More of the worlds

Mart sees spike in participation, product and global reach

Has the bling returned to the American Film Market?

Biz at the upcoming confab looks to be more brisk than usual, with a record number of first-time exhibs — including Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s new company and Sidney Kimmel Intl. — set to fill the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and adjacent Le Merigot Hotel Nov. 2-9.

Not only will there be a number of fresh faces, but players with higher-profile slates, including sellers such as Bauer Martinez Intl. and 2929 Entertainment.

“The operative word is more — more buyers, more films, more screens, more sellers,” says Independent Film & Television Alliance exec veep and AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf.

At least 410 sellers from 33 countries will be at AFM, a record on both counts. Last year saw 356 exhibs from 24 countries. To accommodate the growth spurt, organizers have added a second floor of booth space at Le Merigot.

Sales execs from the bigger U.S. companies — such as Focus Features, New Line Intl. and the new Weinstein Co. — say they welcome the influx of competition, because it means more product and, hence, more dealmaking across the board.

“The independents are in desperate need of a consistent flow of strong, commercially viable product,” says Glen Basner, who left his gig as exec VP of international sales for Focus to serve as prexy of Weinstein Co.’s international division.

“We think the opportunity is ripe for our company to redefine the independent marketplace, just as Harvey and Bob (Weinstein) did with Miramax. Our strategy is to work with distributors from around the world to maximize the performance of each of our films,” Basner says.

But it remains to be seen whether these new companies will deliver the content that international buyers want. In the past several years, there have been persistent complaints about a lack of films that fit a particular territory’s need. There’s also a proliferation of local production as well as an uptick in co-productions between territories — limiting the demand for U.S. product to blockbuster or big-name fare.

Basner, like his counterparts at other companies, will only talk about a few of the titles from the Weinstein Co.’s slate that he’ll be presenting at AFM, saying the rest will be announced at market time.

The Weinstein Co. will be showing a promo of John Madden’s “Killshot” to international buyers. Film, an adaptation of the Elmore Leonard bestseller, stars Rosario Dawson and is exec produced by Quentin Tarantino.

It’ll also be plugging Dimension’s “Pulse,” a remake of the Japanese horror pic “Kairo,” and Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba starrer “Awake,” a conceptual medical thriller.

New Line Intl. prexy Camela Galano says that she expects things to be busier than last November, and that AFM has clearly gained in importance now that there is no more Mifed — even if February’s Berlin Film Festival has picked up some of the slack and become a bigger market.

New Line’s latest batch of offerings, mostly skedded for a 2007 release, include Michael Davis’ “Shoot ‘Em Up,” starring Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci and Paul Giamatti; “Pride and Glory,” a New York cop family drama with Colin Farrell, Edward Norton and Noah Emmerich; “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Origin”; and Joel Schumacher’s “The Number 23,” starring Jim Carrey. Surrounding the market, New Line will host a private off-site screening of Terrence Malick’s “The New World.”

Nu Image/Millennium topper Avi Lerner underlines that buyers want good commercial movies, period. Other than that, he says there’s no set formula. “There’s a hunger for movies in general, making it easier to presell or even sell later and make a profit. Obviously, action has always been easier to presell.”

Nu Image has ramped up significantly in the past couple of years, touting higher-level films with bigger budgets and stars. Several newer companies are working along the same lines.

On Millennium’s slate are “Rambo 4,” starring Sylvester Stallone; John Avnet’s “88 Minutes,” toplining Al Pacino; Nic Cage starrer “Wicker Man”; and “Lonely Hearts,” with Salma Hayek, John Travolta and James Gandolfini.

“When you look at the types of films that were being sold last year, and the year before to now, there are bigger projects out there today,” says Karinne Behr, president of international for Bauer Martinez Studios, which launched a distribution operation in the U.S. this year.

“We have a higher level of product,” says Behr, who will be selling Andrew Lau-helmed “The Flock,” with Richard Gere and Claire Danes, and Amy Heckerling’s romantic comedy “I Could Never Be Your Woman” with Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd. “We’re basically positioning ourselves from selling smaller-budget films, which cost anywhere from $5 million to $10 million to make, to films that cost $30 million to $40 million.”

It seems just in time, too.

