Big directors, actors drive global title demand

There are no red carpets at the American Film Market, no golden palms, no special jury prizes. But there is a boatload of product — everything from low-budget horror pics to potential awards-season darlings — and that product needs to be moved. To Europe, to Asia, and everywhere else.

According to AFM’s film database (afmfilms.org), the market offers up more than 1,100 pics in 15 different genres and various stages of production.

For sales agents, there are several rules of thumb at AFM. One of them is that the surest sales bets in all territories are two types of films: high-profile titles with A-level talent or mainstream fare that’s not culturally specific, such as action, horror, thrillers and sci-fi. While that trend should continue, most reps expect nonstar-driven pics to suffer more than usual.

“The recent trend I’ve noticed is that sales are not so much about genre as they are about profile of the film,” says Icon Intl. prexy Ariel Veneziano. “There’s been a greater gap between films that attract attention and those that don’t. What makes the distinction is either A-list talent or a really exciting, well-known director. In presales, a B+ cast won’t do it for you anymore.”

Veneziano, who recently moved over from GreeneStreet Films, will continue to rep that shingle’s films at Icon, including recent Toronto bow “Bill,” a black comedy with Aaron Eckhart and Jessica Alba. Icon also reps “Sleepwalking” (aka “Ferris Wheel”), a drama starring Charlize Theron, and, along with Summit, “Push,” a futuristic thriller with Dakota Fanning.

The high-profile pic trend is not great news for low-budget horror pics, which in years past tended to fly off the rack.

“The horror direct-to-video market is crashing,” confirms Nicolas Chartier, who heads up foreign sales for Voltage Pictures. “You need really good titles, with a strong concept and a good director, and a theatrical release in the U.S.”

Most of Voltage’s AFM offerings feature either name talent or a big-time helmer: Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”; George Romero’s “Day of the Dead” sequel, “Diary of the Dead”; and “While She Was Out” with Kim Basinger.

In terms of pic appetites in specific territories, most buyers expect healthy business from Europe to continue. U.S. comedies and dramas should fare well in other English-speaking territories, while Germany and France will most likely continue to show a fondness for thrillers. Business with Russia, which has picked up recently, should continue to grow.

Asia, on the other hand, might not be as active for U.S. pics. Veneziano points out that Japan, which for years had been an active buyer at AFM, isn’t showing as much interest.

“Whenever local product enjoys a renaissance, the taste for international films tends to taper off,” Veneziano says, “This year, that’s been happening with Japan. I don’t think anyone is expecting to do a lot of business there.”

In short, the general consensus is that AFM 2007 will likely feature no giant paradigm shifts.

Cinema Management Group prexy Edward Noeltner, a 20-year AFM vet who returns this year with two horror movies (“Chemical Wedding” and “No Man’s Land: Reeker 2″), says that “AFM has changed little. It has always been a very strong prebuy market. If you have a good genre title with footage, you will do well. If you have a completed arthouse title, other festival markets are better.”

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