Venice Dailies Spotlight 2012: U.S. Independents

U.S.-based distribs and sales outfits’ decisions over whether to make Venice part of their films’ fall fest journey got a lot more difficult this year when the fest’s former head, Alberto Barbera, replaced longtime artistic director Marco Mueller in a power struggle last December.

Given the heated politics, Mueller’s new berth at November’s Rome fest, travel costs far higher than Toronto or Telluride and recent infrastructure issues, the shingles have reason to proceed to the Lido with caution, not wanting to alienate a regime now bestowing a much smaller slate of films with the prestige Venice confers.

Exclusive Media international sales and distribution prexy Alex Walton says the decision to take films to Venice was set well before the topper drama unfolded.

“Both of our (U.S.) films (Ramin Bahrani’s ‘At Any Price’ and Henry-Alex Rubin’s ‘Disconnect’) were in production during the Marco Mueller age, and there was always hope Venice would showcase them. There aren’t many places in Europe, outside of Cannes, that set a film up on a prestigious level, and that’s very true whoever might be in charge,” he says.

Walton adds that Barbera was determined to make his mark. “From our experience, the selection process was pretty brutal, and he really wasn’t pushed in terms of pressure. He chose the films that he wanted.”

Voltage Pictures founder Nicolas Chartier, who’s selling Robert Redford’s out of competition entry “The Company You Keep” with CAA,says going to Venice “is not about supporting a new regime. The festival has been good to me, I want to keep promoting films there, and it’s also a question of when my films are finished. I would loooooooove to have a movie for Marco Mueller for November. I just have nothing that’s going to be ready then for a world premiere.” (He adds that Venice also offers a convenient one-two trip with Toronto for star-helmer Redford.)

Given other options, how does Chartier justify the expense? “You don’t — you just have to go for it,” he says. “There are still only four or five major festivals a year, so if we can be accepted in two, we feel lucky and grateful.”

He also appreciates Barbera’s move to reduce the slate. “Toronto has 160 American movies, at Venice there’s (a handful), so you can say ‘My movie is one of the few they brought here,’ ” he says.

For U.S. sales companies and dis tribs with worldwide rights to their films, Venice is simply too crucial a launching point to skip due to the many European media outlets on the Lido that don’t travel to Toronto; the trip also serves to support distribs in pre-sold territories and potentially help sell others.

For many other U.S. distribs, Venice has long been skippable, in part due to much-bemoaned high expenses involved, and the fact that Toronto, which is closer and where dealmaking is far more likely to occur, is just easier for them.

“I go to Telluride each year,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard. He’s only been to Venice once — and his co-prexy Michael Barker twice — in their 20 years heading SPC. “Venice is much more of a launch for international releases and sales.”

Weinstein Co. chief operating officer David Glasser, whose outfit picked up worldwide rights to Paul Thomas Anderson’s competition entry “The Master” and serves as its international sales agent and U.S. distrib, says the bulk of its overseas territories have been sold for the pic.

“We’ve always had a great experience at Venice. Once we knew (‘The Master’) was ready, we made contact with the festival,” he says. “It’s perfect timing prior to its U.S. release, but obviously it heavily projects across Europe.”

Working with the new regime has “been a joy,” he adds. “I say it with all sincerity, because sometimes you never know when you go to a festival, especially with something like this playing in 70mm.”

This year, SPC has the best of both worlds: it began a deal with CAA for for U.S. rights “The Company You Keep” and another for North American and Eastern European rights (excluding CIS and Russia) to “At Any Price” after learning it was accepted in Venice, yet won’t be on the hook for flying over and housing stars, often the province of the international sales agent and Italian distrib. (With “Price,” it’s Exclusive and the producers picking up the tab, since there’s no local distrib yet.) Though Bernard says the Venice acceptance didn’t influence his pickup decision, he acknowledges it will help in their overseas territories.

The fest’s reduced slate won’t increase the historically low number of buyers attending, but one exec says the “catapult effect” may come into play, where a deal can begin in Venice (with a first look by U.S. execs, or heat from critics) and get finalized in Toronto (where audience reaction helps seal the deal). Fox Searchlight’s 2011 pickup “Shame” was one of numerous films over the years to take this route.

Regarding its appeal to U.S. distribs, SPC’s Bernard has a bit of advice for Barbera’s new regime: “The festival season is very expensive, so people have to make choices and the talent makes choices,” he says. “Fly ‘em over for free.”

Venice Dailies Spotlight 2012: U.S. Independents
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