Emerging markets pay off with more screens, digital deals

Korea, China, Japan, Russia and Latin America have provided much of the optimism among buyers and sellers as the 33rd edition of the American Film Market draws to a close — with buyers wanting more star-driven titles.

“We’re seeing a lot of strength from the emerging markets and Japan, which has bounced back,” noted Jere Hausfater of year-old Aldamisa, which was selling “Machete Kills” and “Sin City 3D.”

“There were not quite enough big movies selling here but overall, the business is definitely moving in the right direction. It can handle more so we should see very strong markets in Berlin and Cannes.”

Key titles that were in play included JFK Assassination project “Parkland” from Exclusive Media; Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street,” from Red Granite; Johnny Depp’s “Transcendence” from Lionsgate; aging rocker saga “Imagine” from Mister Smith; literary saga “Genius” from FilmNation; and a pair of Liam Neeson projects — police thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones” from Exclusive Media; and airline thriller “Non-Stop” from StudioCanal and Joel Silver.

“The main buyers were hungry but there weren’t enough major titles,” added Exclusive Media’s Alex Walton.

Sellers noted that the gloomy conditions in Spain and Italy held down pricing in those markets, but added that emerging markets have more than made up for the losses.

The Korean delegation was among the largest contingent with about 150 attendees, partly due to efforts by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce to attract more buyers to AFM as part of President Obama’s National Export Initiative. The AFM partnership with the federal government also drew attendees from Brazil, Germany, China, Thailand, Romania, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“I think that the efforts by the Dept. of Commerce have been very effective,” said AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf. “The increase in new buying companies from Korea and China reflect that the emerging markets are growing demographically, compared to some of the European markets, where a lot of the population is aging.”

Maura Kawai, a Dept. of Commerce exec at AFM, said the goal of the department efforts are aimed at “business facilitation.” “The Koreans who came here are very independent and knew what they wanted,” she added.

Nate Bolotin of XYZ Films said he wasn’t surprised at the growing amount of deals made in emerging markets with more screens being built and more willingness to rely on digital revenues.

“You’re seeing growth of theatrical infrastructure, along with the willingness to think about VOD bumps, which means they’re willing to take bigger risks” Bolotin noted. “That makes it easier to get deals done, although the censorship can really slow down that process down the line.”

Genre films sold consistently during the market with Bolotin ‘s Celluloid Nightmares making a multi-territory deal with Wild Bunch on Nicholas McCarthy’s “Home” for France, Germany and Spain. Adult-themed dramas and thrillers tended to dominate the “hot lists” — with airline-set “Non-Stop” drawing “incredible” interest, according to StudioCanal’s Harold Van Lier following a promo presentation last week.

“There were bidding situations in every territory which kept us negotiating late into the night every day,” he noted. We will be sold out tomorrow (Wednesday) with the exception of one or two territories where I may take more time to assess our options. We also managed to carve out some valuable TV rights in places.”

Film started shooting Tuesday. He said pricing was notably elevated in China, Korea, Russia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Only a few markets hit by the economic slump — Spain and Italy — did not generate much buyer interest but Spain did eventually close for a decent minimum guarantee.

“We made record deals in China and South Korea,” he added. “And Japan is very much back in the game.”

Van Lier admitted he’s been surprised at the Hollywood majors’ lack of interest in acquiring foreign rights on this “elevated action” project with a mid-range budget.

“It’s such a low risk when you know TV value for a studio can so easily be calculated based on comps and having Universal releasing wide domestically,” he notes. “By tomorrow, we will have ended up closing a similar level of sales to that a studio could have paid but with each territory uncrossed and maximized in the back end.”

Van Lier noted that StudioCanal’s line-up is now about 90% English-language productions.

Studiocanal will be delivering around 10 major international productions next year and Van Lier anticipates bringing two or three stronger new projects to each major market.

StudioCanal also sold Hossein Amini’s thriller “Two Faces of January” to Universal for Scandinavia and Spain. The film is currently shooting in Istanbul and stars Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.

Mimi Steinbauer, president and CEO of year-old Radiant Films, noted the breakneck pace of the indie biz is underlined at AFM, where her slate had three titles — “As Cool As I Am,” medical drama “Decoding Annie Parker” and Clark Gregg’s showbiz comedy-drama “Trust Me.”

“It’s very satisfying — and we’ll have several films to screen in Berlin,” she added. “It’s nice to get the support from buyers who are still buying.”

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