A dance floor in Indonesia is not the most likely place for a US seller and a German buyer to negotiate an acquisition deal. Yet with the transformation of the film business due to cellphones, PDAs (personal digital assistant) and other mobile devices, anywhere is valid as a place to do business. 'I did a $1.5m deal on a movie with a German buyer when I was in a nightclub in Bali at 2am,' recalls Nicolas Chartier, president of Los Angeles-based sales company Voltage Pictures. 'I took the call, went outside, did the deal and came back in.'
This is just one example of how modern technologies are breaking down international barriers and creating a new sense of speed in the film business.
Because the changes have been gradual - desktop computers to laptops to BlackBerrys and iPhones; landlines to faxes to mobile phones to SMS texting - it has not seemed like a sudden revolution. But industry experts say it has been a revolution nonetheless.
Alexandra Rossi, the London-based group VP for Paramount Worldwide Acquisitions Group, says: 'You get so used to using these tools that you don't even stop to think about how technology has changed us. But yes, 10 years ago it was endless faxing of contracts and letters.'
Jere Hausfater, now the CEO of Los Angeles-based Essential Entertainment, remembers having to write a contract by hand at Mifed in the late 1980s.
As a 14-year market veteran, Kathleen Drumm of New Zealand sales agency NZ Film, looks back in horror at 'the ancient communication via typed letters' - 'Did we really get through all that paper and postage'' she asks - and more recently to dodgy, wired internet connections for laptops in hotel rooms.
Yet with progress come new challenges - such as being glued to a BlackBerry even on weekends or having to deal with hundreds of e-mails per day. SooJin Jung, senior manager, international business for Korea's Showbox Mediaplex, sums it up: 'The way of working gets easier but the volume gets bigger.'
Are we moving too fast'
The spread of information at a festival or market can be lightning-fast now via SMS, e-mail, instant messenger, blogging, Facebook updates and Twitter - not just word-of-mouth encounters that used to happen organically at cinemas, bars or hotels. Whether that speed is a good or a bad thing depends on who you ask.
Chartier says: 'It's the challenge of modern communication - good news travels fast but so does bad news.' Having more information spread via the internet has 'democratised' information, says Hausfater. 'It is giving everyone the same access to information in real time.'
That is not always good news for buyers, notes Eamonn Bowles, president of US distributor Magnolia Pictures. 'In the old days you could see something off the radar and you could make a deal before people even knew about it,' he says. 'Now about 10 minutes into the screening, people are e-mailing about the film.'
Also, some early information is not always accurate. As Bowles notes: 'A lot of that quick, fast response is not thought out. Among certain bloggers there's this mentality that being first gives them some sort of credibility. It's not about the substance of what they're saying, it's the bragging rights that they are first.'
James Velaise, managing director of French distributor Pretty Pictures, started going to festivals in 1993. Bad buzz certainly existed then but not at the current speed. 'When a film is bad, word spread likes wildfire (by SMS or e-mail) and a film can be killed off after 30 minutes if there are walkouts,' he says.
For sellers, that immediate spread of information can make their jobs harder. '(The speed technology has brought) is not an absolute negative, but I think it's a net negative for a sales person,' says John Sloss of New York's Sloss Law Office and sales company Cinetic Media. 'In sales, we used to rely somewhat on inefficient movement of information among competitors - we could take advantage of that.'
The good news
On the other hand, both buyers and sellers say the speed and convenience of disseminating information to multiple parties has helped a lot.
The speedy spread of information is useful in certain situations. New Zealand's Drumm says: 'Following a market/festival premiere screening, buyers often drop me a note straight away with their view, so it's much easier to get a quick feel for how the film is playing and who is interested. That's invaluable.'
And Chartier also uses e-mail to stay in touch with potential buyers during the negotiation process. 'You can make sure people know you're about to do a deal, so you don't lose a better offer.'
E-mails can keep colleagues - even back at the home office or on holiday - in the loop with no time delay. 'In an e-mail you can keep many people up to speed at the same time,' Paramount's Rossi says. And during negotiations, looking up historical information on similar titles can be done quickly and easily. 'It would be impossible to run numbers so quickly,' she says.
E-mail also means nobody has to make instant decisions in a vacuum. 'If you're in a screening, you can get people to join you,' Rossi says. 'It's great because a junior person could like the first 20 minutes of a screening and get more senior people in there for the rest of the film.'
