Buyers bring focus, fiscal responsibility

Though fierce winds blew and rain fell on the Croisette this year, industry spirits weren’t dampened as buyers and sellers both reported solid business in what is being deemed a more focused and controlled Cannes market than that of recent years.

While temperatures — in terms of both climate and business dealings — failed to reach the heated and frenzied level of 2011, this year revealed a more confident acquisition market, with many buyers walking away with solid product to fill their slates.

“Buyers are very focused on what they want and what they need,” said Mister Smith topper David Garrett, whose new joint sales banner with Constantin sold out on supernatural pic “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” “I get the feeling that both the buyers and the sellers seem to have come away with something.”

Focus Features Intl. prexy Alison Thompson said: “We’ve more or less done the business that we expected to do here, but it has definitely been a bit more fraught. Distributors felt very stretched, particularly in the first few days of the market.”

Pre-Cannes, a raft of new sales outfits headed by esteemed execs (think Garrett, Joe Drake’s Good Universe, Megan Ellison-backed Panorama led by Kim Fox), coupled with more money in the pockets of indie distribs who had successful runs with such pics as the latest “Twilight” installment, “The Hunger Games” and “The Intouchables,” suggested that this would be a market with greater liquidity.

And it has been.

“Many indie buyers have money now and they know what they want, which is studio-level movies,” said Foresight’s Tamara Stuparich de la Barra, whose projects “Lone Survivor” and “Motor City” sold out at the market.

The financial crisis hitting the Eurozone has impacted the market but not in a significant way, according to industryites.

“The economic difficulties in European markets such as Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain have lent an air of caution because theatrical attendance in those markets is down. Despite the air of uncertainty, there’s also optimism as new areas such as VOD grow,” said Jere Hausfater, who joined Aldamisa last month as chief operating officer.

Strong buyers with money have helped to sustain prices in a troubled Eurozone.

French, German and U.K. buyers remain active — with Brit distribs seeing prices reach peak levels — while Spain and Italy remain weaker.

Making a comeback of sorts, “Japan has been an incredibly busy territory at this market,” Thompson said.

While many deals are still percolating, several indies — the Weinstein Co., eOne, Alliance Films, Lionsgate — have picked up a swath of titles and a few major studios have been more acquisitive than in markets past.

Universal Intl. inked a multi-territory deal, including the U.K., France and Germany, for Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden project from Panorama while Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions secured multi-territory rights for “Ends of the Earth,” shopped by IM Global.

Robert Walak, Alliance’s senior VP of worldwide acquisitions, said the volume of titles up for grabs increased notably.

“Last year we received 89 submissions for titles pre-Cannes,” he said. “This year it was around 140.”

Walak said the distrib expects to walk away with 13 titles for its three territories (U.K., Spain and Canada), having already snapped up “The Coup” for the U.K. and Spain and “Bling Ring” and “American Bullshit” for Canada.

“There has been a bounty of product out there,” said Exclusive Media’s Alex Walton. “(But) probably not as much variety as buyers would have liked, which has led to competition on certain things.”

Hausfater said, “I have been pleasantly surprised at the wealth of product and new material, although you always wonder how much of it will get made. There continues to be a real opportunity for the independents in the $25 million to $65 million area, while the major studios are not looking to be in that business as much.”

He added that deals have grown increasingly complicated because there are so many variations in distribution these days.

He said Bruno Wu’s deal to co-finance Lion Rock’s remake of John Woo’s “The Killers” is a strong signal of the attractiveness of independent films in the current market.

Jim Seibel, co-chairman of Inferno Entertainment, which is selling Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pinocchio,” “Grace of Monaco,” “Maggie” and the Steve Jobs biopic, raised an age-old question for buyers: “With all these titles in the market, will all get made? I think the distributors are going to be going to sales companies that they’ve had tried-and-true relationships with. The only surprise so far has been the weather.”

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