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Let the Bidding Wars Begin:

One hundred two world premieres, 527 films, of which 375 are market premieres, screen at the 2008 American Film Market in Santa Monica November 7 through 11. “We are sold to capacity,” boasted Lloyd Kaufman, IFTA Chairman and president of Troma Entertainment. Four hundred nine international production and distribution companies from 36 countries packed the sold-out Loews Santa Monica Beach and Le Merigot Beach Hotels. Thirty films screened every two hours; a total of nine hundred screenings in thirty five languages.

World premiers included Academy Award winners Forrest Whitaker in “Powder Blue,” Christopher Walken and Morgan Freeman in “The Maiden Heist”, and Timothy Hutton in “The Killing Field.”

Actors such as Danny Trejo, C. Thomas Howell, James Russo, and Scott Wilson graced the lobby promoting a current film or pitching their next one. Independent filmmakers scrambled through the offices set up in hotel suites hoping to find distribution, finishing funds, and pre-sales for their next project.

In a dry economic environment filled with an over-abundance of horror films shot on video, where does one find the next gem? One such film is “Kissing Strangers,” a sexy coming-of-age comedy starring Matt Smiley and Lucas Dick. It co-stars Academy Award nominee Seymour Cassel and Lucas’s father Andy Dick in a comedic tale about falling in love, peer pressure, and the trials and errors of dating. Just a three-minute trailer of this 35mm film started a bidding war between major studios and distribution companies.

Anthony Rene Torres, President of International Sales and Distribution of Burbank-based Alpine Pictures said, “We made the change from horror to family films a year ago after talking to the buyers. You have to listen,” says Torres. “Buyers won’t even look at your film without a name star, producer, or director attached. The AFM is so great because it gives you the ability to communicate directly with the international buyer.” Torres also advised, “Stay true to your niche. Don’t get fancy. You can make a comedy; you can make an action film; you can even make a horror film, but don’t make a hybrid. Buyers won’t know how to sell it. Fans are loyal to very specific genres,” he stressed. “Most filmmakers are caught up in what they want to make. However, without several huge stars, big budgets just don’t happen.”

Ken DuBow, President of Worldwide Distribution for local-based PorchLight Entertainment, believes that family films are hot. PorchLight is in pre-production on “The Last Dragon,” a family adventure film starring Sam Neill. “The market has exceeded my expectations,” he said. “Distributors are buying again where they were not in Winter/Spring 2008.” DuBow said the current economic downturn has created a very tough environment for filmmakers, but an opportune time for distributors. “Clients are buying product because they have pipelines they need filled. At the same time, producers are having bank problems and gap financing problems,” said DuBow. “The rental market in Europe has totally collapsed. Government-supported broadband has led to piracy there. If you have a middle-of-the-road movie with middle-of-the-road stars, there is no rental DVD [market], no cable [market], and it costs $30,000 to make a dub. A lot of films are stuck in between.”

The next big thing? “3-D Movies are about to overwhelm the market,” according to DuBow. “The interactive experience is ready to enter the theater. Feel-good movies will be in.”

Illuminati is the story of the underground secret organization of the same name that will stop at nothing less than total world domination. Uniquely marketed by Clear Pictures Entertainment producer Elizabeth Fowler, this project comes to market as a comic book, movie, and video game. “We don’t care what order they are made in,” said director David Winning. “One complements the other.” This action thriller is scheduled to star Kevin Sorbo, Lance Hendriksen, and C. Thomas Howell.

Seated across from the elevator at Le Merigot Beach Hotel, a young woman handed out press packages for a film titled “She Could Be You.” “Are you a filmmaker,” I asked? “No,” she replied. “My aunt directed this. It’s the story of Jennifer Marteliz who disappeared from Tampa, Florida in 1982.” My heart sank as she continued. “She was only seven. It has torn our family up for years. So we made this movie hoping someone would see it. We think she is still alive. Do you think you can get this to anyone?” she asked. Hopefully, this film finds distribution. Many other filmmakers are also hoping for the same.

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