GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – ON THE GROUND AT MIPCOM 2011

Edward Stencel and I arrived in Cannes this past Sunday afternoon, where we were greeted by perfect 80-degree weather and a postcard-worthy view of the Mediterranean Sea. I’m only mentioning the amazingly satisfying weather because buyers usually spend more money in good weather. I know such a statement may sound ludicrous, but the biggest film sales market of the year occurs right here in Cannes every May, during the Cannes Film Festival/Cannes Film Market. Furthermore, the biggest TV Markets are also here; MIPCOM, which is going on right now, and MIPTV, which draws the powers-that-be here like a magnet in April. Thus, the world’s premiere film and TV buyers, distributors, exhibitors, producers and creators, all flock to Cannes three times per year, because…it’s Cannes, France! Trust me, if these markets were held in my childhood hometown of Overland Park, Kansas, they would never attract heavy-hitting titans of the industry, nor would the universe’s brightest stars grace their red carpets. I love Overland Park, and it is an oasis in the Midwest, but hey…it’s not Cannes.

So here Edward and I are, in Cannes, on day one of MIPCOM 2011. This article will give insights on trends and telltale signs I see at the beginning of this market. Thus, without further ado, here’s what my eyes and ears have captured so far.

Foot Traffic Is Still Slow
One thing I hate about spending $1,900 for a badge to MIPCOM is how empty the market is in the “deal making” areas. Few privately held companies are holding meetings, and even fewer are holding multiple meetings. While some attendees report this market to be healthier than last April’s MIPTV, most sellers claim MIPCOM 2011 to be far worse than MIPTV 2011. I guess one’s point of view clearly depends on if the product they are selling actually sells. Regardless of points-of-view, it does seem that fewer people are here than they were last year. However, that’s not altogether bad, because those who are here are ready to make deals.

Most Sales Booths Are Companies Financially Supplemented By Governments
One notable trend emerging from this market is that companies that are financially supplemented from their country hold most of the sales booths. Of course, no American companies are blessed with such luck, but MIPCOM is a global market, so most of the companies attending are not America based. The trend of government-backed companies gobbling up most of the sales booths will likely turn into the “rule” as opposed to the ”exception” within a few years. This is because national governments seem to be the only entities outside of the world’s major studios, networks and cable outlets that can afford to pay the exorbitant sales booth costs.

In previous years, a sea of small independent companies happily bought overpriced booths; because their sales were so abundantly healthy, they didn’t mind. Simply put, a $20,000-$60,000 sales booth was merely the “cost of doing business,” when companies were making $300,000-$500,000 or more in sales per market. But these days, an independent company’s sales are usually less than the cost of the sales booth, so it just doesn’t make since for many companies to even have a booth. Thus, government-backed film and television distributors and sales companies are taking over the sales booth world for the foreseeable future.

More “Pods” Equal Less Booths
One positive way this market has combatted the economic downturn of worldwide sales is to offer sales “pods” alongside the regular sales booths. These pods allow smaller companies a more cost-effective manner in which to be here selling their product. Even though these pods lack the gusto and flash of a well decorated and strategically placed booths, they clearly promote a no-nonsense, no-frills approach to getting deals done. Besides, all that really matters is setting deals into place and having your product exhibited throughout the world. So, you independent filmmakers out there may as well cement the term “pods” in your mind as a new distribution “catch phrase,” because “pods” are the new set pieces that will lead to independent film distribution success.

Offers Are Already On The Table
The most compelling argument that things are getting (slightly) better is that Edward Stencel and I have already fielded several firm offers for the products we’re distributing within the first few hours of day one of the market. This action is a sharp leap forward from MIPCOM 2010, or even MIPTV 2011 in April, when all buyers waited two to three weeks after the market to make offers.

Getting offers within the first few hours of day #1 means:

a) Buyers have money to buy.

b) Buyers know that others buyers have money too, so they have to make their offer(s) quickly in order to secure the products they want.

Both of the above truths point to signs of life in the international buyers’ world.

Russia Is The “Spotlight” Focus Of MIPCOM 2011
As soon as Edward Stencel and I reached the market, we were bombarded with goliath billboards, banners and equally impressive print advertisements about Russia’s production, distribution, acquisition and post-production abilities. Whether Russia really is a prime hotbed of the film and television industry, or whether they paid a sick amount to have their country’s abilities focused on, Russian companies are the “buzz” of the market. More importantly, they have “deep pockets” at a time when most company “pockets” are shallow with large holes in them.

China Is Being Talked About As Being A Viable Emerging Market For Entertainment
First of all, any country that houses one out of every five people on the planet should be recognized as a viable entertainment market. While China clearly lacks in protecting the rights of copyright holders, China is actively spending billions of dollars to build heir own film and television industry that will interact and collaborate with multiple countries throughout the world. What this means is that in the coming months and years, many American film and television studios, mini-majors, and financially backed production companies will flock to China, in order to plant their flag into the new frontier. This opportunity couldn’t come at a better time for American companies, because most of them are financially strapped (even the big ones), so China’s infusion of money is a welcome sight for Hollywood’s sore eyes.

China will also welcome American filmmakers, especially those filmmakers whose stories can utilize China as a location. The remake of The Karate Kid did exactly that.

Okay, people. Now it’s 3:24 AM in Cannes, and I’ve got to grab some sleep before Edward and I venture out into day two of MIPCOM. Don’t worry, you won’t miss anything, because next week’s article will serve up a MIPCOM wrap-up, when I’ll discuss how healthy the market turned out to be, and what it means for independent filmmakers. Until then, thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them next Tuesday.

As always, I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.




Posted on October 4, 2011 in Features, Going Bionic by
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