Merged Lionsgate sets indie bar high; other take the leap

With the worldwide success of “The Hunger Games” still ringing as a clarion to the viability of independently financed films, Lionsgate’s $412.5 million deal to buy Summit Entertainment is echoing on the Croisette as the Cannes Film Festival and market opens, with a burst of new sales-financing companies joining an already growing sector.

Initial reaction to the deal focused on the merged Lionsgate being able to take better advantage of the “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” franchises, long-term stability and the firepower to compete effectively with the Big Six studios. But as global “Games” grosses have mounted — now at well over $600 million — others are getting in on the act.

Notably, on May 1, former Lionsgate motion picture group president Joe Drake and former Mandate Pictures president Nathan Kahane launched Good Universe as a full-service film financing, production and global sales company; and David Garrett, Summit co-founder and former prexy of international, joined forces with Germany’s Constantin Film to launch sales and financing entity Mister Smith Entertainment.

There were already other new companies in the mix: a revitalized eOne sales operation and Radiant Films. And a few days before Lionsgate completed the Summit deal on Jan. 13, well-known foreign sales exec Lisa Wilson and film financier Myles Nestel announced the formation of indie film sales and financing banner the Solution Entertainment Group. Wilson and Nestel began selling a slate at Berlin, including “Writers” and “Hector and the Search for Happiness.”

Nestel sees the Lionsgate merger as good for the market — especially given the scope of “Hunger Games’?” success.

“Lionsgate and Summit is a natural fit for both of them,” Nestel says. “It really sets the stage for a fluid, liquid market. Capitol markets are looking at the indie financing space much more seriously.”

The Lionsgate deal, he points out, took place five years after Summit remade itself from a sales-production company into a mini-major with domestic distribution — and then succeeded largely due to the “Twilight” franchise.

While there are a lot of institutional investors and high-net worth individuals cautiously coming back into the film business, he adds, they are always told they’ll recoup in five years, and with Summit, they did. “You always like to hear success stories, because it benefits the perception of the industry,” Nestel says.

On the international sales side, Lionsgate continues it transformation: Helen Lee Kim will step down at the end of the year, part of a reorganization of its overseas arm that puts studio co-chair Patrick Wachsberger in charge. Kim continues to rep international sales for the studio at Cannes.

Garrett, who had forged a strong bond with Constantin at Summit, will continue his relationship with the Germangiant by handling select English-language Constantin product, as well as other projects. This year, the company will shop sci-fi fantasy pic “The Mortal Instruments,” based on the books by Cassandra Clare, one of the projects that could feed post-“Hunger Games” demand.

Several other familiar players are coming to Cannes waving new banners.

Panorama Media, a new production, financing and international sales entity announced in late April with backing from Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, will be run by Marc Butan and Kimberly Fox, the former Inferno exec who will serve as head of international sales.

Panorama will launch at Cannes with a slate of films that includes Kathryn Bigelow’s yet to be titled Navy Seal pic, Spike Jonze’s untitled next project and Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” with Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum slated to star.

Will Clarke, founder of U.K. distrib Optimum Releasing (now Studiocanal), has launched a new sales, production and financing outfit dubbed Altitude Film Entertainment.

Three other companies debuted at Berlin and will be aiming to make a mark on the Croissette: Former Hyde Park exec Mimi Steinbauer launched Radiant Films Intl., funded through private equity with plans to acquire and distribute six to eight theatrical titles per year; former New Line Intl. acquisitions prexy Camela Galano debuted Speranza13 Media, and has Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s “Open Grave” and Julian Fellowes-penned “Romeo and Juliet” on its slate; and Brit stalwarts Tim Haslam and Hugo Grumbar joined forces to create Embankment Films, which has Naomi Watts starrer “Caught in Flight” as its first title.

Year-old sales and finance company Aldamisa Intl. tapped industry vet Jere Hausfater as chief operating officer, with former Voltage exec Nadine de Barros coming onboard as president of international sales. And Red Granite, which announced its launch a year ago at Cannes, will be returning in the wake of having locked down Martin Scorsese to direct “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

The new players are joining a highly competitive quiver of existing foreign sales-financing banners — Exclusive Media, Nick Meyer’s Sierra/Affinity, Stuart Ford’s IM Global, pan-European giant Studiocanal, Glen Basner’s FilmNation and Mark Damon’s Foresight Unlimited, which racked up more than $65 million in presales at Berlin thanks to projects like “2 Guns” and “Rule #1.”

But Marc Schipper, chief operating officer for Exclusive Media, doesn’t believe the impact on Cannes will be overly profound.

“It won’t be much of an immediate effect,” he notes, but admits, “It’s very impressive to Wall Street from the position of creating synergies. You also have people starting new gigs, joining outfits like ours.”

Shipper says that with the six majors making fewer and fewer non-tentpole titles, a fallow space exists for the indie sector.

“I think it’s symptomatic of a broader trend, which bodes well for economy (both broader and indie film),” he adds. “There’s a lot of private wealth looking for a home.”

Preferred Content is using Embankment at Cannes for sales of its recently announced military thriller “Mission: Blacklist,” starring Robert Pattinson. Ross M. Dinerstein, managing partner of Preferred Content, is producing alongside Erik Jendresen and Kevin Waller.

Let the Games begin.

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