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Suppliers Scour AFM for Quality Product

28 Feb, 2003 By: Kurt Indvik

Home video companies looking for new product were in force during the recent 23rd Annual American Film Market, which ran Feb. 19 to 26 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Such companies as Artisan Home Entertainment, First Look Home Entertainment, MTI Home Video, Screen Media Films and York Entertainment were on hand to see what products might be ripe for home video rights acquisition. As a significant international buyers market, AFM is also a good place for companies to market their own libraries to international buyers.

Tanya York, CEO and president of York Entertainment, has been coming to AFM for 13 years as a buyer, and for the past two years also as a seller.

“We buy product throughout the year, and AFM is a good way for us to source new product, but this is a real sales effort for us as well now,” said York in her meeting room at the market, which took up the entire Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. York was promoting its 400-title library of produced and acquired product to international buyers, including some new features, including Scarecrow: Resurrection from its popular “Scarecrow” horror franchise; Hood Angels, an urban thriller starring rapper Juvenile; and Scream Bloody Murder, a teen comedy in the vein of Scary Movie.

“The international market is growing substantially, month-to-month. They track very closely how product does here in the U.S. as a gauge for their markets,” York said. The company will also be exhibiting at the Hong Kong market later this year.

The international interest in domestic activity was echoed by Christopher Shaw, director of international sales at Full Moon/Shadow Entertainment.

“A lot of [international buyers] are picking up older titles for DVD because it's starting to take off over there,” Shaw said.

“The DVD market, here and abroad, has been good for the independent,” said Keith Walley, a producer whose Delta Delta Die! was among the titles Full Moon/Shadow was selling. Walley also marketed his independently produced Speck, part of a package of 10 films on serial killers.

MTI Home Video and Redrum Entertainment announced at AFM a deal with RGH/Lions Share Pictures for the action/horror film Maniacts, starring Jeff Fahey (Wolf Lake, The Newcomers) and Kay Waymire (“Six Feet Under,” Sunset Strip). The feature will be the first video release by Redrum, a joint venture between MTI and Delta Entertainment's president, Joe Kelly. The video is tentatively scheduled for May 27. MTI also picked up Sins of the Realm, starring Rena Mero (the wrestler known as “Sable”), from Unreel Pictures.

MTI president Larry Brahms expects the company to close deals on about six more films from AFM. “First quarter of 2004 you'll see product coming from the show,” Brahms said. He was impressed with the quality of the films he saw at the market and was especially pleased to hear suppliers increasing the value of the DVD releases with additional extras.

“I got the feeling the bar has been raised with respect to the quality of the films released domestically,” Brahms said. “Overall it was really nice to see hundreds of companies still making movies, and the ones we saw looked very good.”

While New Concorde had not completed any acquisition deals at AFM as yet, Gary Jones, president of worldwide distribution, noted, “We see this as an opportunity to canvas a lot of new product. We buy about 16 films per year to help feed our home video division, along with our own productions.”

New Concorde's 300-title library, fed by the prolific genre master and founder Roger Corman, attracts a great deal of international buyer attention, and is targeted mainly at the rental market. But as the sellthrough business continues to expand, New Concorde looks to acquisitions that can appeal on the retail shelves as well. “Sellthrough has become a much more important component now and, to a certain extent, influences the way we buy,” Jones said. “Films have to be more concept-driven and have high production values.”

Fresh from announcing an extension of its home video distribution deal with Universal Studios Home Video, Screen Media Films took a meeting room at AFM to look for product and market its library of 250 titles.

“I'd say within two or three weeks we'll have a couple of acquisitions to announce,” said Screen Media president Robert Baruc. “There have been a lot of pictures to look at at this market.” Baruc said that while independent suppliers still focus on rental, the challenge for shelf space and marketing support means that for films destined for video -- either after a limited theatrical run or on a direct-to-video basis -- quality, concept and talent have to be priorities.

The days of the formulaic genre picture are numbered, and that means much more careful consideration in acquisitions, said Suzanne Blech, VP of sales and marketing at Screen Media.“You have to be discerning,” Blech said. “The quality of the production has to be there, the concept of the film has to be strong.”

Seth Willenson, an executive at GoodTimes Entertainment, which was exhibiting at AFM, said the shift to sellthrough has not caught up to the international markets yet, but it's making independent producers step up their quality.

“They are going to have to come up with more high-concept films, because the rental market is dwindling for [the formula genre] film, and sellthrough demands more quality,” Willenson said.

In other announcements at AFM, First Look Home Entertainment said it's pursuing sellthrough product and finalized a deal for the “Amazing Heroes” kids' series, created with Dream Big Inc. and Primedia. First Look was at the market to showcase its library of more than 300 titles, including Antonia's Line, the best-foreign-language-film Oscar winner in 1995.

Additional reporting by Enrique Rivero.

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