Recession hits mart but Euros bulk up

The ripple effects of the economic collapse are finally being felt at the Marche du Film, where fewer titles are being shopped this year as production has slowed down worldwide.

The latter half of the past decade saw a glut of films flooding the marketplace, particularly in the U.S., where private equity set its sights on the indie film biz. But the financial crisis that began in late 2008 brought an end to the glut, although projects already in the pipeline obscured the slowdown.

This year, however, there’s a noticeable lack of titles for sale. And many of the bigger projects that are being sold belong to the upper echelon of international sales companies, both U.S. and foreign.

Europe can take up some of the U.S. slack, although heavyweights Pathe and Wild Bunch are noticeably light this year in terms of fresh projects behind sold at Cannes, while top U.S. companies have been busy announcing a roster of new projects in the weeks leading up to the market.

But it is true that movie financing in Europe has been in part buttressed against the ravages of declining equity-fund investment by state subsidies, rich TV deals, tax breaks and co-production coin.

A clutch of the biggest-budgeted projects hitting this Cannes market hail from Europe, led by Paul W.S. Anderson’s Constantin-produced, stereoscopic 3D “Three Musketeers,” whose budget could be $80 million-$100 million, said Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz; and the Kinology-sold “Fantomas,” produced by Thomas Langmann’s La Petite Reine, and budgeted at $70 million, said Kinology’s Gregore Melin.

Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications looks set to unveil a big-budgeted international project about the Arab world. EuropaCorp also has new pics in the works.

Wild Bunch is selling Cannes Competition seller “Burnt by the Sun 2,” budgeted at a reported $55 million. Summit is introducing Juan Antonio Bayona’s drama “The Impossible,” produced by Spain’s Apaches and Telecinco Cinema.

Europe’s majors — including StudioCanal, Constantin, Gaumont, Pathe and Wild Bunch — have been exploring budget levels that were once the preserve of studios or specialty labels.

The irony is that the same key factor behind the closure of U.S. specialty labels — the huge costs of P&A for the U.S. — has also decimated the U.S. distribution sector.

With Stateside deals hard to come by, and Japan an ever-tougher sell, major Euro players are cautious about greenlighting big-budget projects without a U.S. partner on board.

“Generally speaking, movies at a reasonable level of budget, below $20 million, don’t necessarily need a U.S. partner — a co-production with Canada can be tied down,” said Olivier Courson, StudioCanal chairman-CEO.

But StudioCanal would never do a big movie like the remake of “Escape From New York” without a U.S. partner, he countered. (“Escape” is set up at Warner Bros./New Line, with Neal Moritz’s Original Films producing.)

So the world film glut, at least for large titles, is subsiding.

Many U.S. film execs say the end of the glut isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean adjusting to a new world order. They said there’s good business to be had at Cannes, for the right project.

“I think we are going to see a continued revival in the marketplace,” IM Global’s Stuart Ford said. “But there are going to be relatively few new titles. There are fewer movies being financed. I’m talking to buyers, and they say there’s not much out there. Quality titles are at a premium.”

Alison Thompson, president of Focus Features Intl., concurs: “It will be a relatively quiet year in terms of new movies. We are beginning to see the effects of the financial crisis.”

One veteran sales exec added, “Some companies don’t have any new projects this year at Cannes. And there’s a lot of price adjusting going on.”

It’s also shaping up to be a quiet year for Cannes Film Festival official selections being sold concurrently in the film market.

One exception could be Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s competition screener “Biutiful,” which is being sold by Focus Intl. in the market. Another is Doug Liman’s Sean Penn-Naomi Watts starrer “Fair Game,” which is being sold by Summit Intl. In recent days, Summit Entertainment has picked up domestic distribution rights, which is likely to help the film’s prospects in the market. E1 has picked up U.K. and Ireland rights as well.

Focus Intl.’s slate also includes Cary Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre,” Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” and Joe Wright’s “Hanna.”

Focus’ slate is director-driven, as well as offering female-skewing projects.

Some of the “hot” U.S. projects being sold at the market this year are actioners or thrillers.

Among IM Global titles are the Dwayne Johnson action-thriller “Protection,” directed by Simon West, and 3D actioner “Judge Dredd.”

IM Global is raising financing for “Protection” as a means to have more control over the project.

Summit Intl. has a diverse slate, including “Fair Game,” Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” “Step Up 3D,” Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” Robert Schwentke’s action-thriller “Red” and “Larry Crowne,” directed and starring Tom Hanks. (Julia Roberts also stars.)

Myriad Pictures will shop thriller “Genesis Code,” toplining Hayden Christensen. It also will sell corporate thriller “Margin Call,” starring Kevin Spacey and Zachary Quinto.

Lionsgate Intl.’s slate includes Marc Forster’s action-drama “Machine Gun Preacher,” starring Gerard Butler, Vin Diesel starrer “Riddick,” directed by David Twohy, and “Immortals 3.”

Lionsgate also will be selling Shia Labeouf starrer “The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman” and Miley Cyrus-Demi Moore topliner “LOL.”

Lakeshore and Nick Meyer’s Sierra Pictures also should do substantial biz. In addition to their own slates, the two companies are teaming to sell Matthew McConaughey mystery-thriller “Lincoln Lawyer,” based on Michael Connelly’s bestselling book.

There are other big projects being sold by U.S. buyers, and execs clearly will be watching carefully to see what types of projects sell best, and in which territories.

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