London sales scene rocked by exits to U.S.

Companies uprooting, city's foreign status shaky

This article was corrected on Oct. 15, 2001.

LONDON — The past 18 months have felt like the end of an era in London’s film sales scene. With an unprecedented number of mavens on the move and companies uprooting, the city’s status alongside Los Angeles as a twin capital of the foreign sales business has rarely been shakier.

Many of the companies and individuals that have dominated the London scene for the past decade have simply gone. Some new players are emerging, and some veterans are reinventing themselves, but many are left wondering whether London hasn’t lost some of its sales oomph in the process.

“I feel like I’m one of the last of my generation,” says veteran player Alison Thompson, who moved a year ago from the Sales Co. to head sales for London-based Pathe Intl. “But none of us are surprised. We’ve seen it coming for quite a while. The truth is that we still have a cottage industry here. If anything is successful, it gets taken over by a U.S. company.”

Think L.A.-based Myriad Pictures: Backed by Germany’s IN-Motion, it bought up stalwart entity J&M Entertainment; quietly fired its U.K.-based sales honcho, Gary Phillips; and moved its focus from London to L.A., where IN-Motion does most of its biz.

Intermedia, likewise, has re-centered its sales operations Stateside after a public stock offering last year, and turned into a cash-rich, deal-hungry player that’s putting the emphasis on U.S. moves.

Bruce Davey and Mel Gibson’s Icon Entertainment, meanwhile, axed chief honcho Ralph Kamp from the London-based sales company he founded, and appointed a replacement — in Los Angeles.

And New Line Intl. honcho Camela Galano relocated in August from her longtime London base to the Hollywood mothership.

Some see the developments as a consequence of Hollywood keeping its marketing activities closer to home. Others say London is simply shrinking along with the sales biz worldwide.

“I think it’s just a general down turn in the business. It hasn’t just happened to London. London is still as good a place as any,” says Jane Barclay co-managing director of Capitol Films, which is one of the last remaining sales outfits headquartered in London.

Adds Sam Horley, sales exec for Myriad, based in J&M’s old London office, “I think you’ll find the demise here reflected in the U.S. I don’t think it is necessarily indicative of problems in the U.K. The market has got tougher.”

Out of sales

One company to have reshuffled its sales efforts is indie production house Renaissance Films. Head of sales Bill Stephens and sales exec Charlie Bloye ankled earlier this year as the company cut its overheads. Managing director Angus Finney took personal charge of sales, recruiting former United Artists exec Claire Taylor as a consultant.

Like many of the casualties, Bloye and Stephens have moved on to other sales ventures. Stevens is a consultant for Goldcrest Films Intl., while Bloye is in talks to enter a new sales operation.

J&M co-founder Mike Ryan is firmly ensconced at IAC Films. Meanwhile, Aline Perry, formerly president of Polygram Film Intl., has moved back into the biz as chief exec of the Sales Co. after a stint at an Internet startup.

But others have moved out of sales altogether. These include experienced veterans Wendy Palmer and Fiona Mitchell, who disbanded their United Artists Films sales arm at the end of last year. Palmer is growing vines in New Zealand, while Mitchell is biding her time.

Former Handmade honcho Gareth Jones is also out after Alibi Films Intl., his most recent employer, moved away from the film packaging activities in which he specializes.

J&M co-founder Julia Palau is pursuing a career in producing, as is Sue Bruce-Smith, formerly director of international sales for FilmFour. Bruce-Smith is head of production at Anglo-Irish company Little Bird.

Still, none of London’s sales survivors will confess to being worried.

“I don’t feel particularly concerned,” says Thompson. “The business has changed but if rumors are true other companies are arriving.” (Pathe Intl. is also new.)

Adds Nicole Mackey, president of international sales for Spanish company Lolafilms’ London office, Lolafilms U.K.: “London is still a great place to be. You still have a huge array of companies here. Intermedia still has a presence. I can give you 10 great reasons why London is the best place to be.”

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