Berlin Film Festival
Courtesy of Berlin Film Festival

Netflix, Amazon may pounce, but they’re not the only acts in town

A fortnight ago, Sundance’s big story revolved around the Netflix and Amazon cash splash. Will Berlin follow suit?

That’s no foregone conclusion. “Netflix is a special case as they have a broader worldwide presence. Amazon, Hulu and Yahoo are still focused on U.S. markets,” said Ivan Boeing at Brazil’s Imagem.

The Netflix effect was felt fully in the TV world at October’s vibrant Mipcom; there’s ample opportunity for Netflix and Amazon buys during the 2016 Berlin festival as the European Film Market offers its strongest edition in recent years.

At this market, Bloom introduces “Suburbicon,” from director George Clooney, written by the Coens and starring Matt Damon; IM Global has Keanu Reeves actioner “Rally Car” and Western drama “Woman Walks Ahead,” with Jessica Chastain; FilmNation may shop Steven Soderbergh’s heist comedy “Lucky Logan,” with Channing Tatum; Nu Image is repping submarine thriller “Hunter Killer,” with Gerard Butler aboard; and the Solution Entertainment Group is offering “Official Secrets,” a spy thriller with Harrison Ford and Anthony Hopkins starring.

There’s also auteur-driven commercially leaning  pics, such as Wim Wenders’ Embankment-sold “Submergence,” with Alicia Vikander; Oren Moverman’s “The Dinner,” from Protagonist, starring Richard Gere; Volker Schlondorff’s “Return to Montaux,” from Gaunt; Jim Jarmusch’s Adam Driver dramedy “Paterson,” being sold by K5; and Xavier Dolan’s “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” starring Natalie Portman, Nicholas Hoult and Thandie Newton, from Seville Intl.

As it cultivates relations with top sales agents and producers worldwide, sometimes buying multiple titles, Netflix is likely to come out at Berlin with guns blazing on a clutch of high-profile movies, courting near exclusive global rights: The more theatrical deals in place, or the lengthier the theatrical-Netflix window, the less it offers.

Buying all U.S. rights, then sub-distributing for theatrical release, Amazon can be expected to scout for U.S rights to upscale English-language projects.

But streaming giants aren’t the only game in town. “It’s not just Netflix and Amazon: Studios can come in and buy all international rights on a handful of international movies, including some of ours,” said FilmNation’s Glen Basner.

Here, U.S. distribution ranks ever more as a pre-sales gatekeeper: “The market’s becoming more and more bifurcated. If a project has guaranteed U.S. distribution, independent distributors can still put significant money into it. But then it falls onto the radar of the studios,” said Lotus Entertainment’s Jim Seibel.

So indie distributors are increasingly caught between a streaming giant rock and a studio hard place.

“Distributors around the world are still always going to be looking for premium content. Independent financing, which is always triggered by equity and sales, remains the bedrock of our business,” said Sierra/Affinity’s Nick Meyer.

Although Netflix can pay top dollar, “There’s certainly more money by having all rights ignited by cinema,” Bloom’s Alex Walton concurred.

One sales agent said, “(But) if you don’t have the star or director power, or a concept’s not appealing enough for buyers to pre-buy, Netflix and Amazon are interesting and ambitious models,” he added.

Most product makers and suppliers welcome Netflix and Amazon. They are “another avenue to exploit our films. They’re creating more competition in pricing, particularly in the U.S., which is great,” said Basner. That said, “We are all trying to figure out how best to accommodate everybody,” he added.

For the international independent industry, that indeed is the question.

Many aren’t waiting for answers. With a feeding fever for content — rather than movies in particular – and Netflix talking not only to sales agents but to producers, for some, production already looks far more exciting than battling to license films across 45 territories.

Expect a sales sector shakeout as players scale up via alliances and mergers or move increasingly into production.

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