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At EFM, Indies Strive to Adapt to Disruption of Global Film Market

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Angus Finney As the film industry braces for a colder-than-normal Berlinale, the indie sector faces a rising level of pain points, now exacerbated by leaner and meaner commercial terms on offer from territorial and domestic distributors for indie titles.

Pre-pandemic overproduction, problems with minimum-guarantee payments (commonly referred to by the acronym MG), delays in payments, a decline in theatrical box office and even the deleterious effects of tastemakers ceding control to algorithms give international sellers headed to the European Film Market headaches — despite some giddy deals struck at Sundance. “It’s a complete shitstorm,” states a leading global financier of indie content. “Buyers have been trying to get out of paying the industry’s long-standing minimum-guarantee precedent of a 20% deposit, offering 10% and, in some cases, even zero.

And films are often being released theatrically before the distributor has even paid the full outstanding MG.” While buyers remained tight-lipped regarding the trend, leading sellers around the world confirmed the downward drift, explaining that delivery, acceptance and payment terms are sometimes poorly drafted and open to self-serving interpretation. “That’s where technical acceptance comes in, where a buyer claims they never got all the material, and yet they didn’t need all those elements to release a title in cinemas.

It’s a classic stalling tactic,” explains Arclight Films’ Brian Beckmann, who adds that some U.S. indie buyers even have separate legal firms that handle all delivery and who have “mastered the art of delay.” At the 2023 AFM, which took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike was settled, sellers explained that buyers were talking about signing “big theatrical.

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