Experts struck a mostly bullish note at the AFM Finance Conference’s Current Issues In Film Finance panel.

“In the last couple of years, things are more robust,” said Graham Taylor, head of global finance and distribution at WME. said, referring to “a dark period from 2008-2010.” Now, he said: “You have to be very precise about how you are putting a picture together. Distributors are much more savvy. The strength of the script has become so important.”

Nigel Sinclair, co-chairman and CEO of Exclusive Media, agreed: “The equity market is buoyant and vibrant now for the right projects.”

Another interesting development is non-film companies, from Wal-Mart to Starbucks to Samsung, getting involved in the film business. “A lot of them are doing it as pure equity investment, which is awesome,” Taylor said.

Looking abroad, Sinclair predicted: “South America will be the next big source of capital.” Sinclair added that “China is a very important long-term player.”

Taylor added that Russian money might be more quickly available but Chinese financing would take long-term approach. “Russian finance is driven more by the individual. In China it’s more corporate and governmental, more strategic.”

Tom Ortenberg, CEO of Open Road Films, noted how distribution and exhibition had changed in recent years: “If your film isn’t worthy of a legitimate theatrical release, no matter how much P&A you spend, there’s no floor anymore. The worst case scenario is zero.”

Talk also turned to the shrinking theatrical windows debate. Taylor said something like the Arbitrage model “was an effective alternative.” “I think you’ll see more experimentation,” he added, especially with adult-driven dramas.

Ortenberg, whose Open Road is backed by leading exhibitors AMC and Regal, unsurprisingly noted that such day-and-date multi-platform releases were fine for some films but would find others “cut off at the knees” if they wanted to expand theatrically (there are only about 250 screens in the US that would be available to a film not abiding by traditional windows). But he conceded: “Not every picture should go through a wide theatrical release. Do I thik there will be shortened windows in the future? Yes I do. Do I know what those windows will be? No. Nobody has a crystal ball.”

Nigel Sinclair noted that exhibitors in the US were only filling 5% of seats Mondays through Fridays – “if that was an airline, even Alitalia would shut it down,” he joked. “Exhibition and distribution have to converge and have the same agenda.”