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SydneysBuzz is Smiling

by Sydney Levine
May 5, 2010 6:44 AM
5 Comments
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I am thrilled that SydneysBuzz has found a home with IndieWIRE. I am so honored to find myself installed in that legendary land of New York indies, a place I’ve always admired. I’m also delighted to find myself with my favorite L.A. friends Anne Thompson and Todd McCarthy. My position here is so unique with no one specifically telling me what to write, or how to spend my working hours. I am free to follow my instinct. And I think the instinct has become engrained in me to follow the trends and developments of the international marketplace.

Pulling the curtain aside is good metaphor for what we do and always have done. In film there has always been a lot of misinformation and lack of information. We have always believed that people become empowered with correct information. It is good for business too that intelligent and informed decisions can be made. Pulling back the curtain on the international movie business is an apt metaphor for what I have always done. To anyone outside the staged interchanges between buyers and sellers of film rights, the international film business is an unknown and unrecognized world. It is not taught in film schools and is rarely discussed in most of the trades. When I organized FilmFinders in 1988, the first database in the industry creating the market place as a comprehensible system, essentially I was pulling aside the curtain of buying and selling to the professionals themselves.

I love the new digital developments, the opportunities in education from grassroots to the highest institutions of learning and most of all, I love writing a blog about it all and I hope to write more, an endeavor of the highest calling (for me).

As I travel the world of ever changing film content and new media landscapes, I see new ways of international coproduction developing and I see new cultures expressing themselves and finding their audiences. This transcultural growth in cinema is developing hand in hand with new media or what is just now being recognized as “transmedia” or convergence. This covers our avid discussions of digital and DIY distribution and includes new marketing techniques for not only the movie itself but the movie as only one component of an entire social networking complex beyond digital media, beyond print media to a place where IndieWIRE, Facebook, Twitter, Google, IMDb, The Auteurs, SnagFilms, BraveNewFilms, The Global Film Initiative and The Criterion Collection all share blogs and audiences and commentary along with toys, games, comic books, webisodes, telecom shorts, TV and whatever else fits into the holistic mix of “entertainment” today. Once again, I feel like a pioneer.

I hope the reader will indulge me in some sentiments. When I look at my history, and it seems like only yesterday that it all began, I never quite knew where I would land, but I was led by an instinct that international was where I belonged. Having grown up in Culver City by MGM, seeing American studio movies every Saturday at the Meralta or Culver theaters was normal life. It was only in high school when I saw movies like Federico Fellini’s La Strada that I awoke to the world of cinema.

During my year at 20th Century Fox international in Amsterdam I realized major studios were not my world, and during my 5 years in New York working first at ABC and then for Films Inc, I realized corporate media was not my world. After my good fortune to be a part of those brief dot.com bubble days at iFilm, and five years later merging with Withoutabox and IMDb, I finally feel I have hit my stride and now I’ll stride into the international world of film business, film education, meeting new friends as doors to the future open while grounding myself among my old friends with whom I’ve been traveling this road for some years already. We'll discuss what happens of significance and interest in “the Market”, Cannes and year round in the international independent film business.

One last note on the theme of “pulling aside the curtain”: The Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market) and its web component Cinando.com is the parallel event to the Cannes Film Festival and is run by same organization. The Marche is offering the trade 3,500 films and over 1,500 screenings. There are approximately 400 international sales agents (ISAs) who license rights to some 2,500 distributors from some 60 territories for 3,500 films and projects in one market alone. Year round in the international independent film business, US$7 billion change hands in rights acquisitions and coproductions. This never receives the coverage of the 150 films showing in the Cannes Film Festival, its sidebar Un Certain Regard or the separate independent but concurrent festivals Directors’ Fortnight (Quinzaine des Realisateurs) and Critics’ Week (La Semaine de la Critique).
The Cannes Film Festival is one of the largest press event in the world, second only to the Olympics. But the press covers celebrities rather than the content of the films they are in. It’s true, the celebrities do make much more money than the buyers and sellers do and so do some of the movies themselves. Avatar’s record gross of US$2 billion immediately makes it apparent that the independent side of the film business is perhaps not as glamorous on such a grand scale.

