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Cannes Market turns up volume

Beefy slates feed rookies with cash

The one sure thing about the Cannes Market: the volume has been turned up.

Not only is the 2012 edition offering up a raft of frosh sales companies headed by experienced players (many backed by stacks of cash), but all bizzers — old and new — are bringing hefty, well-packaged slates that aim to satiate the more commercial appetite that buyers have acquired after the success of such global hits as “The Hunger Games,” the “Twilight” franchise and “The Artist.”

As Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” kicks off the festival Wednesday, with stars Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton expected to hit the red carpet, the folks wheeling and dealing on the Croisette are hoping that the market will match last year’s heartening rebound.

“There’s an awful lot of projects out there,” said Lionsgate U.K. topper Zygi Kamasa. “It’s the biggest amount in terms of volume that I’ve ever seen.”

Megan Ellison’s new production, financing and sales outfit Panorama (headed by former Inferno exec Kim Fox), is bringing Kathryn Bigelow’s upcoming Navy SEALs project to market along with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum starrer “Foxcatcher” helmed by “Moneyball’s” Bennett Miller, plus an untitled Spike Jonze pic and the David O. Russell-directed “American Bullshit” with Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper.

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That’s four stellar directors with strong cast and four pics from one new sales outfit up for grabs.

Mister Smith, David Garrett’s new venture with German giant Constantin, has brought franchise power with “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” based on the bestsellers by Cassandra Clare, and “3,096 Days.”

The former had already sold out before the fest kicked off.

Joe Drake’s new company, Good Universe, is bringing Spike Lee’s remake of Korean pic “Oldboy” to market along with Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas starrer “Last Vegas.” The newly merged Lionsgate/Summit is offering titles sure to grab attention: the latest installment of “The Hunger Games” franchise “Catching Fire,” Denis Villeneuve’s Hugh Jackman starrer “Prisoners” and a “Dirty Dancing” remake.

EOne’s revived sales operation is bringing heftier titles to market than in previous years, such as Errol Morris’ Paul Rudd and Kristen Wiig starrer “Freezing People Is Easy” and Mark Shakman’s “Cut Bank” with Armie Hammer.

“Cannes is your premiere market for launching material and this year buyers have so much choice,” said Exclusive Media’s Alex Walton, whose outfit is shopping Cameron Diaz and Benicio del Toro starrer “Agent: Century 21” and “Can a Song Save Your Life,” with Keira Knightley being courted for the lead role, replacing the previously announced Scarlett Johansson. “That’s why you have to choose so carefully. We’re trying to choose product that has a long life.”

And, along with Exclusive, highly competitive established players in the sales-financing arena are showing their muscle — Nicolas Chartier’s Voltage Pictures is selling Kristen Stewart starrer “Cali,” helmed by Nick Cassavetes, while Nick Meyer’s Sierra/Affinity is selling Owen Wilson starrer “The Coup” and Focus Features Intl. is pushing out Matt Damon scripted “Promised Land,” helmed by Gus Van Sant.

Glen Basner’s FilmNation has the new Sofia Coppola project, “Bling Ring”; QED has Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner “Ten”; IM Global is selling Lee Daniel’s “The Butler” and Inferno is offering up the long-gestating “Pinocchio,” directed by Guillermo del Toro.

And let’s not forget Working Title romantic comedy “I Give It a Year” and David Heyman produced family pic “Paddington Bear,” both up for grabs from pan-European giant Studiocanal.

France’s big titles include Gaumont’s “The Young and Prodigious Spivet” and “Two Mothers”; Stone Angels’ “Grace” and “Maggie,” being sold by Inferno; Kinology’s “The We and the I,” from Michel Gondry, which is opening Directors’ Fortnight; and Marco Bellocchio’s “Dormant Beauty,” being sold by Celluloid Dreams.

The key question could be how well these films will play in markets on the rise — Russia, Latin America — as other territories are now in decline — Spain and Italy, while there are question marks over Germany and France.

France remains a strong market for indie product. “Twenty-five distributors can bid on the same movie, and minimum guarantees paid are two or three times bigger than in the U.S.,” said MK2 CEO Nathanael Karmitz.

But “the European market is contracting,” according to Vincent Maraval at Wild Bunch, which will be bringing Brian De Palma’s “Passion,” sold in partnership with SBS Prods., to the market at Cannes.

German pubcaster ARD has put a moratorium on buying for two years, Maraval said, while the French biz is worried that Canal Plus’ loss of soccer rights to Al Jazeera will undermine its income, and thus revenue-tabbed budget quotas for pic buys.

But a rosy outlook prevails. Meyer pointed to the number of well-packaged movies as a sign of the connection between talent and independent distribution. “It’s often hard to build those types of movies and the fact those packages are present is great for the independent business,” he said.

One exec who asked not to be named marvelled at the number of new films — he estimated 60 in both English and foreign languages — that appear to be ready with financing.

“That’s an explosion,” he said. “There’s a sense of stability for the first time in four or five years.”

New U.S. distribs such as CBS Films and Open road have contributed toward providing that stability.

One packaging agent at a major tenpercentery noted that the addition of new U.S. distributors — FilmDistrict, Open Road and CBS Films — amped up the market at last year’s Cannes.

“It’s a similar climate this year,” he said, adding that buyers are willing to gamble on projects based on footage or just a script.

Kamasa echoed that sentiment.

“We’re definitely bidding,” he said. “If we all end up with a couple of films each then we’ve all done well. There’s enough to go around, which is really positive for the indie marketplace.”

John Hopewell contributed to this report.

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