Have Umbrella, WIll Travel

To minimize expenses and maximize access at the upcoming MIPCOM market in Cannes (October 10 to 14), indies would be wise to consider going with umbrella organizations - but be prepared to sacrifice some individuality. BRENDAN CHRISTIE reports
September 1, 2003

Walking the floor of MIPCOM, for the first time or the 50th, is like having someone take a mallet to your senses. There’s so much competition at Reed Midem’s annual fall market in Cannes – and so much advertising – that most independent producers and distributors would be forgiven if they retired to the bar for the week. But, it’s not obligatory to work the event alone.

Several umbrella organizations offer indies a helping hand, whether that’s by getting them there and through the door at a discount, or by pointing them in the right direction when they’re lost. Additionally, umbrella groups often provide training and access to industry decision-makers.

But, there are some drawbacks to going with these organizations, such as the physical limitations imposed by a shared space, and reduced opportunities for individual company branding. For first-timers and small operations, however, umbrellas offer solutions on a sliding scale that work for almost any budget.

Have I got a deal for you

Reed Midem charges a little over 2,300 euros (US$2,600) per company for a MIPCOM attendee pass, which gets three people through the door. But, single attendees pay the same price. Booth space starts at about 6,000 euros ($6,800) – unfurnished – and climbs swiftly from there; furniture, carpeting and technical equipment (TV stand, monitor, VCR) can easily add at least 2,600 euros ($3,000).

However, indies who attend under The Marketplace umbrella – a non-profit foundation funded by MEDIA PLUS (a program that encourages the development, distribution and promotion of European audiovisual works) – can kick up their heels for 900 euros ($1,000) each. Marketplace even offers a scheme whereby it reimburses qualified attendees for up to 50% of their travel and subsistence costs. Marketplace also has small stands (an additional 800 euros [$900]) or larger stands (1,525 euros [$1,725]) as required. But, in keeping with its mandate, the organization only services producers and distributors from the European Union.

Worldwide, the list of government bodies and support schemes offering aid for producers to attend markets is expansive – except in the U.S., where indies make do without state assistance. Non-Yanks, however, can look to regional sources (such as the Bremen Innovation Agency in Germany), national sources (like the Centre national de la cinématographie in France) and production umbrellas for funding aid and info before they book their trip.

U.K. indies looking for a break turn to the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT). The London-based association has a deal with Reed Midem that gets first-time mip attendees in for 999 euros ($1,130) each (PACT charges £600 [US$950] more for the use of its stand). PACT also administers the U.K. government’s Support for Exhibitors and Seminars Abroad scheme, which covers up to 60% of the cost of a booth, to a maximum of £2,300 ($3,700), subject to some conditions.

For American indies, there is US Independents. A cooperative venture that helps producers and distributors access international markets and trade events, usi has provided a safe haven for six years. For MIPCOM, USI offers three ‘tiers’. The first, at $1,400 (event attendance fee is not covered), includes display space, storage, messaging, access to screening facilities and a place ‘to hang their hat,’ as usi director Meg Villarreal puts it. At $3,000, the second tier lends these benefits plus at least two hours daily of guaranteed table space for meetings. At the highest tier, attendees get small stands within the USI booth and extra perks such as storage and branding opportunities. Usually snapped up by small distribs, these half dozen spaces run $3,750. Between all the tiers, usi has had as many as 40 people under its umbrella during MIPCOM.

One of those taking advantage of usi’s stand this year is Harrington Park, U.S.-based prodco/distrib Janson Media. Until last MIPCOM, Janson had its own stand. But with the U.S. economy still dragging, traveling with USI offers significant cost savings, as well as producer ‘cross-pollination,’ notes president Stephen Janson. He traditionally took three people to MIP – two stationed at the booth and one roaming – but last market Janson found one person was enough. He estimates that taking a stand (with furniture), coupled with his travel costs, came to about $12,000. It’s closer to $5,000 with USI.