Plus, electronic communication can be more clear and accurate than, say, a late-night conversation at a loud hotel bar. Kim Yun-jeong, head of sales for Korea's Finecut, says it is better to rearrange meetings via SMS 'during a hectic and loud market. And we can even discuss the figures with more accuracy via SMS. You have that proof, there can't be as many misunderstandings.'
The bad news
On the flip side, more electronic communication means less face time. 'Even when I'm in the office, I do most of my communications by e-mail,' Rossi says. 'It's efficient but you can sometimes lose that personal interaction.'
Everyone says face-to-face interaction is still vital at times. It would seem a little suspect to try to do business during Cannes from that nightclub in Bali, for instance. 'There is nothing like sitting down with someone,' Drumm says. 'As one buyer said to me this morning, it's nice to be reminded that we exist beyond an electronic message.'
Pretty Pictures' Velaise notes cheekily that face-to-face communication can still yield the most useful information: 'Still the best way to get that 'hot' info title is from a competitor who has had one too many at a late-night cocktail party and has forgotten he has not actually signed off on the film!'
The worst complaints are about those people who try to combine face-to-face interaction with PDA obsession. As Hausfater says: 'I was in Sundance at a party and someone was half-heartedly asking me questions but not even listening to the answers while they were on their BlackBerry. They just looked like an asshole.' Drumm remembers another case: 'The worst I've seen is a US buyer being interviewed on stage in front of an audience and then doing a TV interview, while maintaining BlackBerry communication with the outside world throughout.'
Other drawbacks include the spread of damaging, perhaps false, information that cannot be erased from the web. 'In Sundance there was a movie getting really bad buzz before it even had a public screening,' Hausfater says. 'A blogger can have an agenda to damage - it's hard to recover from negative buzz, even if it's untrue rumours.'
Sloss agrees some bloggers try to weigh in too quickly, too often with negative opinions. 'It's part of human nature for people to 'get more points' to dismiss something than effuse about it,' he says.
Hausfater adds: 'Instant communication has caused a lot of people to embrace their ADD (attention deficit disorder). People don't have the patience to sit through a screening without multi-tasking. Seeing all the buyers in a screening, all on their latest toy, it does distract you from the viewing experience.'
Chartier, who admits to being a frequent texter during screenings, thinks it is just a sign of the changing times. 'Except for those rare trips to the cinema, most consumers watch movies at home and they've got distractions like the phone, MySpace, e-mail. It's related to the larger issue of how we view films now.'
'What time is it there''
Technology has further broken down barriers in the international film business. As Sloss says: 'It has shrunk the world immeasurably. And it's freed people from their desks. Most people I call, I don't know where they are, and I don't ask.'
PDAs and mobile phones also help to conduct business across time zones. 'If you allow yourself, it can be a 24-hour business,' Hausfater says. 'There's always someone you can do business with, if you don't care about sleep.'
Chartier, willing to do deals at 2am on holiday, is the perfect example: 'Last year I spent about five months out of the office. I have no problem being anywhere in the world.'
Drumm, who was reached instantly via e-mail on her BlackBerry in a restaurant in Rome for this feature, notes BlackBerrys are great for their immediacy. But echoing the sentiments of many, she notes the downside is the 'notion that one must always be available ... not to mention how distracting and all-consuming it can be, to be enslaved by a small black device.'
Sloss says there are two sides to that argument. 'Yes you're always available, but that also frees you up sometimes - I can go play with my kids and if I have to be responsive to work, I can be.'
The world we live in now
The world at large - not just the film industry - is now forever changed by technology. Yet even technophobes can survive: the core of the business is still the same. 'In the end, it's about the movie and if someone else wants to buy it,' Chartier argues. 'It's tools to save time but it doesn't change the core of the business. If you've got a great movie and you don't have a cellphone, someone will find you to buy it.'
Rossi agrees the nature of festival buzz was the same in the old days, even if it was slightly slower. 'The film business has always been like this, people were always talking to each other and gossiping before cellphones and e-mail.'
Hausfater tells the story of his BlackBerry dying on the second Wednesday of February's Berlinale. 'Obviously you feel like you lost your right arm at first ... but then I felt free. It was like a weight was lifted.' But the reality is that the joy could only be shortlived - five days later he returned home and bought a replacement. 'It's the world we live in now,' he says.