Market virgins bring array of fresh pix

Newcomers bring unique perspective to AFM

HOLLYWOOD — Among the 305 motion picture outfits registered at the American Film Market this year, 25 will be making the rounds of the annual movie mart in Santa Monica for the first time. Many of these market virgins are hoping that last year’s success of indie films such as “In the Bedroom” and “Mulholland Drive” will open new doors for their specialty films Stateside and overseas.

International sales and acquisition exec Nicolas Chartier, who along with Dean Shapiro heads up the newly formed Vortex Pictures, is one of the 7,000-plus film biz players attending the mart this year.

“The new film ‘Sonny,’ which is directed by Nicolas Cage, is one of five finished projects (we) will be taking to the AFM,” he notes. “We want to find just the right theatrical distributor for the film and hope to take it to the Venice film festival.”

Vortex, which is also handling the Tom Hanks-Rita Wilson-produced “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and the Andy Garcia and Mike Jagger starrer “The Man From Elysian Fields,” is hoping its recognizable names attract attention from buyers.

Sales focus

“The great thing about the AFM is that unlike Cannes or other similar fests, there’s less craziness, and we can concentrate on selling the movies,” says Chartier.

FilmEngine is another production, finance and international distribution company bowing at AFM this year. Set up by partners A.J. Dix, Anthony Rhulen and Bill Shively, the company will be pushing psychological thriller “The Butterfly Effect” and action adventure “Wish You Were Here.”

“We finance our films through a combination of presales and equity, backed by a private financier in Florida,” says Dix. “The last couple of years haven’t been great in any market, but the AFM is still a great place to see what our competitors are doing. You shake some hands, gain some trust. Sure, the market may not be is as fun as Cannes — this is Santa Monica and not the French Riviera — but more business is conducted here.”

Also keeping an eye on those borderless laws is Julie Savay Ross, prexy and chief operating officer of Creative Union Entertainment, a new financing and international distrib outfit launched in September. Savay Ross, who was formerly with Initial Ent., is screening the James Caviezel starrer “Madison” at the market. Savay Ross says she’s strictly focusing on cast-driven theatrical features with $10 million to $60 million budgets that have a large domestic release.

“We’re all a bit worried, because economies of many nations have suffered globally,” says Savay Ross. “As a new film company, you have to establish credibility. I’ve been in the business for over 12 years, and I’ve learned that it pays to watch the international stock market, talk to all the sellers and have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in foreign territories.”

Savay Ross says the Internet has played a big role in homogenizing tastes across the world. “The teens in Spain or Italy, for example, are seeing what’s happening and hot here, and they want to see those films right now.”

The AFM also attracts a good number of helmers and thesps hoping to drum up interest in their personal projects. Actress-turned-documentary filmmaker Rosanna Arquette, for example, will be promoting her upcoming film “Searching for Debra Winger.”

“As an actress, you discover that the tide changes once you hit 40,” says Arquette, who has appeared in over 70 films. “I wanted to find out how other actresses were able to balance their art, life and careers. So I called everybody I knew directly and was able to shoot all of these amazing women on my digital camera as they candidly talk about the challenges of juggling it all.”

The project, which has been in the works since February of last year, offers a rich collection of interviews with some of today’s greatest actresses, from Anjelica Huston, Jane Fonda and Sharon Stone to Frances McDormand, Whoopi Goldberg, Isabelle Huppert and Gwyneth Paltrow.

“It’s very important for me to transfer it to film, because I owe it to my actresses to make them look as beautiful as they are,” notes Arquette, who’s busy editing down 140 hours of footage into a 94-minute docu.

Creative Union Entertainment will be handling the film at AFM, and Arquette is hoping to have her labor of love ready in time for Cannes.

Director Vincenzo Natali, whose sci-fi thriller “Cube” was a surprise international hit a few years ago, will be making the trek to the market with two new pet projects (Miramax’s “Company Man,” with Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu, and Senator Intl.’s “Nothing”) and a new production company called Head Space.

“‘Nothing,’ which is written by Andrew Miller and Andrew Lowery, is about two friends who wake up one day to find that the whole world outside their house has vanished,” says Natali. “We’ll be shooting the film in early summer and have our financing secured, and Senator is hoping to get the international distributors lined up.”

Natali says the AFM provides a great environment to make a sale and build interest in a film. “It’s perfect for the kind of movies I like, smart genre films that require international support.

“At times, things may seem frantic, trying to orchestrate all these meetings, almost like a Fellini film, but having all these people under one roof can work to one’s advantage.”

Going home

Ron Bryan, writer-director of the new Swedish Bikini Team movie “Never Say Never Mind,” will certainly feel at home at the AFM. His action comedy follows the popular five-girl squad as they save the London Bridge and Big Ben from terrorists and are knighted by the queen. Bryan, who is also the women’s head coach and manager, believes that a U.S. theatrical release is all he needs to ensure a good future for the film.

“This will be my first film at the AFM,” says Bryan, “and I see the market as a great alternative to Cannes, which has thieves in every corner. The prices over there are atrocious, and the producers are all jaded. That’s why people are turning more and more to Venice and the AFM to find their buyers.”

Also making the rounds of the market for the first time in an official capacity is helmer James D.R. Hickox, who’s offering his latest horror thriller, “Sabretooth.” The pic, which stars David Keith and John Rhys-Davies, centers on a DNA-revived sabretoothed tiger, and is repped by International Film Group.

“I was watching this great program on the Discovery Channel about sabretooth tigers and wondered why nobody had ever made a movie about them,” says Hickox. “It’s the kind of movie that should do well in a lot of foreign markets, especially places like Japan where they eat up this kind of material.”

The son of Oscar-winning editor Anne Coates (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and the late director Douglas Hickox (“Zulu Dawn,” “Theater of Blood”), Hickox remembers going to Cannes with his dad.

“I can tell you right off the bat, the AFM is much better organized than Cannes,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve known a lot of people who try to get tickets just to meet and greet executives and filmmakers over there. Hopefully, we’ll be able to hammer out a domestic deal or something like an HBO premiere at the market.”

If all goes as planned, Hickox may visit the market in upcoming years with a sequel to “Sabretooth.”

“We left it all open-ended,” he notes. “Our tiger doesn’t survive in the end, but he has mated with a mountain lion, so his offspring may be coming back for more.”