Foreign treasure

Fertile pic market sprouts new int'l sales shingles

Like a mother who worries over a kid with the flu, industry watchers instinctively know the indie pic marketplace is getting better when everyone gets their appetites back.

Foreign buyers are chipper, bolstered by a low dollar exchange rate. Sellers have stocked their larders with pics of all sizes, heavy on the genre and mainstream.

Lions Gate Films, for example, is high on “Catacombs,” the second film from the producers of “Saw.” Universal Pictures will screen about 12 minutes of George Romero’s “Land of the Dead” — a film that, at another time, might have been dismissed as B-movie filler.

However, the most promising sign of the times might be the willingness of several new sales companies to brave the wilds of the Croisette.

Hyde Park Intl.

Ashok Amritraj got his start in foreign sales, but until now he never wanted his 6-year-old Hyde Park Entertainment to handle its own foreign distribution. But seeing an opportunity in the marketplace — with studios supplying fewer titles to indies overseas these days — and some solid backing, Hyde Park Intl. was born. (Hyde Park’s relationship with London-based funds manager Brass Hat Group allows HPI to act as sole financier and co-financier.)

Ex-Franchise sales exec Lisa Wilson now heads HPI. Titles on the first slate include “Monkeyface,” starring Richard Gere, and psychological horror pic “Premonition.”

“We will be 80% sold-out before we go to Cannes,” Amritraj says. “But I think the market is quite vibrant internationally. The circle is coming around for the better product.”

Inferno Distribution

When Bill Johnson and Jim Seibel’s Inferno Distribution first went to Cannes in 2003, it was with modest ambitions: leverage a strategic partnership with (now-defunct) German fund Cinerenta and sell back titles from its library.

By 2004, Inferno began to produce, which yielded romantic comedy “Just Friends” (New Line has North American rights) and the upcoming “Southland Tales,” helmed by Richard Kelly.

This year, Inferno comes to Cannes with a five-picture slate, which also includes Sobini Films’ “Peaceful Warrior” and “Quattro Noza,” and John Carpenter thriller “The 13th Apostle.”

“It just seemed like there were very few sales agents that were able to deliver theatrical movies to distributors,” says Bill Johnson. “The fact that we had a library to sustain cash flow and a reason to talk to buyers and our relationships with the funds and international distributors made us believe that we can make it work.”

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment

When Sidney Kimmel Entertainment opened its Los Angeles office in October, the announcement was greeted with a certain degree of skepticism. Kimmel’s track record included executive producing “9½ Weeks” and “Clan of the Cave Bear,” but he was best known as a philanthropist and founder of the Jones Apparel Group.

Fast-forward six months, and Kimmel’s expected to announce a foreign sales company at Cannes that will be headed by Mark Lindsay, who currently serves as senior VP at Miramax Intl. (Neither Kimmel nor Lindsay would comment on the development.)

It’s unclear what Lindsay might rep for his first go-round. Kimmel has wrapped three films that already have foreign sales reps: “Alpha Dog” and “Trust the Man” are with Capitol Films; “Neverwas” is with Mandate Pictures.

ThinkFilm Intl.

ThinkFilm’s Jeff Sackman and Mark Urman approached Mark Horowitz in March about acting as their sales rep at Cannes on five titles: “Murderball,” “The Aristocrats,” “Protocols of Zion,” “Lie With Me” and “The Last Mogul.”

“It’s on a nonexclusive basis,” says Horowitz, who, since leaving Alliance Atlantis Intl., has consulted for companies such as Endgame and First Look Media.

“Notwithstanding how dangerous the marketplace can be, we think we can leverage our presence in the domestic market,” says Sackman. “We want to come in earlier and acquire worldwide rights.”

Adds Horowitz, “It’s kind of exciting for me to see how it goes. ThinkFilm has established itself in North America, so there’s credibility.”

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