Foreign sales agents search for star power

At the Hollywood majors, there is a small coterie of actors who can guarantee that a film will be made.

But in the world of foreign sales, there is a parallel universe, with a different group of actors who are considered bankable, even if they’ve only had a few film credits — as long as those few films were successful enough to give them recognition around the globe.

As available money for movies gets squeezed, indie producers need to find “bankable” names who don’t command movie star prices. But foreign sales agents like Summit Intl. (“Twilight”), 2929 Entertainment (“Two Lovers”) and France’s Wild Bunch (“Southland Tales”) can’t raise financing without casting actors with international appeal.

It used to be that you had to have a track record to be a bankable star, not only in the domestic market but also overseas. However in the past year, the economics of the global market has shifted.

“These actors don’t cost too much but have recognizable international and domestic value,” says ICM’s Hal Sadoff. “Most independent budgets cannot bear the costs of an established movie star and the ability to cast an up-and-coming actor allows a producer to meet their budgetary requirements.”

Here’s how it works. Foreign sales agents crunch the numbers on different actors and scripts, estimating how much business a movie will do in each territory; then they agree to put up conservative advances to the producers based on those guesses. The producers can raise more coin from bank loans.

The stars on the thumbs-up lists of foreign sales agents are the ones who can get movies made. Even those who are hardly household names.

This has presented a great opportunity to a slew of young actors and actresses and it means a greenlight for a lot of films that might not otherwise be made.

Of course, the question remains as to what impact these films will have on the domestic box office — and, of course, whether these films will prove to be good.

Aside from the thesps listed in the accompanying chart, the roster of actors come from a variety of nationalities and professional backgrounds. The list includes thesps who are more established on U.S. TV than in films, such as Ashton Kutcher, or those who’ve established a name in the indie world, such as Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds and Yank Evan Rachel Wood. Some have starred in films that were socko internationally if not domestically (Ben Whishaw, “Perfume”), while others have had co-starring roles in big domestic hits like Katherine Heigl (“Knocked Up” and “27 Dresses”).

They range from the Oscar-nominated Ellen Page (“Juno”) to Aussie actor Sam Worthington, whose past credits may not ring many bells but who’s considered hot based on two upcoming pics: “Terminator Salvation” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

And there are those who’ve co-starred in Hollywood blockbusters, like Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns”) and Chris Evans and Jessica Alba, both from “The Fantastic Four.” That makes them recognizable, even if their names were not the factor that sold those tentpoles to auds.

While their backgrounds and resumes vary, all have perceived appeal to the target demo, the magic “Juno” sweet spot: 17 to 35.

“There is a new model for packaging films appealing to a youth audience,” says Myriad Pictures’ Kirk D’Amico. “Young males and females are driving the box office.”

Oddly, not having starred in many movies is an advantage. Because these young actors aren’t dogged by a string of flops, producers and financiers can place bets on their future, investing in their promise.

“Megan Fox hasn’t had a failure yet,” says Nicholas Chartier, president of foreign sales company Voltage Entertainment. “Two years down the road we’ll see if she has made good choices. Sam Worthington’s ‘Avatar’ is a year and half away.”

But for the time being, the farm team is being offered so many movies (most of them dreck) that they can’t possibly accept them all. If they do, they risk overexposure or worse: appearing in too many pics that can’t get arrested at fests like Cannes or Sundance or even sell territories at the American Film Market. Starring in a fest-circuit movie that doesn’t get distribution is a black mark that is hard to erase.

The biz is heartless and if a rising player doesn’t maintain a high batting average, they don’t advance to the big show. Film history is filled with actors whose golden potential turned them into also-rans.


Ben Barnes

Claim to fame: “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”

Next up: “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Emile Hirsch

Claim to fame: “Into the Wild”

Next up: “Milk”

James McAvoy

Claim to fame: “Atonement,” “Wanted”

Next up: “The Last Station”

Jim Sturgess

Claim to fame: “Across the Universe,” “The Other Boleyn Girl,” “21.”

Next up: “Crossing Over,” “50 Dead Men Walking,” “Heartless.”

Channing Tatum

Claim to fame: “She’s the Man,” “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” “Stop-Loss”

Next up: “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra.” “Public Enemies”

Jessica Biel

Claim to fame: “Stealth,” “The Illusionist,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”

Next up: “Nailed,” “Easy Virtue”

Emily Blunt

Claim to fame: “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Charlie Wilson’s War”

Next up: “The Great Buck Howard,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Wolf Man”

Megan Fox

Claim to fame: “Transformers”

Next up: “Jennifer’s Body,” “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”

Brittany Snow

Claim to fame: “Hairspray,” “Prom Night”

Next up: “Finding Amanda”

Kristen Stewart

Claim to fame: “Into the Wild”

Next up: “What Just Happened?” “Twilight”

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