Thirty-one UK sales companies have joined forces to create the new trade association Film Export UK.
The group's remit is to give the sales companies the strength of a united voice to lobby their interests; to create a platform to discuss common practices - especially in tricky areas such as new media rights; to encourage growth and training in the sales sector; and to increase awareness for the companies and their projects in the international marketplace.
The board includes Ralph Kamp (chairman) of Odyssey, Hilary Davis of Bankside, Samantha Horley of Lumina, Nicole Mackey of Fortissimo and Mark Vennis of Moviehouse.
Charlie Bloye, veteran of the Rank Organisation, Renaissance, Signpost and Peace Arch, has been named chief executive of Film Export UK.
Chairman Ralph Kamp said the time was right for sales companies to band together. 'Over the last few years it has been harder and it has been more of a buyers market, worldwide deals for TV have dropped, DVD sales have been hit by piracy, and there's new media issues, it's become a harder arena to work in,' he told ScreenDaily.com.
'We've informally gathered as a group of sales companies for a number of years, and we felt that over the last six to 12 months we needed to unite into an official body to have representation within government, with the UK Film Council, and working in Europe.'
Kamp said that the alliance shouldn't be bad news for buyers. 'The thing that we never discuss is prices and deals because everyone keeps their own business confidential,' he noted. 'We want to improve conversations about what new media is, the exploitation of those rights, the laws, that can only help us working with buyers. Essentially our distributors are important partners and we have an ongoing share in that interest.'
The organisation, which was formalised just before Cannes but made public Tuesday night during the London UK Film Focus, has already created a number of working groups.
They include training, which is in discussions with Skillset and the Film Business Academy with the hopes of including more sales teaching in the Academy's Film Business MBA programme and also creating a formal internship programme for sales companies.
Another group is set up to explore business affairs, working with law firms on issues such as new media, copyright, VOD development and piracy to 'come up with some kind of standardised contractual wording and understanding.'
A markets and festivals group will identify ways to work best at events and improve awareness of British films abroad, including talks with the UK Film Council about how to improve umbrella stands at markets such as the AFM and EFM, or start its own new umbrella stands at other markets not yet being served by the UKFC.
'With such a blue chip membership we can hit the ground running,' Bloye said. 'By autumn we'll have a few more announcements about what we're actually going to do.'
The group is similar to the US-based Independent Film & Television Alliance, and there will be some overlap among membership. Kamp said that IFTA knew of plans for Film Export UK and the groups planned to work togther when possible.
Among the UK independent players not listed as initial members are Icon, which plans to be involved in the near future, and Summit, which Kamp notes 'has evolved into something new anyway.'
Kamp called the near-unanimous support from UK sales companies 'extraordinary - companies are helping each other within the group when at the same time we are all competitors.'The UK sales community has met informally before, including working with the UK Film Council on its UK Film Sales Sector Study in 2006.
Film Export UK joins other UK sector-specific groups like producer's body Pact, post-production organisation UK Post and distributors group FDA.
The new association will work with UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and the UK Film Council (which provided seed funding and guidance).
Bloye said that UKTI is providing some funding for the association, and members also pay fees. Associate members that aren't directly involved in film sales will be invited to join.
Andrew Cahn, CEO of UK Trade & Investment said: 'It is crucial that we support sales companies which help independent films get recognised. Film Export UK brings UKTI closer to exporters on the ground enabling us to work more effectively with the industry.'
The initial membership roster is:
Channel 4 International
Focus Features International
High Point Film & TV
HandMade Films International
Pathe Pictures International
Reliant Pictures International
Velvet Octopus Film Sales
The Works International