ROTTERDAM 2000: Biz Beginnings and the Digital Age
by Mark Rabinowitz
(indieWIRE/2.10.2000) -- Mid-way through the IFFR, one of the things that seemed to be coming out
of people's mouths was the dearth of American acquisition activity.
Compared to years past, according to many attendees, this year's US biz
contingent was quite low. Strand Releasing's Marcus Hu had been spotted
and according to the Rotterdam Industry Manual, other U.S. distribs
attending included Attitude Films, Jour de Fete Films, Seventh Art,
Stratosphere and Artistic License.
No sign of USA Films, Fox Searchlight, Paramount Classics or Sony
Pictures Classics, while the Production section of the Manual included
Fine Line Features and Miramax. Canadian distributor and producer
Alliance Atlantis was in from Canada. The IFFR seems ideally suited to
Sony Classics, boasting an impressive lineup of new foreign films, which
the distrib has shown a keen eye for in years past, but no sign of the
Classics acquisitions team this year.
The Biz in Rotterdam
As CineMart Coordinator Ido Abram told me: "The motto of Rotterdam is
'Everything begins in Rotterdam,' so discussions that start here, may go
on to the Berlin market then to AFM...." It may be that deals don't get
completed at Rotterdam, but CineMart did boast a huge list of attendees,
many of them Europe-based producers looking to put together deals for
their current projects.
While I have sung the many praises of this fest since I arrived, I do
have the occasional bone to pick. The scheduling of CineMart is
problematic insomuch that it comprises the middle five days of the
event. Now, this allows the Festival to slowly build steam, the way it
should. Unfortunately, after peaking on Wednesday February 2nd, the
place turned into a veritable industry ghost town over the next few
days. Mind you, the screenings were
still packed. CineMart is not what drives the attendance to this event,
the public screenings do. But for industry attendees, myself included,
the place seemed kind of lonely on the last few days.
There are several possibilities to correct this (assuming the Festival
agrees with me and sees it as a problem). One thought would be to shift
CineMart to the last half of the festival. Of course, this would ensure
a similar "ghost town" effect for the first part. However, it would
enable folks to go straight from Rotterdam to Berlin, and might ensure
more U.S. industry attendance, which often chooses Sundance over
Rotterdam. With CineMart not starting until February 1st, folks
attending Sundance would be able, if so inclined, to wing it over to
Europe and attend CineMart.
Another option would be to simply extend CineMart a few days so that the
closing of CineMart coincides with the closing of the fest. With more
industry in attendance, the closing night awarding of the Tigers might
take on more of an "industry event" shine.
The Digital Age Comes To The IFFR
This year's event presented a series of panels entitled MEDIA Meetings
2000, which revolved around the theme of "film production and
distribution in the digital age," according to the program guide. Aimed
largely at CineMart attendees and other professional guests of the
festival, these panels discussed how digital technology might effect the
future of both distribution and production, and how the advent of
technologies such as MP-3 will effect royalties and copyrights.
The last of these panels was hosted by Paul Yi, with guests including
rapper Ice-T, Sunshine Amalgamedia's Jed Alpert, Michael Nash of The
Madison Project and Boris Szulsinger of Comedia, a royalties collection
agency for Europe, New Zealand and Australia. While the stated topic of
the panel was artists' rights, much of the discussion
centered upon the possibilities opened up to musicians and filmmakers by
"The Internet will create vast opportunities for amateurs to produce
content," stated Alpert, echoing a long-held Internet industry rallying
cry: "Content is King!" Alpert echoed that cry, adding that "the key is
distribution," pointing out that controlling the methods of distribution
means nothing if there is no content.
A question was raised as to what model the Internet would follow, be
that video on demand, regular programming, free vs. Pay-Per-View. In
answer to this, Alpert answered: "Who cares?" He then pointed to
television, pointing out that TV has free, cable, satellite,
Pay-Per-View and other models, and all are relatively successful. He
to try and forecast or pigeonhole the Internet into one particular
delivery model was a big mistake.
Regarding corporate control of artistic expression, Ice-T asked, "What
if AOL decides that they don't want to distribute [some] particular
music on their web server?" He went on to point out that it didn't
really matter, because if you can't get it on AOL, there will be
thousands of other websites that will carry it.
The recent trend of dot-com's offering stock to filmmakers in place of
high up-front payments for the Internet rights to their films is a
positive one, according to both Alpert and Ice-T. "Artists will get the
power [if they] get stock in return for a lower up-front fee by giving
their work to an Internet start-up." True, but only if they choose the
correctly and the company is successful. Alpert concurred, pointing out
that for films, "Internet [rights] currently have a value of $0," and
filmmakers should get as much stock as they can.
On the hardware side, both Ice-T and Michael Nash pointed out that there
are problems with delivery methods, with Nash estimating that 90% of
downloads fail before they are completed. Ice-T's position is that
hardware will drive the market, willing to bet on MP-3 players and other
personal devices being the norm in the coming years.