Probst: New blood keeps EFM healthy

Berlin Film Festival 2013

Beki Probst has served as head of the European Film Market since 1988. The Istanbul native, who also heads the Probst-Kinobetriebe exhib group in Switzerland, talked to Variety’s Ed Meza about the EFM’s growth — it’s the first major film market of the calendar year, with some 7,000-plus participants expected in 2013 — and the international indie market.

Variety: Describe the state of the international independent film industry.
Probst: I’m also in the exhibition business and every year we discover surprises in the independent scene. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a success story: a first film, small budget. We’ll see what happens with the Oscars. “Barbara” is doing very well. I always love (Christian) Petzold films. This one has become such a success. I was showing that film over 10 or 12 weeks. Now we have another successful film in Switzerland with “More Than Honey,” the documentary by Markus Imhoof, which has done better than some big productions. The independents bring innovation. They usually don’t make sequels. They very rarely make remakes. They try to come up with original and new things. And that’s a big plus for independent cinema.

Variety: How was the response to the the American Independents in Berlin initiative, which launched last year in partnership with the Independent Filmmaker Project and the Sundance Institute?
Probst: It has been very well received by people from the U.S. It’s important for them to know they have a base here, they have people they can network with. The idea behind all of our initiatives is to bring people together, to facilitate communication and exchange between people who share the same interests, who are curious about each other and about what they are doing. The IFP initiative is not just to have a showcase for the American presence, it is also to help others, the Europeans or the Asians, discover and inform themselves about what is going on in that part of the world.

Variety: What do you need to do to keep buyers and sellers happy?
Probst: After a market is finished, we have two kinds of surveys. One survey we do immediately after the market. We send it to registered buyers to find out what they bought, so we have an idea of the kind of activity that took place. Then we have a second more elaborate survey done by McKinsey. It’s very specific, about the catalog, about the locations, about the services, about the quality of the screenings, everything.

At the end of the day, a market is a service business. .

Variety: How is the EFM coping with the technological and logistical challenges of keeping up with the fast-paced evolution of moviemaking and film projection technology?
Probst: Digitization has been the new tsunami. Every festival has had its own problems to solve. That’s why we got together with all the festivals to see what problems we are facing. Digitization had the side effect that people suddenly thought, I can bring anything to be screened. No you can’t. There are regulations. We had meetings with festivals and markets to find regulations and standards. We have been very active in that.

Variety: What trends do you see among today’s buyers?
Probst: The aim of distributors when they buy a film is to buy all rights. On the other hand, all I heard during my trips this year to Venice, to Locarno, to the American Film Market, is that the big spenders are no longer there. People are ready to buy because they need to buy. But first, not at any price; second, not just with a trailer, they tend more and more to first see a finished version. Pre-buying is still OK — if it’s a Scorsese film with DiCaprio or if it’s “Django Unchained,” I don’t think there is a problem — but there are other films in between, and there they are cautious.

Variety: What kind of business are you expecting from emerging territories like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea?
Probst: It’s in constant motion. It seems that those emerging countries are today not only in the cinema industry, in every field they’re very active. They have money to invest and they have money to produce as well. They don’t just want to go and buy product that is already there, they want to be active in production. And yes, this is a good thing. Speaking about diversity, what comes from these emerging countries brings a new breath to the cinema industry in every aspect, ideas and new kinds of business. It’s always good to have new blood coming in.

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