AFM: Elizabeth Banks Movie, Amy Winehouse Biopic to Turn Up the Heat on Sales

Sales activity for the first four days at the 36th American Film Market has matched the moderate weather in Santa Monica.

Business could heat up in coming days, thanks to recent burst of high-profile projects being unveiled: an Amy Winehouse biopic, starring Noomi Rapace; the “Billionaire Boys Club” with Ansel Elgort, Taron Egerton, Kevin Spacey and Emma Roberts; shipping drama “The Modern Ocean” with Anne Hathaway and Daniel Radcliffe; and Elizabeth Banks’ World War II drama “Rita Hayworth With a Hand Grenade.”

“We didn’t think we’d have the deals done by AFM,” said Jim Seibel of Lotus Entertainment, which is financing and producing the untitled Winehouse project. “We’ve had massive interest so far from all the distributors who handled the documentary. And everyone knows her music.”

The documentary, Asif Kapadia’s “Amy,” is regarded among frontrunners for the Oscar documentary prize and has been a strong box office performer in the U.K. and the U.S., where it has topped $8 million.

Lotus also set multiple meetings for buyers to talk with Duncan Jones about his science-fiction thriller “Mute” with Paul Rudd and Alexander Skarsgard on board. Skarsgard will portray a mute bartender in Berlin, 40 years in the future in what has become a roiling city of immigrants.

“Duncan is in post-production of ‘Warcraft,’ which makes ‘Mute’ automatically interesting to buyers,” Seibel noted.

“Rita Hayworth” was a similarly under-the-radar project until recently with Radiant Intl. coming on to handle foreign sales just before AFM. Mimi Steinbauer said Antony Neely’s script about a female war photographer stranded on a South Pacific island compelled her to move immediately to close a rights deal.

“Everyone in our office agreed, which doesn’t happen often, so we jumped right away,” Steinbauer said. “We’ve already started to close deals for major territories. Getting Elizabeth on board is really making this into a project that buyers feel that they have to have.”

Several sales agents pointed to Michael Mann’s “Enzo Ferrari” pic with Christian Bale set to play the iconic auto magnate as a hot project at AFM.  Paramount bought U.S. rights on Oct. 27 and is handling  worldwide distribution rights except for territories being handled by Vincent Maraval’s Insiders.

Brian O’Shea, CEO of the Exchange, said there’s a “less is more” ethos emerging. The Exchange is selling “Ithaca,” a World War II drama that’s Meg Ryan directorial debut, Benjamin Walker thriller “Shimmer Lake” and motocross documentary “Unchained.”

“Buyers are being very selective,” he said. “There’s a real preference for quality over size. The whole space of projects of under $10 million with strong concepts has been doing very well for us.”

Recently launched Green-Light Intl. completed key sales for Daniel Radcliffe thriller “Imperium,” also starring Toni Collette and Tracy Letts — and has a $7 million price tag. The company’s Viola Davis thriller “Custody” is in the same budget range.

“It’s a great space to be in and very profitable for everyone,” said president of Green-Light Intl. Christian de Gallegos. “Buyers are very enthusiastic so it’s a good way for us to step into a higher range.”

To that end, Green-Light has attached Nick Cassavetes to direct “Carousel” in a story of long-lost brothers teaming to take down the King of the Gypsies in modern-day New York City.

AMBI Group closed its final territory at AFM on Sarah Jessica Parker’s romantic comedy “All Roads Lead to Rome,” selling North America to Momentum. Producer Andrea Iervolino told Variety that he and partner Monika Bacardi have been emphasizing holding down production costs and fees to make their movie affordable to buyers.

“Our goal is to make good movies on good budgets,” he added. “I get four hours of sleep a night. That’s all I need.”

Iervolino reported that the 2-year-old company used AFM to hear mulitple offers on its animated comedy “Arctic Justice,” a  $60 million project now in production in Canada. John Cleese, Alec Baldwin, Angelica Huston and Omar Sy are on board as voice cast.

Chevonne O’Shaughnessy, president of American Cinema Intl., reported that her company was seeing elevated interest from buyers for ACI’s slate of TV movies following the flooding at Mipcom a month ago.

“It was very difficult to get anything done at Mipcom for the first three days,” she noted. “So we’re seeing strong interest here in Santa Monica because everything is normal here”

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