Service with a smile

Just before the market kicks off, indies can register for KickStart – a half-day orientation event that brings international commissioning editors in to explain their channels’ needs. (This MIPCOM, KickStart will take place Friday, October 10.) Organized by USI, Canada’s National Screen Institute, the Australian Film Commission, Canadian broadcaster APTN and TV France International, KickStart offers panels and round-table discussions, followed by a cocktail party, all for $30.

Felice Gorica, head of Toronto-based Gorica Productions, has attended KickStart twice. She is full of praise for the networking opportunity, but is more appreciative of the perspective she gained. ‘We were warned that we shouldn’t expect to go and make deals,’ she says. ‘We were just there to make contacts… KickStart was really valuable because it gave you support. There were others with you and you didn’t feel like you were a failure because you weren’t selling anything.’

Once the market begins, several umbrella organizations offer on-site support as well. Indies who attend MIPCOM with The Marketplace, for example, have access to a whole floor of resources: reception and meeting areas, daily happy hours, screening facilities, etc. The Marketplace also holds a dinner, offers the services of a press officer, brings in consultants and a lawyer for free advice, and hosts constant 30-minute presentations from global broadcasters.

One of the consultants on hand is Jane Balfour, a London-based distributor with over 20 years experience. Although Balfour folded her distrib several years ago, she still handles select titles and runs a consultancy business on the side. The problem is, notes Balfour, ‘the sort of filmmakers who want me as a consultant, or need my advice, can’t afford it… They don’t have enough money to cover their own cost, let alone pay for a bit of advice – even though that advice might be a good thing.’ The Marketplace covers Balfour’s costs and makes her and other experts available for two hours each day.

It is a service she hopes producers appreciate. ‘I suspect some producers just come and use it as a table to sit at and drink coffee with their mates, rather than exploring it and using all of the facilities available,’ Balfour observes. ‘When I look at what The Marketplace has on offer for these independents, I’m green with envy. All of us older-style distributors who were working 15 years ago or more say, ‘They don’t even know how lucky they are.’ It took us years to build up all those contacts.’

Some producers do understand the possibilities. Thomas de Keyser, managing director of Mykindofshow in London, says his prodco used the experience gained by attending markets with pact to launch a distribution company – Blue – that will have its own stand this MIPCOM. Mykindofshow received funding from the U.K.’s Department of Trade and Industry to take part in the pact stand at January’s natpe market in New Orleans, and found several producers there who were open to the idea of representing each other’s projects in their respective domestic regions.

‘Now we’re taking the final plunge,’ de Keyser observes. He credits pact for some of that success – it set up a meeting for de Keyser with Debbie Nightingale, president of The Nightingale Company in Toronto, and the two are now developing a project. Says de Keyser, ‘As well as having an initial place to base yourself, somewhere to have your meetings and a place to put your laptop, [the organization] is also entirely dedicated to finding you partners.’

Just one of the gang

Blue’s decision to take a stand highlights the major downside to attending MIPCOM under an umbrella organization: branding. Indies who travel as part of an umbrella’s contingent are not listed individually in the event directory – unless they are willing to cough up another 999 euros ($1,130). If producers do not secure a mini-stand, their branding is limited to flyers and a listing in any catalogs the umbrella puts together.

Villarreal says usi used to factor in the cost of a separate listing in their fees, but has since stopped. ‘It got to be such a killer for us to try to figure out what the costs would be for the [indie] subsidiary, especially with the way the euro is fluctuating. We finally decided to just send [attendees] the subsidiary information. The individual company or producer can make the decision if they want to spend the extra money or not.’

New York-based Babelfish Productions will be heading to MIPCOM under the usi banner this time. But, says partner Miles Roston, when the company’s main focus was on establishing an identity, it registered on its own. Roston has been to eight or nine MIPs; MIPTV in April was the first time he attended under USI.

Stephen Janson is also taking things one market at a time. ‘If I sense that I can’t have all the meetings that I can handle in my four days of half-hour meetings, then I will want to go back to my own stand and bring someone else to handle the extras. But that hasn’t been the case in the last two years… Reed Midem’s got to show that it can bring the people back – people who have money to spend.’

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