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Few sellers left singing in AFM rain

German buyers reverse last year's trend

HOLLYWOOD — Annoying as it was to spend a week slogging through torrential rain, the gloomy weather suited the mood of the 2001 American Film Market: Everyone already seemed to have their own reasons to be grumpy.

International buyers spent their time scrambling to acquire a few high-profile titles, only to discover asking prices that made them blanch.

German buyers, who seemingly competed for the privilege of paying the highest percentages at last year’s market, reversed the strategy in 2001, with some bids sinking to as low as 5%.

Meanwhile, U.S. acquisitions execs were nonplused by a lack of finished films suitable for theatrical distribution.

Sellers also found themselves the victim of a trickle-down effect from international TV buyers, whose appetite for product is tempered by success of local television programming. As a result, deals that once required two meetings to clinch a deal now took four.

“The market is definitely tighter, and people are negotiating that way,” Kirk D’Amico, president of Myriad Pictures, observed during the mart.

And while total attendance at this year’s AFM increased to 7,100, many of the extra bodies were the result of an outreach program that sold half-market badges to an additional 300 participants drawn to the first-ever premiere public screenings program.

AFM stats show that despite the overall gains, buyer attendance was down 7% to 1,456, and exhibitor attendance also dropped slightly, down 1% to 3,837.

As usual, activity centered around the major companies with big-scale films. These included Good Machine Intl./Intermedia’s “Adaptation” for Columbia Pictures; Intermedia’s “K-Pax” and “K-19: The Widowmaker”; and MM Media Capital Partners’ newly announced David Cronenberg title, “Spider.”

But large-canvas pics that came to the market without U.S. distribution left the same way, including GMI’s “Buffalo Soldiers” as well as Alliance Atlantis/ICM’s Samuel L. Jackson starrer “The 51st State.” Both pics impressed foreign buyers, however, clinching a number of international deals.

And while domestic purchasers were willing to make a few offers, a North American deal on MDP Worldwide’s “D’Artagnan” and Myriad Picture’s Al Pacino starrer “People I Know” still hadn’t closed by the market’s end.

A notable buying exception among the domestics was Miramax Films. Recently dormant in the buying market, the company seemed to be on a mission to make up for lost time.

Miramax paid $1.1 million for U.S., Australian and New Zealand rights on the Rachael Leigh Cook thriller “Tangled” from Kirk D’Amico’s Myriad; acquired worldwide rights to the Hong Kong period martial arts film “Flying Dragon, Leaping Tiger”; picked up North American and Mexican rights to the Chinese-language feature “Legend of Zu”; and took domestic rights to the French-language feature “Amelie From Montmartre.”

Lions Gate Films also continued its buying curve, picking up a couple of smaller titles at the market, including “100 Girls” from Dream Entertainment.

“Its basically more work for the same results,” Rick Sands, Miramax Intl. chairman of worldwide distribution, summed up at the mart. “Stars, directors and domestic distribution is what buyers are asking for internationally..”

Added GMI president David Linde during the event: “The tenor of the market is very specific. Buyers know what they want, and they buy it or don’t buy at all.”

International sellers did provide a number of high-profile titles that were quick to sell out. These included Lakeshore Intl.’s “The Hunted,” starring Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones; Icon Entertainment Intl.’s Randall Wallace epic “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” starring Mel Gibson; Summit Entertainment’s international pickup of the Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures remake “Insomnia,” starring Al Pacino; and Winchester Entertainment’s road-trip comedy “Heartbreakers,” which sold out in almost all major territories ahead of MGM’s domestic release.

In an increasingly competitive foreign marketplace, rival U.K. distributors FilmFour and Pathe announced a joint buying venture to acquire U.K. rights to bigger budgeted fare, kicking off with the purchase of Intermedia’s high-profile “K-Pax.”

GMI and Radar also sealed a strategic alliance, which kicked off with Robert Harmon’s “They.”

Asian and Latin American buyers were particularly active at the market, with Japanese buyers highly visible due in part to an upswing in the Asian TV market. IEG sold “Traffic” to Nippon Herald, while Lakeshore clinched a $6.5 million pricetag from the same distributor for “The Hunted.”

The German presence was mostly notable for its absence: The number of German buyers dropped by 28 at this year’s market, including Advanced Medien AG, which abstained from the AFM altogether.

However, many sellers viewed the region not as a total washout but merely returning to more realistic dealmaking.

In the wake of the phenomenal worldwide success of Good Machine’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which has already grossed more than $81 million for domestic distributor Sony Pictures Classics, buyers were showing a renewed interest in martial arts fare.

The $35 million Jackie Chan starrer “The Highbinders” was announced early in the market by EMG, which made it one of the few strikeproof indie films at the market.

A number of indie sellers explored putting together projects with non-American nationals financed outside the U.S., which could go during the possible WGA and SAG strikes later this year.

As one Neuer Markt-listed seller summed up: “We have overhead, revenue projections and shareholders who expect us to continue in the business regardless of the strikes. We’ve got no choice but to continue to make films.”

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