Execs weigh the woes of acqusitions world

Direct-to-video, TV markets down; P&A restricts

Thanks to the economy, there is “more competition for fewer films,” said Patrick Gunn, executive VP at Artisan Entertainment. As a result, “people are getting in earlier with pre-buys or at the script stage.”

Gunn was among the industry honchos addressing questions about acquisitions and production during the Variety Village Cannes Conference Series on Sunday.

The panel acknowledged that direct-to-video is not as robust as it’s been and the TV market is down.

Screen Gems senior VP Benedict Carver pointed out P&A is an inhibitor to a studio pickup, but hardly the only one. Studios only have so many slots, said Carver. “It’s a Catch-22. They might get made but maybe I have no slot for them. Or studios have regular suppliers. No one is sitting around waiting for the next big film.”

Tony Safford, senior VP at Fox, said studio cutbacks “affect our entire film economy but they affect some less. Searchlight doesn’t have large overheads and releases about 12 films a year.”

Exec praised being able to “piggyback off the TV deals at Fox and the value we get is disproportionate to the value of the films.”

With “Swimfan” as his case study, GreeneStreet Film founding partner and prexy John Penotti highlighted the perils of producing without distribution.

“We were making for a very wide audience and that made the economics difficult. Looking for a distributor when the film was completed, we sensed strange studio buyer resistance because it needed significant P&A for a wide release. The studios didn’t have their fingerprints on it, they lacked emotional investment.”

Thanking Safford for Fox stepping up to bat for the film, Penotti conceded GreeneStreet Film is “questioning this business model. You do need a partner, a distributor.”

Turning to the audience’s second favorite subject — money — moderator and Variety senior writer Jonathan Bing asked Armada Pictures founder-CEO Chris Sievernich where best to find it.

Europe is still a source to tap, he said. There is “great value out there, but find experts to help and guide you through the maze of compatibility issues,” with some territories offering “incredibly high production value for low money.”

Paul Brooks, prexy of Gold Circle Films, gets his finance from “equity money combined with tax funds. It helps to have a U.S. studio-distributor relationship.”

Acquisition also involves the filmmaker having, said Stafford, “to want to work with the company.” Exec advised “other filmmakers are the best barometers. Ask around and check out all the companies.”

Asked why parent company Sony has so many labels, Carver responded, “Our strategy is to confuse the market!”

Panel was presented by Maryland Film Office.