Buyers hit market ready to restock

Confidence in the indie sales sector is up as the global film biz descends on Santa Monica for the American Film Market today, with enough fresh product to keep buyers and sellers engaged.

Two new large-scale projects are sparking buzz: the $65 million “Walking With Dinosaurs 3D,” from BBC Worldwide and Reliance Big Entertainment, co-produced by Evergreen Films; and Lionsgate’s adaptation of young adult sci-fi tome “Hunger Games.”

IM Global is selling “Dinosaurs,” while Lions-gate’s international arm is repping foreign rights to “Hunger Games.”

Another new title bound for the mart is George Clooney’s “The Ides of March,” the actor-filmmaker’s adaptation of Broadway play “Farragut North.” He’s set to direct, star and produce. Exclusive Media is repping the pic overseas, and sales should be helped by news that Sony has scooped up domestic rights.

Fresh off the heels of a busy Toronto and a bustling Mipcom, sellers are optimistic that buyers are ready to invest in movies after a period of stagnation. The financials may have tightened, and there may be less money to make films, but there is more demand for product.

“I think the film business is getting better, and more people are feeling positive about it,” Affinity Intl. topper Brian O’Shea said. “There’s a vision of what ancillary markets can be worth, and people are seeing that there are films that will create value in that window, so that is giving people confidence.”

Sellers attending AFM are down 8%-10% from last year, but that’s a good thing, according to AFM organizers, since it means there’s no longer a glut of product. Conversely, industry attendees — a group defined as including producers and financiers — are up 20% from last year. Buyers are up about the same.

All told, 427 films will screen, including 306 market preems.

AFM officially starts today, but some firms were already wooing buyers on Tuesday, including Stuart Ford’s IM Global, which screened about three minutes of footage from “Dinosaurs” for 300 international distribs. IM Global also will be launching docu “Life,” part of the three-pic deal inked this week between BBC Worldwide and Reliance (Reliance has a major stake in IM Global).

Lionsgate’s international sales operation also spent time with clients Tuesday, also talking up Brit pic “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.

Financial thrillers will be in play at AFM, including the newly announced “Arbitrage,” repped by Parlay Films and toplining Al Pacino, and Myriad Pictures’ Kevin Spacey-Jeremy Irons-Zachary Quinto starrer “Margin Call.” Parlay also has Rodrigo Cortes’ “Red Lights” with Robert De Niro.

Another intriguing title is Affinity’s Spanish-language comedy “Casa de mi padre,” starring Will Ferrell and Gael Garcia Bernal, which has already sold to a handful of territories. Affinity is also repping Ryan Gosling-Carey Mulligan starrer “Drive” and romantic comedy “From Prada to Nada” from Lionsgate/Televisa’s new joint venture Pantelion.

One of Europe’s most important sales forces, Gaul’s StudioCanal, will be pushing Working Title’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” which it stepped in to fully finance after Universal backed out. Pic based on John LeCarre’s Brit spy tome is currently shooting in Blighty. It boasts a stellar Brit lineup including Colin Firth, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy. Helmer Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”) makes his English-language debut with the pic.

“Buyers are going to need to start buying soon,” Intandem Films CEO Gary Smith said. “They’ve pretty much been on strike as far as pre-sales is concerned and, at some stage, they’re going to have to start buying to fill up the rest of 2011 and 2012.”

Intandem company director Billy Hurman said that compared to last year’s AFM agenda, this year’s is chock full of meetings. Company is selling “The Veteran,” starring Toby Kebbell and currently in post, and will be unveiling promo footage to AFM buyers for the first time. Pic, which follows the story of a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan who becomes obsessed with saving a young Anglo-Asian woman from fanatics, is helmed by Matthew Hope.

“Most buyers have been very careful in the past year,” Arclight Films prexy of sales and acquisitions Mark Lindsay said. “Now they’re opening up a little, and I think that’s indicative that banks are loaning money again to these buyers now that they need product for 2011 and 2012.”

At the market, Arclight has Mickey Rourke starrer “The Courier,” in pre-production, and “Wolf Creek 2,” the follow-up to 2005’s Aussie horror hit. It’s also screening 3D footage for the first time with “Bait 3D.”

U.K.-based sales agent Protagonist Pictures comes to the market fresh off a busy Toronto: Its comedy “Submarine” was one of the most coveted titles at the fest in September and went on to receive rave reviews in Blighty after the London Film Festival.

Last year, Protagonist unveiled promo footage of “Streetdance 3D,” which went on to become the biggest Brit B.O. success story of the year, raking in more than $40 million worldwide. This year the agent is pre-selling sequel “Streetdance 3D 2″ in addition to “Horrid Henry 3D,” a live-action 3D pic based on the popular children’s tomes.

Meanwhile, Filmbox topper Cedric Jeanson will descend upon the Loews from Gotham with “Burning Man,” to which it owns worldwide rights outside Oz and New Zealand. Penned and helmed by Jonathan Teplitzky, pic sees a philandering chef (Matthew Goode) who attempts to leave the fast life and reconnect with his son. Andy Paterson (“Girl With a Pearl Earring”) produces. Pic has already sold to Svensk in Scandinavia.

Other hot titles up for grabs at the market include Hilary Duff starrer “Bonnie and Clyde,” from Shoreline Entertainment; Hyde Park Intl.’s supernatural pic “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 3D,” which sees Nicolas Cage return as the motorcycle stuntman-turned-hero; and Minnie Driver starrer “Hunky Dory,” sold through Independent.

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