifed movie mart here Oct. 19-24, there’s a hard rain coming for many international sales companies.

As the strong dollar conspired with weak product to push trading down to new lows, talk at the Fiera di Milano was about how many indie film sellers will be able to keep their heads above water past February’s American Film Market.

A handful of major theatrical sellers, such as Miramax Intl., Polygram Film Intl., Capitol Films, J&M Entertainment, Summit Entertainment and Intermedia, posted healthy sales, but there were many more expensively hired stands at Mifed that remained virtually empty of buyers throughout the week.

The most vulnerable players look to be the small and mid-sized U.S. sales companies: Their production slates have been pumped up by the new eagerness of U.S. banks to provide gap financing, but they have not found matching enthusiasm from international distributors to actually buy the movies.

As proof that big-budget, high-profile pics are the hot commodity for the foreign market, Mutual Film Co. — in its first Mifed stint — practically sold out foreign territories on “Primary Colors,” “Virus,” “Black Dog” and “A Simple Plan.”

The company (formerly Cloud Nine) is run by Gary Levinsohn and Mark Gordon; it’s a significant change from past years that a U.S. company made its mark by selling such pics at a market, rather than through an international distribution org run by the studios.

Mark Damon, chairman of MDP, is always one of the first to sense a change in the weather, after two decades of weathering the storms as an indie producer. The exec confirmed that he is abandoning the lower-budget business and heading for what he hopes will be drier ground further up the budget scale.

Damon plans a venture to produce and acquire pics in the $10 million to $50 million budget range. He says he’s lining up second-look deals with two Hollywood producers based at major studios, and bank financing through Imperial Bank. Scuttlebutt suggests he’s looking to take his company public to help bankroll his change of strategy.

“I have found this Mifed to be a big disappointment,” Damon commented. “Buyers are disgusted that the product is not what they like. There was nothing new that was showing for the first time.”

“There’s a general feeling that the marketplace is extremely cautious on the part of the buyers,” said Jeff Sackman, exec VP of CFP Intl., which was selling eight titles at Mifed, including “The First 9-1/2 Weeks.” “There’s a state of flux in the worldwide marketplace.”

One of the biggest factors in depressing sales at Mifed was the virtual collapse of the Far East, and particularly Southeast Asia, where the widespread currency crisis has taken many distribs out of the buying game.

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