Sellers are banking on coin from Asia

Following relatively robust business at Berlin, Cannes and Toronto, the American Film Market opens to guarded bullishness with more than 120 new buying companies, a 10% increase in buyers and more than 2,000 projects for sale.

With the final “Twilight” film opening in two weeks and successes from indie-financed titles like “The Hunger Games,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Looper” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” the 33rd edition of AFM, which runs until Nov. 7, kicks off with indies sporting ambitious slates. In a typical pre-market move, Exclusive Media announced Tuesday that it would finance Playtone’s JFK assassination drama, with Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton and Jacki Weaver now attached to star.

However, the weakness of the Euro and wobbly performances by films such as “Cloud Atlas” and “Dredd 3D” remain an overriding concern.

“Europe is making buyers much more cautious,” said David Garrett of 5-month-old Mister Smith Entertainment, a joint venture with Germany’s Constantin. “There’s still, thankfully, a very active market, but you can’t afford to make mistakes. You have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it when you’re making films.”

The Toronto festival saw a strong number of sales — but without an eye-popping number for the top sale at the fest, which was Focus’ $3 million for Derek Cianfrance’s cop thriller “The Place Beyond the Pines.” That was less than the $5 million CBS Films had paid for “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” the biggest deal at the previous TIFF and a far cry from Sundance in 2008, just before the recession, when Focus Features purchased the Steve Coogan comedy “Hamlet 2″ for $10 million for worldwide rights.

AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf extolled the indie spirit as the market started. “Independents — the industry’s true entrepreneurs — are bringing the world a diverse and exciting array of films for 2013. The 2,000-plus projects at AFM include films in every genre and budget, all destined for theaters and screens of every size around the world.”

Several key factors are driving optimism:

•There’s been a real savings in talent costs, which have been recalibrated in the post-2008 era. “Stars have realized that their careers can really be helped by doing indies — such as Nicole Kidman,” said entertainment attorney Bianca Goodloe. “As they age, it puts them in a position to remain relevant.”

•There are more buyers like Exclusive Releasing and A24 in addition to Open Road, CBS and FilmDistrict as the Hollywood majors ratchet back on midbudget projects.

•Foreign markets have been robust and growing, particularly in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) markets. AFM said more than 750 buying companies from 70 countries are sending over 1,500 representatives to the market. South Korea will have the most new buyers, followed by China with 13, the U.S. with 11, Japan and Turkey with six, Russia with five and France and Italy with four each.

•Deep-pocketed types continue to want to invest. “I do get a sense that there’s enthusiasm for rate of return and the speed of that return,” said Robert Beaumont of Lightning Entertainment. “The type of talent that’s willing to be involved has improved.”

Lightning has already wrapped up a slew of deals for actioner “Dead Drop,” Liam Hemsworth starrer “Love and Honor,” the Chris Colfer-scripted “Struck by Lightning,” “Whole Lotta Sole” and the family film “Heaven’s Door.”

Nate Bolotin of production-sales outfit XYZ Films sees AFM as the springboard for introducing projects. XYZ saw its profile elevated last year when “The Raid” nabbed the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness section in Toronto.

“We have five films in production or pre-production,” he noted. “The business is definitely not getting worse.”

AFM Buzz Titles

“5 to 7″
Key cast: Diane Kruger, Anton Yelchin
Sales: The Solution Entertainment Group

“And So It Goes”
Director: P.J. Hogan
Key cast: Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton
Sales: Foresight Unlimited

“As Cool as I Am”
Cast: Claire Danes, James Marsden, Sarah Bolger
Sales: Radiant Films Intl.

“Born to Be King”
Key cast: Ewan McGregor, Kate Hudson
Sales: Indomina Releasing

“The Citizen”
Key cast: Khaled Nabawy, Agnes Bruckner
Sales: Radiant Films Intl.

“Dead Drop”
Sales: Lightning Entertainment

Eliza Graves
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: TBA
Sales: Nu Image

“Hold on to Me”
Key cast: Carey Mulligan, Robert Pattinson
Sales: FilmNation

“Joe”
Director: David Gordon Green
Key cast: Tye Sherdan, Nicolas Cage
Sales: CAA (domestic); WestEnd Films (international)

“Imagine”
Director: Dan Fogelman
Cast: Al Pacino, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Renner
Sales: Mister Smith

“The Last Five Years”
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Key cast: Anna Kendrick
Sales: The Exchange

“Molly Moon”
Key cast: Raffey Cassidy, Dominic Monaghan, Leslie Manville
Sales: Speranza 13

“Non-Stop”
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Key cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore
Sales: Studiocanal

“Parkland”
Key cast: Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver
Producers: Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, Nigel Sinclair, Guy East
Sales: Exclusive Media

“Pawn”
Cast: Forrest Whitaker, Ray Liotta, Michael Chiklis
Sales: Red Sea Media (worldwide except North America)

The Quiet Ones
Key cast: Sam Clafin, Jared Harris
Sales: Exclusive Media

“Rob the Mob”
Director: Raymond De Felitta
Cast: Michael Pitt, Nina Arianda

“The Sacrament”
Director: Ti West
Key cast: Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Kentucker Audley, Amy Seimetz, Gene Jones
Sales: IM Global, CAA (domestic)

“Turkeys”
Key cast: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson
Sales: Realtivity Media

“Trust Me”
Key Cast: Clark Gregg, William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman
Sales: Radiant Intl./UTA

“Untitled Woody Allen Project”
Director: Woody Allen
Key Cast: Alec Baldwin, Cate Blanchett, Louis C.K.
Sales: Focus Features Intl.

“You May Not Kiss the Bride”
Cast: Katharine McPhee, David Annable, Rob Schneider
Sales: Showcase

“Walk of Shame”
Director: Steven Brill
Sales: Lakeshore Intl. & Sierra/Affinity

Related: Click here for all AFM News.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more