THE BUTLER

Hot Chinese film industry sends more than 50 companies

The American Film Market kicks off Wednesday with a kind of cautious bullishness, following the relatively robust business at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival in September.

With 402 films scheduled to screen — including 321 market premieres and 75 world premieres — more than 8,000 buyers and industry professionals are expected to attend, including some 100 distributors, producers and executives repping more than 50 companies from the hot Chinese market.

With “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” opening in two weeks and successes from indie-financed titles like “2 Guns,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Now You See Me,” “Insidious Chapter 2” and “Olympus Has Fallen,” AFM, which runs until Nov. 13, sees more ambitious slates from the indies at the beach mart.

The less-than-dazzling returns of indie-financed films such as “The Fifth Estate” and “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” has not deterred financiers from coming on board bigger budget projects.

In a move that underscored the growing clout of the independent sector, QED Intl. and Worldview Entertainment announced Nov. 1 that they would finance and produce the crime thriller “Term Life” — a few weeks after Universal Pictures had backed away from the project. Universal will simply handle U.S. distribution for the Vince Vaughn and Hailee Steinfeld starrer. QED will introduce the film at AFM to international buyers, joining a slate that includes Takashi Miike’s Tom Hardy topliner “The Outsider,” which is being produced and financed with Worldview; World War II actioner “Fury,” starring Brad Pitt, and “Sabotage,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which are both directed by David Ayer; and Barry Levinson’s “Rock the Kasbah,” starring Bill Murray.

“It is our goal to identify high-caliber star-driven films,” said John Friedberg, QED’s exec VP of international sales. “We think that buyers are coming to AFM with money to spend. We’re seeing new buyers in the U.K., China and Latin America. There’s even been an upswing in Italy.”

Mark Damon of Foresight Unlimited is similarly bullish, following a solid performance by “2 Guns” with $130 million worldwide. Budget was $85 million.

“With something like ‘2 Guns,’ you do generate momentum,” Damon said. “And it’s helpful that we oversee the campaign so I have 36 different territories on my desk right now.”

Last week, Foresight disclosed that it was in talks to bring on Spike Lee to direct Justin Timberlake starrer “Spinning Gold,” a biopic about record exec Neil Bogart. It is set to update international buyers at AFM after beginning sales at Cannes.

Foresight Unlimited is one of a growing number of financing-sales-production entities that have emerged during the past decade. the hyper-competitive list includes QED, Worldview, Studiocanal, Voltage, Mister Smith, IM Global, Sierra/Affinity, FilmNation, Exclusive Media, the Solution Entertainment Group, Radiant and Hyde Park.

“We look at over 50 projects a month,” Damon said. “We fund development, pre-production, bank loans, oversee production and find the right U.S. distribution. The most difficult part of this is pulling all the pieces together.”

That sentiment is echoed by Lisa Wilson at the Solution, now at its second AFM with “The Forger” and a pair of Pierce Brosnan projects — potential franchise starter “November Man” and “How to Make Love Like an Englsihman.”

“I think we saw fewer packages over the summer,” she said. “Buyers don’t want to spend the time to read scripts if they’re not part of a package. When something like ‘The Butler’ does well, it gives people renewed faith.”

Jere Hausfater of Aldamisa Intl., which is screening action thriller “Red Sky,” starring Cam Gigandet and Rachael Leigh Cook, said buyers are much more discerning today.

“If you hit the bull’s-eye, you can do very well,” according to Hausfater. “The problem is that the bull’s-eye keeps getting smaller.”

Jonathan Wolf, AFM’s managing director admits that he’s bullish this year.

“One of our key measuring tools is how many participants — bankers, lawyers — are general attendees and that is up 15% this year,” Wolf said. “We had 400 in 1998 and we are going to have 2,500 this year. This is a trade show so we have been building programs — just the same way that Disneyland keeps building rides.”

The AFM started its conference program three years ago and it’s launching a producers forum this year with anticipated attendance at about 300 for 16 sessions Saturday through Tuesday.

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