New Line Intl.'s exit creates opportunity for indies

As the international film community gets ready to head to the south of France next week, a seismic shift and a few other movements are realigning the balance of power among the major film sales companies.

New Line International is moving out of the business in the wake of the company’s absorption into Warner Bros., while its titles will start to go out overseas via the Warner studio pipelines. That leaves the various territorial distributors with which the mini-major had output deals scrambling for a certain level of product.

The company had indie distribution arrangements in the U.K., France, Scandinavia, Spain, South Africa, Greece, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. More or less, most of these will have New Line titles through 2009.

But as the current deal cycle is already looking to 2009 and beyond, ex-New Line clients will be seeking to replace that studio-level product as soon as this coming Cannes market.

That’s good news for suppliers ready to fill the void. Several companies are ramping up or are already delivering similar levels of product.

“It’s a good time for us, as we’re looking at bigger product,” says QED’s head of sales, Kim Fox. “Buyers that have seen a steady stream of product for years (from New Line) are looking for new partners, but those new partners will have to have bigger product.”

Among QED’s upcoming titles are Oliver Stone’s George Bush biopic “W.,” Peter Jackson-produced sci-fi pic “District 9″ and Milla Jovovich thriller “A Perfect Getaway.”

There’s the added hope that New Line’s exit could revive sales to territories such as Spain and France, which have recently been in the doldrums when it comes to indie pic imports.

“There is an unmistakable opportunity,” says Essential Entertainment topper Jere Hausfater, who will be repping titles such as Richard Loncraine’s “My One and Only,” starring Renee Zellweger.

Meanwhile, sales behemoths such as Summit Entertainment and Mandate Pictures have morphed into slightly different entities. Summit has sprouted a domestic distribution operation and is chasing studio ambitions, which seems to have taken the main emphasis off of foreign sales. And Mandate has merged with Lionsgate, keeping the Mandate brand intact but now also repping lots more titles, encompassing the various product streams of the two companies as well as third-party product.

While Mandate Intl. prexy Helen Lee Kim says she’s much busier, Summit co-CEO Patrick Wachsberger says he has “less to do.” He explains that when the new Summit was created, the company set up a substantial number of output deals for Summit-produced films. The shingle has pacts with Telemunchen in Germany, SND/M6 in France, Nordisk in Scandinavia, Contender in the U.K. and Entertainment One in Canada, and could be looking to ink two or three more. But Summit continues to handle third-party pics as well, including Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” starring Sean Penn and Brad Pitt, and Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel “The Ghost.” And these wouldn’t necessarily be going to output partners overseas.

As these movements among the larger sales companies continue to unfold, several new contenders are stepping into the international sales fray. Among them are producers Bold Films, the Film Department and Unified Pictures.

Gary Michael Walters, co-prexy of Bold Films, explains that it is an opportune time to get into the sector.

“As we’ve accelerated our production pace, it makes more sense to handle our own sales,” he says. “We’re integrating our sales and creative to be sensitive to the needs of the global marketplace as we put our films together. And we see an opportunity with New Line’s output now going through Warner Bros., Mandate folded into Lionsgate and Summit becoming more domestic-oriented. We see a sweet spot in that niche of $10 million-$30 million smart but commercial pictures.”

On Bold’s slate, being repped by former Lionsgate Intl. prexy Stephanie Denton in Cannes, is thriller “Jack,” helmed by Joseph Ruben, about a killer suffering from traumatic memory loss. Bold hopes to have casting ready to announce by Cannes.

“The timing couldn’t be any better,” adds the Film Department’s international prexy Steve Bickel, who has Gerard Butler thriller “Law Abiding Citizen” and Catherine Zeta-Jones starrer “The Rebound” in production. “Buyers are always looking for studio-competitive movies and star-driven product. That’s where we are headed as well. We’re putting together a slate that crosses over genres — action-thrillers, sexy rom-coms — all well-written material that has its own unique voice but at the same time wide appeal.”

But Unified’s new head of international sales, Ann Dubinet, says buyers need to relax a bit when it comes to demanding marquee names. “Not every movie can star Brad Pitt,” she sighs. “International buyers are so cast-dependent in their buying.”

Dubinet notes that the goal for Unified, which brings equity to the table on all projects, is “to step into the place that Focus gave up — and not that we just do arthouse films.” The company is taking risks on new filmmakers and somewhat smaller-budgeted pics. Among three finished films Unified will screen in Cannes is comedy “Bob Funk,” from a first-time helmer and starring Rachael Leigh Cook.

As new sellers join the Cannes party, New Line Intl. topper Camela Galano says she’ll be heading to the Croisette with just two other execs and one film to screen (“Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D“).

Noting the obvious, she says, “We just won’t be selling movies,” adding, “but we’ll be doing what we normally do with our outputs, which is go through the lineup, releases and materials.”

Patrick Frater contributed to this report.

TIP SHEET
What:
Cannes Market and Cannes Film Festival
When: May 14-23 (market); May 14-25 (festival)
Where: Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France
Who: As of mid-April, some 8,000 market participants were registered from about 500 companies and 93 countries.

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