Cannes crackles, despite brawnier Berlin

Croisette event still tops Teutonic confab

Even as Berlin bulked up with a bigger European Film Market in February, most international sales reps still view this month’s Marche du Film in Cannes (aka Cannes Market) as indispensible.

For most, the Teutonic confab was a good experience, but it didn’t change the way they view the business on the Croisette.

“Cannes is always going to be the dominant film market for us,” says Kimmel Intl. topper Mark Lindsay, who will use the Riviera event to kick off in earnest the newly hatched sales arm to Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

“Berlin was very good for us,” says Lionsgate Intl. prexy Nick Meyer. “It’s all about what your production schedule is like and what you bring to the market.” In Cannes, Lionsgate will be unveiling Jessica Simpson starrer “Employee of the Month” and William Friedkin’s “Bug,” a Directors Fortnight entry at fest.

“In a way, Berlin was a stepping-stone for Cannes,” says Myriad Pictures topper Kirk D’Amico. “Companies like us can make initial sales and get films going there, and move to close in Cannes. It’s certainly what we are doing on three to four of our films.”

Myriad will be showing first footage of George Hickenlooper’s “Factory Girl,” with Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce, and screening Agnieszka Holland’s Ed Harris starrer “Copying Beethoven” to buyers for the first time.

For QED’s senior VP of worldwide sales, Kim Fox, “This year, in my experience, Berlin was about laying the groundwork for projects that would be announced in Cannes. A lot of what Berlin is used for as well is to test the marketplace, to ask buyers things like, ‘Hey, do you like this actor?'”

It was also an opportunity for Fox to make public her move from Kathy Morgan Intl. to new financing/foreign-sales shingle QED Intl., headed by former agent and Artisan co-founder Bill Block. In Berlin, QED announced its plans to rep four Intermedia titles as well as its general product parameters in terms of budgets and scope.

Jim Seibel, a partner at production/sales shingle Inferno, says his company has been active at the past two Berlin markets because he’s had new titles to tout.

This year, he made deals on “The Air I Breathe,” and last year Inferno sold “Just Friends” at the German confab.

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“We signed deals on a couch in the lobby of the Ritz (Carlton) last year,” he says.

In Cannes, Inferno will show “Peaceful Warrior,” an inspirational pic starring Nick Nolte, to international buyers.

“I really love the festival (in Berlin),” admits another longtime sales agent. “I love (Berlin chief) Dieter (Kosslick), but I hate being part of the market there — not that there is anything wrong with it. It’s just that you have to bring everyone to Europe in February and then do it again in May.”

To be sure, the reshuffled market calendar — with the American Film Market (AFM) moving from February to November and Milan’s Mifed disappearing — can make some sales execs cranky. But then that’s nothing new.

This time of year, most are scrambling to get their Cannes slates lined up. Of all the markets, the French event seems to be where many producers and sales companies prefer to introduce major new titles.

“To us, Berlin is not AFM or Cannes,” says Bauer Martinez’s head of international Karinne Behr, who will announce two new projects on the Croisette this month. “Cannes is definitely the big international market, and we again expect it to be very big for us.”

Micah Green, a member of CAA’s indie financing department, sees similarities in the way new product is timed to Cannes and how finished product is geared toward Sundance. “People know there is a lot of business to be done (in Cannes),” he says.

“It feels like a very healthy market,” Green continues. “A lot of territories have come back strongly. Sales agents and financiers feel more comfortable about covering risks. If you have a good package right now, there are a lot of ways to get a movie made.”

The state of the marketplace “reflects the larger economy,” adds Myriad’s D’Amico. “When the dot-com craze and Neuer Markt were happening, it was a buoyant market. In the last couple of years, it has been gradually climbing back.”

It hasn’t been easy. These days, overseas buyers must step up their game to stay in the theatrical space.

“Studios continue to take up the lion’s share of the overall marketplace,” notes D’Amico. “Independent buyers are looking for commercial product. Their competition isn’t really other independent distributors, but the studios. It’s a matter of how they can get their hands on the product before the studios.”

“Buyers are looking for studio-like filmed entertainment,” QED’s Block agrees.

“It’s about theatrical necessity,” adds Fox, stressing the fierce competition for screens in overseas territories. “Europe and Asia are still really underscreened. Eastern Europe might be growing screens, but in most parts of world it’s not going up.”

For each picture that doesn’t reach the theatrical threshold and goes straight to video, “it changes the numbers,” Fox says. “You’re getting pictures that used to be able to sell by the pound,” that are now much more difficult to make deals on.

QED’s solution is to align itself with theatrical-level producers who will draw in the kind of cast that will get audiences to come to movie theaters. Among the producers on QED’s radar are Bill Johnson, Michael London and Intermedia’s Scott Kroopf.

Another big shift is the action in Asia.

“There is a big groundswell that’s starting to happen in Asia, where the box office is growing and therefore the partnerships will continue to grow between Asian companies and companies around the world,” says D’Amico, among whose projects with partners in the region is “Dark Matter,” a contempo drama currenly in preproduction, with Chinese helmer Chen Shi-Zheng directing a cast including Meryl Streep and Val Kilmer.

“China is the sleeping dragon that has really woken up,” he adds. “Acquisitions numbers are tiny, but co-production numbers are on par with other countries. Take a lower labor cost — which by and large you have in Asian countries — and the same level of co-production investments, and it’s an interesting place to go get your films made.”

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