The U.K. has long been a center for international film sales, with leading commercial agents Majestic, Glinwood and J&M, as well as a host of specialist vendors such as The Sales Co, Manifesto, Capitol and Film Four Intl. headquartered in London.

All are agreed that the market is much more competitive than it was, with buyers mostly looking for mainstream A titles that can compete for playdates with the output of the major studios. Most recent example was “Dances With Wolves,” repped by Majestic, which has refilled the coffers of distribberies around the world.

Trouble is, the supply of such films to the independent sector is drying up. Per Manifesto chief exec Wendy Palmer this is causing problems for “distributors and agents alike.”

Heightened awareness

Distribs’ response has been to become “very script aware, very cast aware and very astute,” she says, while producers are “casting up wherever possible” in a bid to make properties more attractive.

Manifesto, a joint venture between Working Title, Propaganda Films and PolyGram, is on the verge of joining the big league of sales agents. Company, attending its second Cannes fest, is repping more than a dozen pictures currently in production, including Pedro Almodovar’s “High Heels” and the Coen brothers’ “Barton Fink.” Latter pic is screening in the official competition. Last year Manifesto scored a big success with “Wild At Heart,” which won the Palme D’Or.

Second choice among buyers, per Carole Myer at The Sales Co, are “small films that can become big.” Myer quotes another Cannes winner, “Sex, Lies And Videotape,” as an example of the kind of film that “every buyer has to be alert for in the market.” Among the six new productions repped by Myer are “The Pope Must Die,” starring Robbie Coltrane, “The Bridge,” starring Saskia Reeves, “Trust,” directed by Hal Hartley, and “Prague,” starring Bruno Ganz and Sandrine Bonnaire.

“Buyers are under terrific pressures to be competitive for the few films that could work,” says Myer, who notes that the majors are not only producing the kind of movies that once were the province of the independents but increasingly are picking up distribution rights to indie fare for foreign distribution. UIP, for example, acquired “Dances With Wolves” in a number of territories.

Myer believes that “there are not enough films for all the sales agents: almost anybody who gets a film finished will get representation because the agents are desperate for something to sell.”

Per Jane Barclay of Capitol Films, there are plenty of viable projects. But, she adds, “if you are going to become involved in financing them then you have to have a strong package. A good script is not enough; the right cast and the right director are essential.”

Barclay agrees that there is “incredible competitiveness among buyers for good films.” Last year, Capitol did well with the Dolph Lundgren action picture “Cover Up.” This year the company has Dutch pic “The In decent Woman” leading a list that includes Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep With Anger” and Goran Paskaljevic’s “Time Of Miracles.”

Of the bigger U.K.-based sales agents, Majestic has a top-grade slate that includes Roland Joffe’s “City Of Joy,” Bruce Beresford’s “Black Robe” and Franc Roddam’s action drama “K2.” Glinwood is leading with Nagisa Oshima’s forthcoming “Fans” and Sidney Lumet’s “In From The Cold.”

J&M has family animation pic “Freddie As F.R.O.7″ as well as “Mistress,” starring Robert De Niro.

Other notable Brits setting up pitches in Cannes include ever-dependable Rank, which is repping the Liam Neeson/Laura San Giacomo starrer “Prime Suspect,” Goldcrest, which is leading with animation pic “Rock-A-Doodle,” and Film Four Intl, which reps product on behalf of parent company Channel Four.

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