Int'l buyers are ready to drop coin

Amid a brief though intimidating downpour early Monday morning, the London Screenings kicked off with high expectations for an active market.

Early buzz surrounded Initial Entertainment Group, whose co-financing (with Sony) of Michael Mann’s Muhammad Ali bio is driving buyers’ interest. In addition, company is said to be involved in talks for an alliance between its primary shareholder, Splendid Medien, and Spanish distributor Manga Films.

Most of the activity at the Screenings happens at Le Meridien hotel, near Picadilly Circus, where international sales agents, buyers, acquisitions execs, producers reps, and production execs take meetings over tea in one of several lounges. Pics are screened in an array of nearby movie theaters.

Ready to deal

Though A-list titles are scarce, international buyers are in London in force, and many insiders said they have their money ready.

“I think it’s going to end up a good market,” said Cassian Elwes of William Morris Independent, circulating through a packed opening-night market party at the Avenue Bar. “It’s getting to the end of the year and people need product.”

Elwes added that the South Korean market appears to be rebounding.

Neal Freedman, president of world sales company Menemsha Entertainment, which is selling such pics as the Peruvian “Captain Pantoja,” excitedly said: “I think it’s going to be a great 10 days, here and in Mifed.”

Elsewhere at the opening party, Valencia Haynes, head of international production at British-based Sky Pictures, which produced Fine Line’s “Saving Grace,” struck an upbeat note.

“In the wake of possible strikes next year, the appetite for projects that can shoot in the U.K. and are not dependent on A-list talent is huge. It’s an exciting time for us,” Haynes said.

Back in the rights ring

With IEG’s “Ali” involvement focusing attention on who will buy international rights to the pic, prexy and CEO Graham King is in the eye of the storm, just as he was last year when the company closed a deal to finance much of Miramax’s “The Gangs of New York,” shooting in Italy with Martin Scorsese helming and Leonardo DiCaprio starring.

IEG also looks to be advancing on talks to add another formal overseas partner beyond Germany’s Splendid, which holds 49% of IEG’s stock.

For IEG, another formal partner could cut down the time it spends trying to convince overseas buyers that it has the foreign sales prospects to handle international on $100 million-plus projects such as “Ali.”

Both Splendid prexy Andreas Klein and Manga VP Xavier Catafal declined to comment on the rumored talks, but several sources said Splendid is negotiating to take an equity participation, perhaps as high as 60%, in Barcelona-based Manga.

Earlier this year, Manga took Spanish rights to IEG trio “Gangs of New York,” “Traffic” and “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.” The triple pickup was seen in some quarters as a first step to Manga formalizing co-financing relations with IEG and Splendid.

The move would also fit in with Splendid’s declared ambitions to form a pan-Euro distribution network in order to compete with burgeoning German-originated distrib alliances being set up by Kinowelt Medien, Helkon Media and VCL.

DiCaprio’s ‘Plum’ role

Beyond “Gangs of New York,” another DiCaprio pic, shot some four years ago, has been generating buzz. A late-afternoon screening of R.D. Rob’s “Don’s Plum” (in which the thesp appears) drew a diverse crowd at the ABC Theatre in Leicester Square, though Danish sales company Trust Film had not closed any new territory deals; but it is in talks with several possible U.K. distribs. At the Cannes Intl. Film Festival earlier this year, Trust sold rights to the pic in the former Yugoslavia, Greece, South Korea, Latin American (pay TV), Mexico, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

A raw-though-resonant improvisational pic centering on a group of twentysomethings hanging out at a Los Angeles diner, “Don’s Plum” stars DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and six lesser-known actors. No Stateside buyers were present at the screening, as distribution in the U.S. and Canada is verboten after an amicable legal settlement between the films’ producers and DiCaprio’s camp. Pic’s post-production was handled by Trust, which snagged worldwide sales rights at the Berlin film fest in February.

Among the movies already generating high interest from international buyers are the Jennifer Lopez starrer “The Wedding Planner”; Harrison Ford pic “K-19″; Sky Pictures’ “On the Nose,” starring Dan Aykroyd; “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (to star Mike Meyers, in turnaround from Warner Bros.); and “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” to star Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Le Studio Canal’s “Harrison Flowers,” which stars Andie McDowell, is also expected to sell in the U.S. and internationally.

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