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Agencies battle for overseas talent

Client lists grow as international business becomes more important

With the international landscape taking on a greater role at the box office and beyond, top talent agencies are making a concerted effort to zero in on the next crop of new talent — no matter where in the world it is.

An example is Korea, where three helmers are traveling Stateside to make their domestic directing debuts in 2013.

Park Chan-wook, represented by WME, and Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon, both repped by CAA, already are icons in their native country. Kim’s Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “The Last Stand” opened over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to better than $7 million for Lions-gate, placing it in the top 10. Park’s “Stoker,” a kinky thriller starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, which Fox Searchlight just picked up out of Sundance, opens in March; and Bong’s sci-fi thriller “Snowpiercer,” starring Chris Evans, John Hurt and Jamie Bell, bows this summer via the Weinstein Co.

CAA agent Spencer Baumgarten says what has made these directors so appealing is their willingness to push the envelope.

“What stands out is their boldness, which is evident by the risks they are taking onscreen,” Baumgarten says. “You can’t define them by any one genre.”

While the Asian market, and specifically Korea, is hot right now, agencies, driven by the success of Scandinavian films, recently have been targeting talent like UTA-repped director Daniel Espinosa and thesp Joel Kinnaman (“Easy Money,” “Safe House”), WME-repped helmer Baltasar Kormakur (“101 Reykjavik,” “Contraband”) and Magnolia Entertainment-repped actress Noomi Rapace (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”).

The worldwide battle for talent has grown to the point where agents are bringing translators with them on scouting trips, and agencies are looking to set up offices in foreign markets. CAA, for instance, has an office in China, where helmer Zhang Yimou is a client.

Some say it’s harder for budding talent to make the leap from culturally restrictive nations like China, however, because they have to follow an established path in order to make a name for themselves.

But UTA agent David Flynn sees few absolutes in the talent game.

“Territories that have a rich filmmaking culture tend to develop the most new talent,” he says, “but there are plenty of exceptions to that rule.”

International festivals have always been a good place to look for talent. For instance, UTA signed Swedish actress Alicia Vikander after her role in 2011’s “Beloved” out of Cannes, Spanish director Miguel Angel Vivas after “Kidnapped” wowed in Sitges in 2010, and Espinosa out of Berlin; WME inked “Hijacking” helmer Tobias Lindholm last year out of Toronto; and CAA signed Aussie director Justin Kurzel (“The Snowtown Murders”) last year out of Cannes, and Michel Hazanavicius after “The Artist” unspooled at Cannes.

The competition to land the best-known names has gotten so fierce that before a fest opens, agents and managers often sound out festival directors to identify the rising talent they should be looking for. When UTA was pursuing helmer Joachim Trier, an agent called an associate of the Karlovy Vary festival, looking for information about the “Oslo, August 31st” director.

Agents also are staying in touch with buyers and sellers in particular markets who are watching films that aren’t making the festival rounds. And they’re logging air miles to fests like Busan and Gijon in Spain — events they may not have attended in the past.

Television, too, has become a place to find emerging international talent, particularly in Israel, where shows like “In Treatment” and “Homeland” got their start. Reps say they’re also building relationships with TV producers in other English-speaking countries, like New Zealand and Ireland.

And sometimes markets are of interest because that’s where the action is — or will be. Brazil will host soccer’s World Cup next year, with Rio getting ready for the Olympics in 2016.

Ascend Entertainment founder Brent Travers, whose Brazil-based agency reps such talent as actor Wagner Moura and director Afonso Poyart, says that another reason Brazil may be becoming a market where more and more reps are scouting around has to do with the nation’s deep roots in theater.

“It’s surprising to people at how rich the theater tradition is there,” Travers says. “There are parts of Brazil that have such large theater districts that the country begins to bear similarities to Great Britain.”

Bill Edelstein contributed to this report.

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