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Wanted: Bright ideas

International Film Finance Forum 2012

Hyde Park Entertainment chairman and CEO Ashok Amritraj remembers his first trip to the Cannes Film Festival in 1985.

“One could make deals on napkins just based on artwork and storylines,” says the one-time professional tennis player.

But as Amritraj prepares to participate on a May 18 panel at the third annual Intl. Film Finance Forum in Cannes, those foreign pre-sales that were once the bread and butter of the independent producer are a lot harder to come by.

“There are many territories where you actually have to screen the movie for (the distributors) to sell them,” says Amritraj, whose credits range from 2005’s “Shopgirl,” starring Steve Martin, to the recent “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” “You actually have to make good movies.”

Amritraj, who’s speaking at the session Global State of the Industry: How to Get Films Financed and Made Today, says for a company like Hyde Park “there are growth markets like Russia, Brazil and China, but others like Italy and Japan are more difficult,” due to such factors as the dearth of buyers in the former and the small number of screens in the latter.

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“The problem with the international marketplace is it’s changing every single month,” says another panelist, Randall Emmett, co-chair of Emmett/Furla Films and partner with rapper/actor 50 Cent in production company Cheetah Vision. “One country that was weak is strong; one country that was strong is weak.”

The Hollywood studios are stepping up their efforts to navigate around these issues by looking for partners, whether it’s in the form of megamillion-dollar slate financing deals, or one-off projects with indies such as Universal’s partnership with Emmett/Furla on “2 Guns,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington, shooting this spring in Louisiana and New Mexico, both of which offer significant tax incentives.

“I think everybody wants to offset their risks,” Furla says. “We offset our risk by selling off the foreign or taking a tax deal in a certain state. Studios having co-financing partners in particular films allows them to diversify, too.”

Indies have also gotten into the slate game. As early as 2008 Hyde Park partnered with Image Nation Abu Dhabi on a $250 million financing deal. (The relationship continues; in April the two companies got together to finance “Midnight Sun,” an Arctic adventure that marks the first feature in a dozen years for “Chariots of Fire” director Hugh Hudson.)

In September, Emmett/Furla teamed with Envision Entertainment to create a $250 million revolving equity and debt fund.

So what’s the hardest part about getting a film financed today?

“Finding exciting original projects,” Amritraj says. “Distributors have their checkbooks out and the talent is available as long as there’s good material.”

SCHEDULE

12:30-12:40 p.m.
Opening remarks: Ted Shapiro, SVP, general counsel, Motion Picture Assn.

12:40-1:45 p.m.
Global State of the Industry: How to Get Films Financed and Made Today
Moderator: Maggie Monteith, president, Dignity Film Finance
Opening remarks: Randall Emmett, co-chair/producer, Emmett/Furla Films
Panel: Ashok Amritraj, CEO/chairman, Hyde Park Entertainment; Chris Brearton, partner, entertainment, sports and media, O’Melveny & Myers; Greg Coote, chairman, China Lion Entertainment; Hal Sadoff, media finance and distribution consultant; Dan Steinman, agent, CAA

1:45-2:45 p.m.
Smart Money Strategies: Applying Risk Mitigation Across Borders
Moderator: Andrew Ruf, head of motion picture finance, Paradigm
Panel: Robbert Aarts, co-CEO, Fintage House; Mark Hutchison, principal, Rothstein Kass; Fred Milstein, managing director, AON/Albert G. Ruben Insurance Services; Christopher Woodrow, CEO, Worldview Entertainment

2:45-3:00 p.m.
The Impact of Piracy on Digital Distribution, presented by Ted Shapiro

3:30-4:30 p.m.
International Co-Production: Finding Access to Partners and Utilizing Incentives Abroad
Moderator: Joe Chianese, EVP, Entertainment Partners
Panel: Robert Jolliffe, managing director, Goldcrest Capital; Mariella Perez, film commissioner, Puerto Rico Film Commission; Dr. Hans Radau, partner, Noerr LLP; Isabelle Vendeville, Virgile Avocats

4:30-5:30 p.m.
U.S. and Worldwide Sales and Distribution Strategies
Moderator: John Sloss, partner, Cinetic Media
Panel: Adrian Alperovich, president, acquisitions & operations, FilmDistrict; Andrew Cripps, President, EMEA, Imax; Stuart Ford, Founder, IM Global; David Glasser, president, international, The Weinstein Company; Sanford Panitch, president, Fox International Productions

5:30-6:00 p.m.
The Growing Importance of Documentaries
Moderator: Nigel Sinclair, co-chairman/CEO, Exclusive Media;
Conversation: Danny Glover, co-founder/CEO, Louverture Films; Joslyn Barnes, co-founder/CEO, Louverture Films

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