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Startup surge at bazaar

Berlin Film Festival Preview 2012

While some parts of the pic biz are consolidating, the film sales arena is quietly expanding, and with the role of the sales agent becoming an increasingly complex one — many are getting involved in financing and production at ground level — the new shingles are capitalizing on opportunities in the marketplace.

This year, buyers in Berlin will see many familiar faces on the sales side, but under new banners.

Lisa Wilson, former exec at Graham King’s GK Films and affiliate Parlay Films, recently ankled the company to launch her own startup sales outfit, the Solution Entertainment Group, which she and fellow Brit Myles Nestel, a film financier, will be bowing at the European Film Market.

The shingle will present a slate of pics including “Writers,” written and helmed by newcomer Joshua Boone and produced by Informant Media and Judy Cairo (“Crazy Heart,” “Hysteria”), and “Hector and the Search for Happiness,” directed by Peter Chelsom.

Likewise, former Hyde Park Intl. prexy Mimi Steinbauer ankled Ashok Amritraj’s outfit back in September for her own international sales company.

Steinbauer will unveil her venture, Radiant Films, at the Berlinale with titles such as Tom Shadyac doc “I Am” and “Lullaby” on the slate.

International sales stalwart Brian O’Shea, former topper of Affinity Intl. who put together pics such as “Drive” and “Rabbit Hole,” resurfaced just before AFM in November with his new venture the Exchange. Company saw a robust market in Santa Monica, where it co-repped Juno Temple thriller “Magic, Magic” with 6 Sales and sold Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut “Higher Ground.”

O’Shea will also descend upon the Berlinale this year with fresh titles for buyers.

The fallout from the world economic crunch a few years ago meant that less product was available but what was getting made was better quality — a boon for experienced international sales agents.

“We’ve been able to get really good product very quickly because of all of our experience and history and knowing how to handle product,” says O’Shea, who recruited former After Dark Films exec Laura Ivey and Indie Film Depot exec Giovanna Trischitta.

“I feel like the market is very much in flux right now,” he says. “But there’s no question that our focus is theatrical films that play to a worldwide marketplace as that’s easier to sell and generates more cash for distributors.”

He describes the business as one that aligns producers with the right information allowing them to bring financing to the table.

“Our mantra is to never change the way or focus of information,” he says. “The landscape is changing so quickly and we understand this.”

Eventually, says O’Shea, the company will start to put financing into pictures.

And while the Exchange, which will focus primarily on U.S. pics, has been self-financed entirely by O’Shea, other outfits are relying on more capital.

Wilson, who has more than four decades of experience in the biz having headed international sales at Nu Image and Hyde Park Intl., aligned herself with former investment banker Myles Nestel, who has plowed more than $1 billion into 75 film and TV projects including “Machete” and “Machine Gun Preacher.”

This fusion of sales and capital was key, says Wilson. “There are certain sales agents who are aligned with producers who are high-net worth individuals but on the other side of the coin, many good producers don’t have access to money,” she says. “So in that sense, it’s important.”

Nestel agrees, saying as a financier, he realized that what is fundamental in the market when a company has capital is “to control the sales process and have your own sales function within the company in terms of distribution and sales.”

He adds that aligning with Wilson was “hand in glove.”

“In this competitive environment you have to be able to show your competitive advantage,” Nestel says. “Our ability to bring capital to the table is very important.”

The Solution is in the process of raising a “large fund” in Wall Street.

Steinbauer, who prior to Hyde Park Intl. worked as a sales consultant on pics such as “The Hurt Locker” and headed up international sales at Franchise Pictures, says her decision to launch Radiant Films is due to the fact that she wants to be able to choose the titles she works on.

“I wanted to be a little bit more in control of the product and how buyers are supported in terms of distribution,” she says. “It was important to be able to put them altogether.”

Backed by a private equity source, the banner will start as a traditional sales agent and then, with some financing in place, eventually be able to plug financing into pics.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there now,” says Steinbauer. “There is a lot of good theatrical product out there and I’m seeing wonderful scripts. While it is a competitive and challenging time in the sales arena, if you have the basis and the experience, there is a huge opportunity to be starting a new company, especially considering the new roles that sales companies play these days.”

EOne is also ramping up its sales and financing activities: In November, the company moved its main sales headquarters to the U.K. and tapped industry vet Sally Caplan managing director of the London-based international sales division.

In Berlin, Caplan and her team will be taking the opportunity to explain what sorts of things will be changing in the future for the company.

“On the international side, we will be looking for bigger, broader and more mainstream pictures going forward,” says Caplan, who adds that the division will still be involved with Canadian and specialist pics, for which its Toronto-based operation is well known.

“I love film and being involved in the business,” says Caplan, who’s worked in all facets of the biz at outfits such as PolyGram, Momentum Pictures and Icon. “It’s great that now we’ve got deeper pockets to be able to bring films together and make them happen.”

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