Buyers, sellers look to share risk, replenish stock

The 2010 Cannes film market introduced no radical shifts — but it offered a series of small innovations that could be laying the groundwork for major changes.

n Key companies, such as StudioCanal, brought co-production specialists to meetings with foreign distributors to see if films could be financed through a mix of co-production coin and very early presales.

n Prebuys were rare, and the hottest films were completed ones. Even with few titles on offer, buyers continued to be cautious.

n Sellers and buyers are having more frank discussions early on in the process so that there are no surprises along the way.

“Conversations are a lot more upfront and at the early stage of our product. It was a sober and constructive market,” says Harold van Lier, StudioCanal exec VP of international sales.

n Fox announced seven projects that will be handled through foreign-sales agents. As studios continue to explore new revenue streams, they are not only investing heavily in local language productions, but exploiting the considerable potential for those films outside their home countries.

n In the absence of a strong indie theatrical market, producers are making deals for films to be distributed through alternative outlets from VOD to videogame platforms. At the fest, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe inked with online film library site Mubi (formerly the Auteurs) to stream films via the PlayStation 3 game console.

To a large degree, the action at the Cannes market reflected the state of supply and demand. With a slowdown in worldwide film production over the last 18 months, foreign buyers must replenish their inventory.

“There was definitely a lot of buying going on this year,” L.A.-based Myriad Pictures prexy-CEO Kirk D’Amico says. “Budgets have come down, even for the action films, which is a benefit to the industry.

Myriad made a number of territory deals for the Kevin Spacey-Zachary Quinto corporate thriller “Margin Call,” including Germany, the Middle East, Turkey, Romania and Latin America for pay TV.

The lowering of budgets has resulted in price adjustments even among the top buyers, although not as much as buyers would like, particularly if there are multiple bidders for a project.

“Because there’s not a lot of product, and distribution is still competitive enough in each territory, distributors are prepared to pay for the right product,” van Lier says.

Those distributors included Hollywood studios, whose international arms also need titles.

The film biz may be stabilizing from the economic crisis, but in the reconfigured landscape, it’s the top-tier sales agents that dominate. Buyers, not surprisingly, want pedigree behind projects.

The larger sales companies closed deals on a number of projects, from Summit Entertainment’s 3D “The Three Musketeers” to Focus Features’ “Another Year.”

By the time Focus prexy of international sales Alison Thompson left Cannes, she’d closed a domestic deal with Sony Pictures Classics for Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” and a multiple territory deal with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group for Joe Wright’s “Hanna.” (Focus retains distribution rights to “Hanna” in the U.S. and several major territories.)

Along with “Hanna,” Thompson’s team also saw strong sales of Cary Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre” and Lone Scherfig’s “One Day” with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess.

Focus had the advantage of having two of its titles playing in competition; “Another Year” and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful.” They were two of the most buzzed-about titles at the fest. Certain territory deals are looking likely for “Biutiful,” while there is also interest among U.S. distribs.

In addition to Sony buying multiple territories for “Hanna,” Universal picked up some territories on Tarsem Singh’s 3D “The Immortals” and Arclight’s P.J. Hogan comedy “Mental.” Sony Pictures Classics also picked up U.S. rights for Susanne Bier’s upcoming drama “In a Better World.”

More than ever, films with American subjects and talent are finding coin through European financing and sales. Woody Allen’s upcoming summer shoot, “Midnight in Paris,” sold by Spain’s Imagina, was being hotly pursued by buyers, while France’s MK2 closed key territories for Walter Salles’ Jack Kerouac adaptation “On the Road,” which starts production Aug. 2.

Film genres in demand ran the gamut, with thrillers and mysteries topping buyers’ lists. Among the most popular titles were Lionsgate’s Tony Scott-directed crime thriller with Mickey Rourke; Lakeshore/Sierra’s Katherine Heigl starrer “One for the Money” and “Lincoln Lawyer” and Summit/Constantin’s 3D “Three Musketeers” directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.

Still, while buyers’ markets are emerging from economic recession, and some buyers are coming back to the table, the international film biz still faces volatility.

Lionsgate prexy of international sales Helen Kim says sellers are learning to be much more targeted with their films, a tactic that’s paying off.

“Now,” Kim says, “you have to be in the bulls-eye.”

Fox’s pact with Fortissimo emphasizes the growing importance of local language productions. The studio’s local language production roster includes two new projects for Spain and China, where the company had notable successes last year. “Bunker” will be Fox Intl. Prods.’ second Spanish production after “Spanish Movie,” the second-highest grossing comedy in 2009.

“The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman” will be Fox’s sophomore Chinese film, following “Hot Summer Days,” a breakout success in China.

Fortissimo’s Michael Werner says the deal brings more commercial fare to the Fortissimo slate, while Fox Intl. prexy Sanford Panitch says the association will benefit from Werner’s familiarity with the kind of pictures FIP is developing and producing.

Many of these local titles can successfully travel to other territories — witness the $11 million for Spain’s “The Orphanage” in Mexico.

But U.S. theatrical releases for the less commercial titles remains uncertain. So market acquisitions including IFC’s pickup of “Heartbeats,” “Prey” and Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” will be available on VOD and in theaters at the same time.

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