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Support org changes with times, adds TV component

Toward the end of 1997, TV viewers around the world will be introduced to “Super Kid,” an animated, pint-sized hero who battles evil with five equally combative friends.

The youthful crime-fighter not only represents law and order, but the Canadian-Korean-Japanese co-production, which incorporates a full-length feature and 52 television episodes, also symbolizes the scope of the American Film Marketing Assn.

AFMA member MP Consulting Intl. of New York negotiated the project’s licensing agreements, and 14 buyers have since lined up to purchase distribution rights, including Fox Latin America, Brazil’s Sunset Films and Spain’s Dream Time Entertainment.

Illustrative of the international production boom, “Super Kid” is also proof that AFMA is guiding several entities to financial success within the entertainment arena, and being a member is time — and money — well spent.

“As a small company, we are served well by what AFMA has to offer,” says Alex Massis, MP’s founder and president. “If we can get just one good lead or make one connection, it makes our affiliation with them a very valuable tool.

Membership in today’s environment is a necessity, because of the possibilities it offers and the services it has.”

Formed in 1980 to help protect the interests of the independent film world, AFMA, like the current state of indies, has undergone a rebirth of sorts, trying to extend its reach throughout the ’90s. By successfully lobbying in several countries to protect existing markets and combating Europe’s trade barriers, it has become a necessary organization among producers, consultants and distributors everywhere.

Its strength also lies in its roster, a varied group consisting of mini-majors (New Line and Miramax) and indie powerhouses (Largo Entertainment, Lakeshore Intl. and Saban Pictures Intl.).

“Everyone does business the same way, and it doesn’t matter how small or large they are,” says outgoing AFMA president Jonas Rosenfield. “The constant energy of the independent sector is preserved by having a wide range of participants.”

Also imperative to the organization’s prosperity has been constant growth. Besides sponsoring the annual American Film Market, AFMA has begun to tackle the digital revolution, creating the technology-driven trade show Post/LA.

It also has established AFMA/Europe and AFMA Collections, a division that helps secure royalties on behalf of its members for cable retransmissions and video rentals throughout Europe. “The changes we have undergone say more about the state of entertainment than us,” Rosenfield says. “Our services have consistently helped producers become well represented in every territory.”

Diversity aside, AFMA still exists primarily as a unified alliance within which smaller, lesser-known enterprises can reap the rewards of the universal production explosion.

“Financially, we’ve benefited tremendously from our involvement,” says Chris Davis, international sales consultant at Studio City-based Imperial Entertainment. “AFMA has enabled companies like ours to thrive by providing a forum.”

With an upcoming slate that includes “Blast,” starring Rutger Hauer, and “Mean Guns,” with Christopher Lambert, Imperial sees AFMA as a way to help streamline the launches of its modestly budgeted movies in an overflowing marketplace. “It gives a voice to those that don’t have unlimited resources,” Davis says. “They may not be the majors, but their products get sold to the same buyers as the studios, so the marketplace becomes an even field.”

It wasn’t long ago that Davis’ claim regarding television likely would have fallen on deaf ears.

Though AFMA has been involved in several changes during its 17-year existence, none has had a more noticeable effect than the decision to include the small screen among its primary concerns.

With deregulation and privatization of TV stations around the globe, the rules have changed, and AFMA has acted accordingly: In 1995, the org altered its bylaws to admit TV distributors that license their programming overseas.

The result? Participation grew from 110 members to its current peak of 130. “Television is the dominant branch of the market in which our members compete,” Rosenfield says. “We wanted to expand beyond theatrical involvement as TV has become the principal medium.”

One company that has seen the direct results of the television rush is Warner Bros.-based Morgan Creek Intl.

With “Ace Ventura” in its corner — the company produces the successful animated series based on the hit films — television sales have become as important as feature transactions, and AFMA provides a steady base on which it can display its projects.

“It’s really the only organization that enables us to have a representative voice,” says Gary Barber, who recently ankled as vice chairman/COO of Morgan Creek to start his own company. “There are so many ancillary avenues in every country, and being a part of AFMA helps you find those windows of opportunity.”

With the rapid growth of co-financed and co-produced projects, AFMA has prepared itself well for the insatiable demand and popularity of independent films and programming, while its members successfully maintain their autonomy.

Everyone involved, however, realizes the landscape is changing.

” ‘Independent’ just doesn’t mean what it used to,” says Imperial’s Davis. “Studios are involved on so many levels, and though traditional definitions no longer apply, there are still small companies that require support, and AFMA serves their needs very well.”

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