Buyers, sellers hit market in cautious, upbeat mood

For U.S. sellers coming to Berlin, the buzzwords are “optimism” and “caution.” For buyers from the rest of the world accustomed to the glut of midpriced U.S. fare, however, the days of plenty appear well and truly over.

After an American Film Market in 2009 that saw solid, if not exactly stellar, business, this year’s European Film Market is being looked upon as a potential harbinger of the long-term state of the global film biz. And while many buyers and sellers from the U.S. and internationally appear to have left the worst behind them, there remains a touch of trepidation about what the future has in store.

“I think we’ve seen the start of a bounce back,” says one U.S. sales agent. “Last Berlin was very tough, but from Cannes onwards we’ve managed to escape the sense that the sky is falling on us.”

There are a clutch of buzz projects grabbing the attention of buyers, but — in a sign of the greater prudence film execs are displaying — there remains uncertainty over whether these projects will come together in time for the market.

Two of the more high-profile prospects include IM Global’s “Sympathy for the Devil,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Duhamel, while Mandate is trying to package a remake of Gallic hit “L.O.L.: Laughing Out Loud,” starring Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore.

Affinity Intl.’s “Rabbit Hole,” now in post and starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, is creating anticipation among buyers curious to see the latest film from John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Shortbus”).

GK Films will be having early discussions about the upcoming Martin Scorsese project “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” which doesn’t have a complete script yet, so talks are likely to remain at the preliminary stage.

Focus Features Intl. is taking a limited team with it; the company’s focus already is shifting toward Cannes. That seems to be a prevailing attitude among a number of U.S. sales execs.

“I think there’s still the feeling that Berlin is more of a festival than a market,” says one exec. “I don’t think there’s going to be that much new product there, but this year particularly we’re seeing people scrambling up until the last minute to get their projects packaged. People might be more inclined to wait for Cannes.”

While film execs have taken some reassurance from the fact that the new model for film financing is finally emerging — less reliance on pre-sales, lower budgets and more equity — others are taking greater comfort in knowing they can come to market not needing to take any offer on the table.

“We’re in the great position where we don’t have to pre-sell,” says GK Films’ Lisa Wilson. “Our films are fully financed, so if I see a number less than what (we’re) after, I don’t have to take it.”

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