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Buyers Abound at AFM, Looking for Strong Titles

4 Mar, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

The American Film Market is growing up.

In its 23rd year and its last February event, the market drew more than 7.000 participants -- up 5 percent from last year -- and industry badge sales were up 19 percent, an AFM spokesperson said.

The final tally of buyers was 1,434 compared to last year's 1,309. A record 306 film and TV companies were exhibited this year, including 101 first-timers.

With such a diverse range of product, the focus for many buyers is finding quality product in a vast sea of hopefuls.

“People are focusing more and more on ‘A'-list stuff,” said Scott Simons of video supplier SPG Home Video. He cited the search for strong production values amid the legendary wealth of ‘B' horror titles available. But documentaries are attractive, he said, because a quality documentary can also be attractive for TV or cable -- venues that often create the only buzz documentaries get.

Urban and Latino products were hot, a sign of a growing market for the genres at rental and sellthrough.

Maverick Entertainment, focusing on building its Latino catalog with Latin-American stars, picked up two Latino titles: Tiempo Real (Real Time), which was shot on a single camera without cuts; and Haz Conmigo Lo Quieros (Kill Me Tender), a romantic comedy about a woman who must wait for her elder husband to die so she can make a life with the man she really loves.

“The label represents the very best of Latin America and Spain,” said Al Perez de la Mesa, director of Latin product at Maverick. “The unique selling propositions are in the cast and director. ... There may be a name on it that means nothing here, but [the actor is] the Bruce Willis of Argentina.” He also looks for “relevant themes.”

Other suppliers look for crossover product and titles that will do well subtitled in other countries.

“It's another reason our titles do very well in Latin markets,” said MTI Home Video's Claudia Brahms. “A lot of the major studios don't subtitle their product because of the international rights.”

MTI, which already has a stable of horror and action releases, picked up seven new films at AFM: The Ghost of Edendale, Fate, Tropix, Verdict in Blood, Fugitive's Run, White Rush and a departure from the thriller/action path, Chopin: Desire for Love, about Frederic Chopin's affair with George Sand.

Some folks came with product in hand, looking to get it into stores. Inferno Film Productions had a variety of product that spans children, family, horror, action, and martial arts and other instructional titles. The advent of DVD has helped the business, which also offers some titles -- primarily how-tos -- by paid download at dataflix.com. Reduced production costs help get the word out, said Inferno's Trygve Lode.

“I can make DVD that's retail ready for about two-thirds the cost of VHS,” he said. “Plus, there are fewer problems with replicators.”

Among the more innovative non-content exhibitors was the Media Store, a company that places studio and independent films in vending machines. Indies hungry for distribution can pay the company $20 per machine and provide a two-minute trailer and discs of their films, then get $8 from each disc the company sells for $15. The company has 2,000 machines in the field, primarily at colleges, hospitals, auto dealerships and manufacturing plants, according to Media Store representative Charles Underwood.

With the success of the nation's biggest annual independent film market, the sponsors will move the event to November, giving buyers and sellers two events in this year of transition. The upcoming Nov. 3-10 event at Loew's Santa Monica Beach Hotel will partner with the American Film Institute's AFI Fest, which this year will be Nov. 4-10 at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood. Shuttles will be available for transport between the sites.

Under the partnership, AFI Fest will identify available films and promote them to buyers and give free AFM admission to registered AFI Fest filmmakers and AFI Fest admission to AFM exhibitors.

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