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Indies squeeze between studios and recession reviewed at AFM.

European distributors unfair to independent pictures.

The American Film Market, considered in retrospect a very good market for a select number of companies and only a moderately successful one for many others, generated discussion of the issues facing the independent sector of the motion picture industry.

What it all added up to was a deeprooted concern about the impact of future European moves on the independents as a whole, and what the independents themselves might do to improve their lot.

There was unanimous agreement that, more than ever, independent fortunes are tied up in the power and substance of the major studios -- from production to European exhibition, into which the majors are entering with considerable vigor.

Cited as an example is the (new) determination of some of the majors to obtain foreign distribution rights on any independent domestic deal they make.

This raised the question at the AFM whether new independent production and distribution concepts might evolve in Europe, allowing European distributors to compete more realistically with the major U.S. distributors, which seem to have the upper hand on all levels.

This aspect, taking in the broad sweep of European production, distribution and exhibition, was thoroughly explored at a symposium. Pan-European Distribution: Fact Or Folly? was moderated by Bruce St. John Lilliston, senior partner of The Entertainment Transaction Group at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker.

Members of the panel included Frans Afman, formerly of the Credit Lyonnais Nederland N.V. bank and now a financial consultant; Ernst Goldschmidt, chairman and CEO of Sovereign Pictures; Fulvio Lucisano, president of Italian International Film, and Nik Powell, co-chairman of Britain's Palace Group.

The symposium tackled a complicated question and didn't really answer much of it, though it elicited a number of pertinent personal opinions from panel members.

The discussion explored alternative methods to country-by-country sales of independent product, such as the proposed 5-member European distributor combine being set up by Powell with a view to jointly buying and distributing product.

In contrast, Goldschmidt's Sovereign Pictures operates on an output deal basis, which obliges selected distributors to handle all of Sovereign's pictures.

Lucisano, noting that there was no point fighting TV, saw the answer in consortiums. Noting that government money was available to help strengthen European distribution, he warned that the government gives subsidies primarily to exercise control.

Commenting on the Euro Trustee company proposed by Powell, several panel members were worried about who was going to make the decisions, and how the company would overcome its cultural differences.

The majors' decision to build multiplexes in Europe was welcomed by all participants, on the theory that they would provide additional and badly-needed outlets, and in any case, European exhibition badly needed modernization.

Noting the majors' siren calls to the independents, including the argument "we'll collect for you," Afman noted sarcastically, "And I say to them 'Yes, and are you going to pass that money along to the independents? We all know how touchy the major studios are when it comes to accounting."

The panel discussed future anti-trust legislation in Europe and its possible impact on the Americans. There was agreement that, when European theatres were being built by American theatre chains, their U.S. "muscle" would give them an advantage when it came to booking non-major releases.

Goldschmidt stressed that the major European distributors didn't do a good job handling the smaller independent pictures, because of their emphasis on the big potential money-makers.

The real issue, said Lilliston, was not Pan-European distribution, but Pan-Europeanism itself "with our industry as a healthy counter-balance to the American studio distribution system."

Afman summed it all up by commenting: "Our business changes, but the issues seem to remain exactly the same."

Other AFM panels included one on Global Filmmaking: The International Perspective; U.S. Independent Distribution: What's the Future? and Capital Sources in the 90s.

AFM's keynote speaker, on the topic of The Role of the Independents in the 90s, was Frank J. Biondi, president and CEO of Viacom International.
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Title Annotation:American Film Market
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Fin-Syn: the new world order for int'l producers, ignored outside the U.S.
Next Article:Nordic Screenings challenge Hollywood.

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