Mart regains equilibrium

American Film Market 2011: Global Locations - Hungary

Do more bodies equal a more robust market?

Last year’s American Film Market saw a 6% uptick in overall attendance vs. the previous year. The number of buying firms increased to 664 from 658 in 2009.

But did the swelling ranks translate into a sellers’ market last year, and will any gains carry over into this year’s incarnation, the 32nd annual AFM? Sales outfits are cautiously optimistic.

“Overall, there has been a bit more money in the marketplace the last 10 months or so, which is most likely attributed to TV ad space numbers going up and hence the need for more product,” says Christian Mercuri, co-president of Red Granite, which is handling international sales on the Jon Hamm starrer “Friends With Kids” and Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Among last year’s most striking jumps: The number of buyers from five territories skyrocketed — China (+64%), Italy (+23%), Russia (+31%), Singapore (+32%) and Sweden (+133%).

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Still, Jonathan Wolf, AFM managing director and executive VP of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, cautioned against extrapolating much from those figures.

“None of it stands out with any drama,” notes Wolf. “These gains could merely represent one or two companies sending a couple of extra people to the market.”

Instead, Wolf suggests that the bump in buyers has more to do with the fact that the market has regained its equilibrium after its recent slump.

“A few years ago, there was so much finished product that was being brought to market that there was no reason to buy in the pre-sales market,” he says.

Wolf concedes that China’s increased head count likely reflects a growing hunger for product given its booming market, with an expanding number of distribution outlets and platforms. Asia, in general, was up 3%, Wolf says. Russia, too, is a hot region.

By contrast, Sweden, whose numbers account for all of Scandinavia, has been a stable territory for years. Any increase in the number of buyers is likely the result of altered travel plans among its group of AFM regulars.

Furthermore, the number of buyers does little to reflect how sellers gauged a particular territory. One high-volume sales exec says that though booming markets result in more market buyers, they are not necessarily the preferred kind of buyers.

“A lot of what you’re seeing with places like China and Russia is an onslaught of cowboy buyers,” says the sales exec. “They are looking to basically steal my product and flip it to someone I’ve been working with directly for 15 years. Why would I even take that meeting?”

Nevertheless, sellers say that despite the bleak global economy, the international film market is strong and on the upswing.

“Buyers were really eager in Cannes,” says Julie Sultan, president of international sales and distribution at W2 Media, whose AFM slate includes Lucky McKee-helmed horror pic “The Woman,” Alex Rockwell’s ensemble comedy “Pete Smalls Is Dead” and the James Franco-toplined drama “Shadows and Lies.”

“We expect that to continue at AFM. They’re coming to the markets and coming to buy. I think they are looking for strong commercial American titles that they can subtitle and release as close to the U.S. street date as possible. They’re looking for a good cast, good budget, good concept — things that they can turn around for a profit.”

Sultan, like others, cites the growing number of international distribution outlets and platforms as driving a lot of the conversations she is having. AFM will screen 395 films for thousands of buyers and industryites from 70-plus countries and anticipates deals totaling more than $800 million.