“I think the theatrical business is really back, particularly in the U.K., Italy and France. Buyers are seeing the potential for the box office again. Plus, the euro is so strong. People are being much more daring about pre-sales,” says Shebnem Askin, head of the international arm of Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment. Two or three years ago, she says, a lot of buyers were focusing on TV and DVD product.

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For example, Askin thought that Warner Independent Pictures’ black-and-white Edward R. Murrow pic “Good Night, and Good Luck” would be a difficult movie to pre-sell theatrically overseas, considering its American subject matter. Film, directed by George Clooney, was the first pic repped by 2929 Intl. when it made its debut appearance at AFM last year.

The opposite turned out to be true. “Right now, we’re sold out in every territory. The market is much more motivated,” Askin says, adding that the movie logged more than $2.5 million at the Italian box office in the first three weeks.

One exception is Germany, Askin says. She predicts that Teutonic buyers will primarily be looking for small-screen product.

Wild Bunch topper Vincent Maraval says Russia remains a good market for big pictures, but Spain is still limping along.

As far as the buyers are concerned, they’re still as picky as ever.

“We are becoming more selective and buying fewer films, although we are still focused on titles which can be described as edgy,” says Amanda Nakamura, acquisitions VP at Japan’s Gaga, in charge of scouting U.S. titles, adding, “Both ‘Downfall’ and ‘March of the Penguins’ has done well for us, and we’d like more of them.

Other recent Gaga acquisitions include Brad Pitt starrer “Babel” (from Summit Entertainment), Tom Tykwer’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (Constantin) and “Fur” (New Line), with Nicole Kidman.

Still, Gaga can’t ignore that while Japanese auds’ preference for homegrown or other Asian films is growing, it’s becoming more difficult to market films from other territories, says Nakamura.

With international co-productions on the uptick, AFM serves as a place for potential financial partners to meet up.

There’s bound to be plenty of discussion about the German film fund crisis, which culminated in VIP Medienfonds topper Andreas Schmid being arrested on tax accounting charges this month.

“It is difficult to be sure of the impact of the German funds crisis, which will affect U.S. indie projects more than those from Europe,” predicts Michael Werner, co-chief of Netherlands/Hong Kong-based Fortissimo Film Sales. “It could mean some projects are now delayed and not ready to be sold. Alternatively, it could mean that projects which had funding now have to return to the market for pre-sales.”

Paul Yi, the L.A.-based veep for Korea’s MK Pictures, predicts, “Asia-European co-productions are going to be harder following the problems with the tax funds in Germany and the tax system in the U.K. That makes the French look like good partners, but Korea and France have still not completed the co-production treaty they have been talking about for years.

“All the U.S. buyers are looking at our content, but the biggest game is still selling remake rights,” Yi adds. “No Korean film has really broken through in the U.S. market yet.”

If there’s an elephant in the room, it’s that foreign territories don’t need Hollywood fare like they once did. As Asian economies grow and become more successful, their film business cycles appear to be becoming more distinct from the U.S. and European movie sectors. Their homegrown pics are scoring hugely, and they have a fine intraregional trade.

“It makes sense for me to focus more on production,” says Chung Tae-won, CEO of Korea’s Taewon Entertainment. “I can pay $1 million for rights to a (nonlocal) film with name stars and then spend $1 million in P&A, or I can invest $2 million in my own picture. That option gives me more certainty at the box office and worldwide rights forever. I’ve just released ‘Married to the Mafia 2’ and grossed $30 million.”

Chung has even found a major U.S. partner for one of his Continued from page A20

projects. New Line is handling rights to all territories outside Korea and China on his company’s “Shadowless Sword.”

“I will co-produce with Hollywood on three or four films in the coming year,” he adds.

Hollywood studios continue to split rights on their own films with Korea and Japanese companies, but the distribs are skeptical that this will ever include lucrative tentpoles.

“They sell if they think they are not going to make any money (in a particular territory). I don’t see them selling off ‘King Kong’ or ‘Harry Potter,’ ” says Chung.

Showbox acquisitions chief Chris Lee, who says she’ll still consider blockbusters, notes that there are a dwindling number that work well or make sense financially. “Sellers’ prices are getting absurd. They are often asking for $1 million, when $300,000 would be more appropriate. Their minimum guarantees sound more like maximum ceilings to me.”

Weinstein Co.’s Basner says he is sure about one thing — it’s going to be the busiest AFM of his career.

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