U.S. buyers have pick of fest pics

Temperature is rising at Toronto film festival

The temperature is rising in the Great White North.

The Toronto Film Fest, typically a cozy berth for screening finished pics that U.S. buyers were hesitant to pre-buy, has more buzzy titles than ever that were fully financed without a U.S. distribution deal.

Take Steve McQueen’s tale of sexual obsession, “Shame,” produced by See Saw Films, the shingle behind “The King’s Speech.” After the pic’s screenings in Venice and Telluride, U.S. buyers, including Fox Searchlight, the Weinstein Co. and at least two others are circling despite its explicit subject matter. A deal is expected by Saturday.

“No interesting movie is ever going to get made without any risk,” said one seller. “Movies are like the lottery; you can’t predict every film’s life.”

That said, while many international bizzers are coming off one of the most buoyant Cannes markets in recent years, there’s a hope that Toronto could offer just that kind of action on the domestic side.

Other titles likely to find distrib interest are Jude Law-Rachel Weisz starrer “360,” helmed by Fernando Meirelles and penned by Peter Morgan; Matthew McConaughey starrer “Killer Joe,” being shopped by Voltage Pictures; and Oren Moverman’s “Rampart,” sold by Sierra/Affinity.

“Hysteria,” “The Awakening,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding,” “The Oranges,” “Friends With Kids” and “Wuthering Heights” have all pre-sold beyond domestic shores, but are awaiting domestic commitments.

Voltage topper Nicolas Chartier said that despite the fact that the U.S. pre-buy market isn’t as active as international pre-sales, “the U.S. market is starting to rebound.”

“Toronto is going to be good because people are hungry for product,” he said. “Buyers are going to be buying more movies.”

He added that the bonus for sellers with finished pics looking for U.S. pickup that they bring multiple buyers to the table: “If the film is good, there’s more competition.”

Sierra/Affinity topper Nick Meyer, who is shopping “Rampart” and screening footage of Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling starrer “The Place Beyond the Pines” — in addition to pre-shopping James McAvoy starrer “Filth” — said that because every movie has its own pedigree and structure, trying to find a trend in buying patterns during the recent economical swing is moot.

“U.S. buyers are cautious,” he said. “And it’s hard to put the reasons why into uniform. I think it’s hard to find a trend because each film has its own pedigree. But the domestic acquisitions market is getting more buoyant.”

With new players in the U.S. arena (Film District, Open Road, CBS Films, Relativity and eOne), films that entice buyers could be in for some lively bidding.

“I think we’re definitely seeing a trend where finance plans had to accommodate a lack of U.S. pre-buy,” said Alex Walton, prexy of international sales and distribution at Exclusive Films Intl. “But in the U.S., it’s all about P&A. So as a producer you can find yourself looking at a distribution deal with a wide P&A commitment or an MG with less of a commitment — but that depends on what you need. It’s very much a case-by-case basis.”

Walton, whose outfit is shopping docu “Undefeated,” adds that even the Weinstein Co.’s announcement of an indie VOD shingle is, he said, “smart and interesting and thriving and shows how business is progressing.”

“It’s clear that Netflix, Lovefilm and Amazon are all expanding through the world,” he said. “I know that there is a revenue stream that our buyers are beginning to see, and I definitely think there will be more of those conversations happening here in Toronto.”

Meyer adds that Toronto is a “special place for doing all sorts of things related to movies.

“It’s not a fully-fledged market, you’re able to do business here — U.S. and foreign sales — and there’s a great rhythm and sense of Toronto being a place for people to talk about movies and different sides of the business,” he said.