Executives on AFM panel note less top dollar projects at AFM but strike positive note on current market

Industry and finance executives, including Ashok Amritraj (Hyde Park Entertainment), Doug Hansen (Endgame Entertainment), Robert Hayward (Summit Entertainment), Patrick Russo (The Salter Group) and Jared Underwood (Comerica Bank) struck a positive note on the current film market at the first panel discussion of the AFM finance conference, yesterday.

What are your expectations for this market, asked moderator Steve Fayne: “I think it’s early days. I’m hearing that the higher end independent buyers have come out with their checkbooks. I think it’s going to be a very good market,” said Ashok Armitraj.

“If you ask a sales agent how a festival is going, they are naturally going to say it’s going fantastic,” said Underwood, to laughter. “After Cannes and Toronto there is a lot of confidence. However, the $20m film market, the area we deal with, has been very strong and my sense of this market is that there is less of that product than in Cannes.”

Asked about how the Eurozone crisis might affect the credit worthiness of distributors, Underwood continued: “A year and half ago we thought we’d see a lot of defaults, but in fact we’ve seen very few. It’s a rollercoaster at the moment in Europe. But fortunately it really hasn’t been a problem yet and let’s hope it stays that way. The key is making sure the deals are structured properly. There is always something going wrong in the world and you make it up in other markets.”

The panel agreed that the strength of international market was increasing and the US was accounting for less of a film’s budget percentage with Hayward noting that domestic guarantees are significantly down on what they were. Hayward also expressed frustration at the costs of the VPF and expressed scepticism in the viability of future of premium VOD offerings that charged at $25 plus.

But the panel were confident in the ongoing support of State tax breaks and noted the growing number of money lenders after a dip in that sector. There was also general agreement that while the presale market was still strong, it had changed dramatically and was no longer a unique way to get a film made.

The five-day conference series runs through Tuesday at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.