Berlinale: U.S Domestic Sales Drive Businesslike Berlin Market

More sales deals to go down in next one or two weeks

Berlinale --2017-- U.S Domestic Sales Drive
Photo: PAUL BUCK/EPA/Zach Hilty/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

Corridor traffic at the European Film Market looked thinner than in recent years, but the market mood was hardly despondent.

Sales to the U.S domestic market energized a business-like 2017 EFM with deals struck for a broad spectrum of titles.

“What’s undeniable is that there remains a very buoyant market for high quality projects at every level. The momentum here is comparable to that of Sundance,” said CAA’s Micah Green.

U.S. domestic deals flowed, international business was more select.

“There aren’t that many big event films here because they are difficult to put together and distributors are much more careful,” Lionsgate’s Patrick Wachsberger said at Berlin.

The strong dollar, up 5% against the euro compared to 2016 Berlin, also instilled caution among international buyers.

As in Berlin last year, Hollywood’s studios grabbed star vehicles. MGM paid $17.5 million, a Berlin single-picture record, for worldwide rights to Bloom’s “Fighting With My Family,” a Dwayne Johnson wrestling drama, as a locomotive for its global TV operations.

Sony snared worldwide rights to Tom Hanks’ “Greyhound,” sold by FilmNation and CAA. Lionsgate announced at Berlin it had taken the U.S. on Keanu Reeves’ NASCAR movie “Rally Car.”

But distributors worldwide were able to grab such star-laden pics as Studiocanal’s Liam Neeson revenge thriller “Hard Powder,” which had “virtually sold out internationally” by Monday, said Studiocanal’s Anna Marsh. U.S rights are under discussion, she added. IM Global reported “very strong business,” which is still ongoing, on thriller romance “Serenity,” with Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, and Keanu Reeves’ “Siberia.”

The new market reality also involves competition from streaming and VOD services. In early market going, Netflix acquired Australian zombie film “Cargo”

“For independent distributors, between films taken by the majors and Netflix or Amazon, there’s not so much left,” said independent producer Leonard Glowinski.

But dealmaking involved all kinds of films. “Original, fresh material works,” not films that check boxes, said FilmNation’s Tara Erer.

Glowinski noted: “As producers, we have to ensure these distributors with whom we have been working for years still access fresh films.”

And the market and festival delivered: Sony Pictures Classics acquired Sebastian Lelio’s competition player “A Fantastic Woman” for the U.S., while IFC took domestic rights for Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin” from Gaumont.

Open Road purchased heist movie “Finding Steve McQueen,” sold by Ambi; Neon picked up romantic thriller “Racer and the Jailbird,” produced by Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, from Wild Bunch. FilmNation’s Dan Stevens’ sci-fi thriller “Redivider” went to Saban Films.

In international arthouse deals, two festival films — Aki Kaurismaki’s “The Other Side of Hope,” from the Match Factory, and  Ildiko Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul,” from Films Boutique — inked a flurry of worldwide sales pacts.

More U.S. deals, and a flurry of big sales company international deal announcements, can be expected in the next few weeks.

“A lot more deals have been done than publicized,” said Jean Prewitt, president/CEO of the Independent Film & TV Alliance. “If you’ve sold out a film, you’ve probably put it together in a really complicated way and that just doesn’t lend itself to a public press push until it’s completely done.”

Another market trend: many independent producers have diversified into TV production, while distributors have pushed into  handling local movies.

Indeed, as the European Film Market wound down Monday, the Berlinale’s Drama Series Days, a TV screenings market, bowed, extended this year from two days to three.

Nevertheless, the festival unspooled as Lionsgate’s “La La Land,” and IM Global’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” both put through independent distributors abroad, have each earned $168 million and $118 million worldwide, respectively, and counting.

“Every time there is a successful [independent] movie, it injects trust and resources into distributors, giving a lot of hope,” said Wachsberger.

There’s also an urgency and point to many new films.

“We are living in an era like the ’60s,” said Rodrigo Teixeira, a producer-financier on Sundance hits “Call Me By Your Name” and “Patti Cakes$.”

He added, “You have Trump and Brexit, among others. How do you contest [that]? With art. If I were a writer, it would be the best time of my life to write something.”