AFM looks to the stars

Buyers lament lack of new talent at mart

Last week’s American Film Market in Santa Monica, Calif., boasted more sellers than ever, but too few offered what buyers wanted most: the go-to, not-quite movie star.

Yari Film Group sold the thriller “Addicted” in most major territories thanks to the appeal of Sarah Michelle Gellar.

“Buyers know her from the ‘Grudge’ films and ‘Buffy,'” says YFG chief creative officer David Glasser. “She has a great name, so we don’t have to go through a song-and-dance about who she is.”

However, sellers say there aren’t enough Gellars.

While the AFM offered its usual oddball assortment of personal appearances from the likes of Coolio, Paul Sorvino, Beau Bridges, the band System of a Down, Brendan Wayne (grandson of John) and Josh Alba (brother of Jessica), what buyers really wanted were more sightings of people like Tobin Bell — aka Jigsaw, villain of the “Saw” franchise.

“For Tobin Bell to show up at our (AFM) breakfast the weekend after ‘Saw III’ opened was huge,” says Odd Lot Entertainment exec VP Brian O’Shea, who is overseeing production of Bell’s next pic, “Buried Alive.” “I appreciate it, our execs appreciate it, and the buyers really appreciate it.”

While Bell is something less than a household name, he is the star of a current blockbuster. That’s a boast AFM vets like Billy Zane, Michael Madsen, Eric Roberts and Erik Estrada can’t make — and their value has diminished accordingly.

“It used to be that buyers could rely on (DVDs) to deliver a dependable revenue stream with a ‘B’ actor,” says Kim Fox, senior VP at QED Intl. “That’s not the case any more because there’s no longer the shelf space.”

However, some grumble that a pickier, more conservative AFM also limits the emergence of new talent.

“Everyone is going after the same actors,” says Nicolas Chartier, president of Dean Devlin’s Voltage Entertainment. “We’re going to be in a lot of trouble if we don’t create new stars.”

While the AFM opened Nov. 1 with Relativity Media trumpeting a $70 million as-yet-untitled family pic to star Jet Li and Jackie Chan, it proved to be the only blockbuster announcement of the eight-day fest.

“Distributors have a much better idea of what they want than they used to,” says Mandate Pictures topper Joe Drake. “There was a time not that long ago when you could go ahead on deals with an actor, a director and an idea. Now there’s much more emphasis on script and a great deal of discussion as to how an idea is going to play in a specific market.”

That said, Drake admits he’s sitting pretty with “Stranger Than Fiction” starring Will Ferrell. “Will wasn’t the obvious choice for the role two years ago,” he says. “He wasn’t nearly as big as he is now.”

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