Acquisitions dreary, pre-sales perky

Pre-buy bounces signals indie recovery

The fest lineup is drawing mixed notices, the acquisitions market is forlorn — but things are hopping for pre-sales.

“In terms of quality and quantity, this is the strongest market for pre-sales that I’ve seen in the last two years,” says Dan Griffiths, senior VP of L.A.-based Trans-Pacific Media, which reps distribs in 12 markets.

Buyers’ reps tick off a list of more than 25 titles — U.S., English and foreign-lingo — that are generating significant sales action.

Signaling at least a modest recovery in the indie world, distribs from previously dormant territories such as Spain and Germany are pre-buying films or haggling over deals that may close here or in ensuing weeks.

Another buyers’ rep opines: “There’s more product here. Mifed and the AFM were very dry, but we seem to have taken a turn here. We’re still not getting as many studio-level scripts as we would like, but we are seeing some bigger-name casts than in the past 18 months.”

Nonetheless, after the pain of the past two years, many distribs who have come back to the table are being cautious and selective.

Some say they’ll step up to the plate for big-budget movies but they’re balking at those that are packaged with titles they don’t want.

“We would prefer to let a hot film go than buy four films we don’t want in order to get the hot title,” one confides.

In the battle of the rival “Alexander” projects, it’s hard to discern the favorite. One Spanish distrib says he hopes to close a deal on the Oliver Stone-helmed “Alexander the Great” this week. Another Spanish buyer says the asking price for the Dino De Laurentiis-Baz Luhrmann “Alexander” — $6.5 million guarantee plus $1.5 million for the talent under their profit participation deal — is way too rich.

Of course, it’s not an either/or situation: Some may choose to go the route of one Euro buyer who says he won’t buy either.

Among the hot sellers are “Monkeyface,” starring Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones; the Initial package including “The Aviator,” “An Unfinished Life” and “The Accidental Husband”; Sandra Bullock-Ralph Fiennes vehicle “Vapor”; Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education”; and “The Jacket” toplining Mark Wahlberg.

Also generating strong interest are “The Prince and the Freshman,” helmed by Martha Coolidge and starring Julia Stiles; the Reese Witherspoon headliner “Vanity Fair”; “World of Tomorrow,” sci-fier with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law; Pierce Brosnan starrer “Matador”; and “Pride and Prejudice: The Bollywood Musical,” director Gurinder Chadha’s follow-up to “Bend It Like Beckham.”‘

Likewise Kevin Costner headliner “Upside of Anger,” Annette Bening starrer “Being Julia,” “Lazarus Child” with Andy Garcia and “White Noise” featuring Michael Keaton are drawing interest.

Some buyers says Summit Entertainment was inviting offers for the John Travolta starrer “The Punisher” but wasn’t signing deals because at least two U.S. majors were circling the pic for all or some foreign territories.

But in general, distribs are cheered not just by the availability of viable projects to buy, but also by the promise of more to come. Titles such as Robert Altman’s “Ultraviolet,” starring Salma Hayek, and the Zeta-Jones vehicle “Coming Out” are being introduced to distribs here for pre-sales in coming months.

“It’s positive that there’s movement,” says one buyers’ rep. “When we got back from Milan, I thought I’d have to find another job because no films would be made ever again.”

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)

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