Indie opportunities at AFM

Newbies seize indie crisis

Going in to the American Film Market, which starts Wednesday, the mood of most folk is somewhere between somber and grim.

But some leading execs appear to believe that troubles in the independent sector and the global financial crisis are creating opportunities.

Former Miramax Intl. co-chief Stuart Ford is expanding his IM Global company, a sales and distribution outfit with big-budget genre movie leanings, to cover specialty films — in part because he believes the retreat of the studios from this sector has gone too far.

Other execs using the AFM as a launchpad for specialty film sales shingles include former Weinstein Co. sales chief Glen Basner’s FilmNation, Guy East and Peter Naish’s Exclusive Film Distribution (a new sales division of pre-existing HS Media that handles Hammer Films and Spitfire titles) and Icon Entertainment, whose international sales and distribution businesses have been taken over by former Polygram topper Stewart Till.

Also making its AFM debut is WestEnd Films, a specialty label formed by former Capitol Films topper Sharon Harel and exec Eve Schoukroun.

“The specialty film sector is currently underserved by the U.S. sales community,” Ford said. “There is an opportunity because now there are very few U.S. companies involved in this kind of product.”

Ford argues that the companies that lead the sector, such as France’s Wild Bunch or Celluloid Dreams and Hong Kong- and Amsterdam-based Fortissimo, are far from Hollywood and culturally different.

“A lot of U.S. and U.K. movies ended up being sold by European companies. As a company in L.A. and London we are close to the agents and geographically and culturally compatible,” Ford said.

IM Global Acclaim will handle four to six titles a year. Its launch slate is headed by pickups “A Single Man,” a Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode drama directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, and the Rebecca Miller-helmed “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.” It also includes “44 Inch Chest,” a Britpic starring Ray Winstone.

None of this, however, prevents Ford from describing the market conditions as tepid.

“There are challenging economic conditions and industry issues such as the decline of TV and DVD markets, which logically mean this must be a low-key market,” Ford said.

Unveiling FilmNation, Basner argued that the global slowdown may mean fewer films in the market and a concentration on quality. Global financial turmoil means “the interests of sellers, distributors and financiers are now more aligned than ever before,” Basner said.

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