The kids are all right at AFM

A rebounding world economy may have contributed to the 9% increase in the number of individual buyers at this year's American Film Market, but as thriller and action films remained the hot ticket and as the number of debuting family titles...
April 1, 2000

A rebounding world economy may have contributed to the 9% increase in the number of individual buyers at this year’s American Film Market, but as thriller and action films remained the hot ticket and as the number of debuting family titles dropped from last year’s total of 52 to 45, indie producers and sales reps of family fare emphasize the need to focus on new niche markets, get name recognition and produce quality scripts in order to position their product internationally. New cyber avenues were also explored at the market, which wrapped last month, as the latest breed of independents, newly sprung from the digital domain, indicate they no longer consider the Internet an after-the-fact marketing tool, but will increasingly incorporate and produce Web works as naturally as clicking a mouse, specifically with teen product.

Despite the high demand for thriller and action flicks, some family genre producers with moderately budgeted product fared well at this year’s AFM. ‘It was a very good market for us,’ says Michael Jacobs, VP of international sales for Porchlight Entertainment, noting that the company’s formula of producing and distributing high-quality family product with total budgets between US$2 million and US$5 million has spelled success. Jacobs explains: ‘Because we have a safe, middle-of-the-road type of product, we have a lot of repeat business.’ Industry opinion holds that a US$1-million to US$6-million budget range offers a feasible scope for independent family films. Budgets lower than US$1 million tend to yield poor production value, while a film that costs over US$6 million tends to rely too much on star power to bring higher returns.

With a price tag of US$1.2 million, Beverly Hills-based Creative Light Worldwide’s first in-house production The Adventures of Cinderella’s Daughter falls within these parameters. A period piece starring Oscar winner Shirley Jones and Spider-Man creator Stan Lee, the costume drama chronicles in modern speech and attitude the story of a teenage princess who wishes to be a commoner. The brainchild of company chairman Scott Zakarin and partner Rich Tackenberg, both widely recognized in Web-land as creators of the successful The Spot entertainment site, the post-fairy tale story grants all the recognition without the comparisons to the original Cinderella yarn and allows the partners to build a franchise of similar titles. With a final cut ready to take to MIP-TV this month and the Cannes Film Festival in May, plans are underway for a sequel entitled Cindy and The Wolf.

Following its successful feature Baby Geniuses, L.A.-based Crystal Sky Films is making a pitch for the growing U.S. and Latin-American Hispanic market with the feature Sirena: La Little Mermaid, a co-production with Showtime Networks of L.A. In this updated live-action Latin version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale, the little mermaid in question is a teenage girl who dreams of swimming in the Olympics, no tail required. Directed by Tony Plana, the cast includes Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso and Pauly Shore. Also available at the market was Crystal Sky’s curious feature-length puppet film Little Insects, aimed at five- to 11-year-olds. In this low-budget production created from existing Slovakian footage, Muppet-like creatures enact a medieval war of the Mountain Ants versus the Valley Ants over a jar of jam.

Malibu’s Keystone Entertainment has pulled another rabbit out of the hat, but this time it’s a chimp. The prodco that refined the animals-make-good-sports-players niche to a fine financial art with its Air Bud franchise, got strong interest from South-East Asian territories for MVP: Most Valuable Primate, a feature about a hockey-playing chimpanzee. Since family titles tend to perform better in TV markets, Monique White, VP of international sales for Keystone, says she expects the title to fare well at MIP-TV. And since the family pet inevitably gets overlooked when an increasing awareness of the opposite sex kicks in, Keystone is ready to age up with its audience, which is the impetus behind the AFM launch of Generation, its production and distribution arm for films aimed at the 12 to 24 demo. With a three-year, four- to six-picture deal with MTV, Generation aims to produce hip, fast-paced movies for Gen Y. Says Anna McRoberts, VP of Generation, ‘the age group [of 12 to 24] is a wide spectrum, but the same core issues, such as defining yourself and wondering what the future holds, apply to each age.’

First out of the gate, TV movie 2gether (a satirical look at a boys band co-produced with MTV) aired on the U.S. music station this February and is now being spun into a series that will air on the music net. While international buyers, particularly from Asia and Eastern Europe, are drawn to the cool, hip music, they have been slow to bite, unsure of how to market a product custom-designed for MTV.

Generation plans to produce up to four original theatrical films independent of the music station. The first in line aims for the Internet generation with, a feature in which a teen attempts to win his girlfriend back by running for president on the Web. With the project now at script stage, Generation will deliberately blur the line between art and life through on-line debates amongst the film’s `candidate’ and actual U.S. presidential candidates, with the feature’s release scheduled to coincide with the U.S. election of 2000.

Since a strong Internet presence for teen product has become de rigueur since Blair Witch proved that the medium is the financial message, it should come as no surprise to see former digital gurus heading up the production of teen titles. L.A.-based GoMo Entertainment, formed two years ago by Morris Sim, a former product manager at Microsoft, aims to create multiplatform entertainment for the youth market. The first feature, Disk-O-Boyz, is also the story of a boys band. Whether or not the energetic teen girl market is able to sustain another film on the subject, given Sim’s background and current activities, GoMo stands to win on the digital front with projects such as Torin, an interactive teen mystery Web site. Recently named head of programming at netcaster Digital Entertainment Network, Sim will straddle the digital and indie film world as GoMo hits its stride.

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