Cautious optimism is the prevailing sentiment at the Loews in Santa Monica as the 32nd edition of the American Film Market opens today.
Buyer registration is up 10% with more than 90 new buying companies and general attendance is tracking higher, according to AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf. A total of 415 films will screen over eight days — 69 world premieres, 310 market premieres and 29 in 3D.
“We’re getting a lot of calls about our titles like ‘The Gray’ and ‘Broken City’ and it’s good that the international marketplace has bounced back,” noted Inferno Entertainment partner Bill Johnson. “But my expectation is that AFM won’t be as crazy as Cannes.”
Inferno’s hoping to echo its experience at last year’s AFM in November, when pre-sales on Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins’ starrer “Cogan’s Trade” drew a flurry of deals with international distribs before the Weinstein Co. snapped it up for the U.S. in January.
As usual, titles with recognizable casts that can play well across the globe are key at AFM. And with more buyers in the mix, activity’s been fairly robust in the past two weeks with pre-sales to key territories getting locked down.
Still, there’s nothing like face to
face contact — such as Ron Howard meeting with buyers to to discuss production on “Rush,” with Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl starring in the true story of the rivalry between 1970s Formula 1 champs James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Exclusive Media Group is handling sales.
Studiocanal is reported to be bringing Joel and Ethan Coen to AFM to discuss their new film “Inside Llewyn Davis” and meet with potential buyers. Should that come to pass, it would mirror what happened last year when Exclusive brought George Clooney to Loews to shop “Ides of March.”
Sellers have more to sell — but are also taking a measured approach. Focus Features Intl. will be screening “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City” to select buyers at the market this year. But Focus will not be showing footage of the Wachowski siblings’ “Cloud Atlas” to buyers this year.
The bullishness in the market comes five months after a better-than-expected activity at the Cannes Film Festival and a solid — but hardly spectacular — showing in Toronto, where the biggest sale turned out to be the $5 million that CBS Films paid for “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.”
“With buyers up and screenings on par with last year, we expect a very healthy and active market,” said the AFM’s Wolf.
The indie side of the business was hammered between late 2008 and early 2010 before beginning to recover in time for last year’s AFM. Obtaining financing became tougher, while studios decided to focus on tentpoles and cede much of the mid-budget arena to indie producers.
Andrew Ruf, head of Paradigm’s motion picture financing group, believes that the financial crisis has resulted in industry players becoming much sharper in what they’re bringing to AFM.
“I think people are being a lot smarter about budgets and casts,” Ruf said. “The margin for error is much smaller. If you come in fast and loose, you’re going to have a very tough time.”
Ruf said that it’s particularly crucial to come in to AFM with the right budget — particularly in the $3 million to $15 million range, if the cast isn’t highly recognizable. “In that range, you’re going to have a hard time recouping,” he added.
Still, plenty of independently-sold pics — “Black Swan,” “The King’s Speech,” “Limitless,” “Insidious,” “Source Code,” “The Lincoln Lawyer” — show that filmgoers will turn out for the right mix of indie elements. Julie Sultan, president of international sales at W2, said that the positive vibes from those successes remains very much in the minds of those attending AFM.
“The film business is full of optimistic people,” she adds. “People have budgets left at the end of the year and although they may have a full slate, they will always have room for more.”
Sultan also believes that AFM activity will stay strong throughout next week. “We will be taking a lot of meetings toward the end of the market,” she notes.