But how about the elation of a Summit Entertainment whose small and personal team puts presales monies into the Twilight Series and opens the film in the U.S. itself to great success and profit? Or how about the elation I first felt when I bought U.S. rights to My Beautiful Laundrette for $175,000 and Orion Classics put $75,000 of that money in P&A and we all went on to make $7million at the US Box office and another $3,500,000 (70,000 units at $50 wholesale per unit) in U.S. home video, thus starting a land rush to acquire British features? The first British feature brought into the states in years, the first film of Stephen Frears, Sarah Radcliffe, Tim Bevan, Hanif Kureishi, Daniel Day Lewis, Working Title, Channel 4 Film, Lorimar Home Video. Its 35th anniversary is still being marked in the U.K. as a watershed of the international independent film business. The majors cannot beat the elation such originality and creativity engender, they can only hope to emulate it. In their attempts to emulate it, they upped the ante so much during the last round of the last decade of the 20th Century that they put themselves out of business, thus leaving the independents once again to discover ways to increase their profit margins.

The international sales agents (ISAs) and distributors, the producers who find the monies the make the films, the governments that manage to subsidize production and distribution, the festivals that create markets to increase capital to make these films don’t get half the credit of the movie stars, but they are my true heroes in the business.

I look forward to the elation that comes from pioneering new worlds and feel that what IndieWIRE is creating for media and what the international world of independent filmmakers, buyers, sellers and financiers are creating for media are one and the same and will converge and transmute the entire landscape of the business in ways we have only begun to imagine. What a thrill to be a part of this new era. Thank you IndieWIRE and thank you all my friends who have encouraged me to blaze new trails.

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5 Comments

  • Stelios Ziannis | May 11, 2010 7:24 AMReply

    Great News Sydney! Experience and kindness and an idependent spirit are gifts we always need in our business more than ever.
    I look forward to see you in Cannes.

    Regards
    Stelios
    Aktis Film

  • Cotty Chubb | May 10, 2010 10:39 AMReply

    Great news, Sydney. And you're in such good company. I look forward to the continuing stream of vital information and insight from you and Todd and Anne and others at Indiewire.

    Travel safely and have a great deal of fun.

    Cotty

    Thank you Cotty for taking the time to send me your good wishes!!! Hope you continue to enjoy and read! Cannes was really good this year, though I barely saw any films (I saw Uncle Boomnee, Princess of Montpensier, Poetry, The Housemaid, Bang Bang Club and 1 or 2 others)
    Sydney

  • Victor Goss | May 8, 2010 3:15 AMReply

    Mazltov Sydney with the new home! I'm very excited about your new space on IndieWIRE and now I can kill two birds with one stone just by my visit to IndieWIRE. It looks like the finishing schedule with my new feature THE APOCALYPSE ACCORDING TO DORIS prevents me from attending Marche du Film but I'm hoping to connect on down the line.
    Best to you and Peter
    Victor Goss
    http://www.doristhemovie.com

  • akua | May 6, 2010 12:46 PMReply

    I'm coming to Cannes for the first time with an African character animation ANOKYE in pre development and your introduction just fills me with excited anticipation at what's to come.
    Thank you for demystifying the secret arts of sales and distribution.
    All the best
    Akua

  • Rick Allen | May 6, 2010 1:15 AMReply

    Welcome Sydney! We are honored to have you as part of the indieWIRE/SnagFilms family. Your perspective on our business, particularly the global marketplace for content, is unique and unmatched.
    The Marche this year will produce many great stories as well as the expected legion of deals - I'll be interested to follow what you are seeing. Are prices beginning to firm, suggesting that we are coming out of the recession? How are American films traveling, and where are the great stories originating that will be headed into the US market?
    What a great time and place to be launching your blog in its new home.
    Rick Allen

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