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Overseas wants to see stars

Berlin Film Festival Preview 2013

Indie financiers say their ability to put together big commercial projects is being hampered by a gulf between Hollywood and the international market in their valuation of rising and established stars.

That’s making it difficult to marry a domestic distribution deal with foreign sales.

IM Global topper Stuart Ford says this “disconnect” was responsible for “a paucity of star-driven commercial vehicles” at the American Film Market in November.

“Generationally, there’s a sea change in Hollywood, in terms of movie stars who for a number of years have fueled the overseas market, like Bruce Willis, who’s still around and still has significant foreign value,” Ford says. “But the studios are focusing on a younger generation of stars and throwing big money at them, who don’t yet have the same international sales value. Hopefully over the next few years, some of those will become bankable for us, but they aren’t yet.”

Another sales agent elaborates: “Guys like Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, Chris Hemsworth are white hot as far as the studios are concerned. But when an agent gives us a quote of $9 million for Ryan Reynolds, it doesn’t make sense for our $40 million project. I’d rather pay Bruce Willis $9 million.”

Echoes another foreign financier, “Everyone in Hollywood is excited about Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy, but internationally no one knows who they are.”

Aldemisa COO Jere Hausfater acknowledges that there is a disconnect. “International can be six months to a year behind domestic. There are actors who are not international friendly, actors who are, and the new blood who aren’t known yet.”

However, FilmNation’s Glen Basner see signs that foreign buyers are catching up on Hollywood casting trends. “The saying used to be that the domestic distributors make stars, the foreign distributors buy stars, but our buyers are becoming more sophisticated about the young, upcoming actors, which is a good thing.”

A key issue for sales agents and their foreign buyers when assessing the value of an actor is how hard they are willing to work on promoting a movie internationally.

The likes of Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Harrison Ford have sustained their careers through the ups and downs of fickle domestic fashion because they cultivated a loyal foreign fanbase with personal appearances all around the globe.

“Younger actors often don’t understand the value investing in the foreign audience,” Ford says. “It’s more true than ever. Talent continues to underestimate the value to their career of getting out there to the international market. There’s a boom in local production in places like Asia and Latin America, so those younger overseas audiences have their own local stars. So unless Western stars are willing to go out there and generate a genuine rapport with those audiences, it just won’t happen for them.”

Hausfater recalls watching George Clooney, before he was a big movie star, spending an hour patiently pressing the flesh in the lobby of Carlton Hotel during Cannes. “He’s worked at it from the beginning of his career, and it’s really paid off for him.”

Such commitment is why someone like Jake Gyllenhaal can get his big projects financed (and his big fees paid) from foreign sales, while another actor of equivalent or even higher domestic status might struggle. “It’s no use having Sean Penn, because he doesn’t do any publicity,” says one sales agent. “You need actors you can get into magazines and onto chat shows.”

Talent reps sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because a certain young actor has featured prominently in a studio tentpole that grossed $350 million overseas, it automatically makes him a global star. “When the same actor is in a $45 million thriller, you’ll see how little weight he carries,” Ford says.

Berlin Film Festival Preview 2013
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