Berlinale: A Cautious Market Meets a Reviving Independent Business

Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen star in new projects at a Berlin market boosted by a number of early looks at high-profile movies in the making. Even so, activity at this year’s European Film Market is unlikely to diverge much from the caution seen at recent major gatherings, such as Sundance.

“It’s probably going to be a slow and small market again, but definitely better than the AFM, which was a complete disaster,” said Ivan Boeing of Brazil’s Imagem.

“Buyers are increasingly cautious, want to see more and more before buying,” added Anne Chérel at Studiocanal, whose lineup is led by French Revolution epic “One Nation, One King.”

That wariness reflects the unevenness across the international market. “A movie can do great in Italy but won’t work in France,” Lionsgate’s Patrick Wachsberger said. “To have a shot you have to be original. ‘La La Land’? Original. ‘Wonder’? Original. And they’re not big-budget.”

For the most part, distributors at the EFM will sift through a mainstream lineup with an accent on upscale quality, not big-budget popcorn fun.

Berlin does not give cause for total pessimism, however. Among the biggest players, Lionsgate Intl. is bringing Keanu Reeves’ “John Wick: Chapter 3” and drama-comedy “Green Book,” starring Viggo Mortensen and helmed by Peter Farrelly, “who is a great surprise, given the types of movies he’s directed,” Wachsberger said.

Lionsgate is also shopping sci-fi actioner “Hummingbird,” which re-teams “Resident Evil’s” Milla Jovovich with Paul W.S. Anderson as the writer. Bloom has added Fassbender action-comedy “Kung Fury” and “The Operative,” an espionage thriller with Eric Bana and Diane Kruger.

STXinternational. is selling Jake Gyllenhaal crime thriller “Finest Kind,” financed by 30West, while FilmNation arrives with Amazon Studios romancer “The Aeronauts,” with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Elisabeth Moss stars in Mister Smith’s “Letters From Rosemary Kennedy,” and Annapurna/MadRiver is introducing “The Translation of Wounds,” a chiller targeting the young adult market.

Buzzy titles include Protagonist Pictures’ “Lords of Chaos” and Sierra Affinity’s “American Animals,” which arrive in Berlin fresh from acclaim at Sundance.

These titles hit a challenged European Film Market, which grew as a pre-sales market for big U.S. projects. “The pre-sales market hasn’t gone,” said Savvy Media Holdings Matthew George, producer of Bloom’s “A Private War,” starring Rosamund Pike. But “distributor numbers are getting softer and softer,” George said.

“People still recognize there is a great business in international. Everyone just has to temper their budgets to the market,” said David Garrett of Mister Smith, which is also introducing “The Elephant Queen,” described by Garrett as “‘March of the Penguins’ with elephants, crossed with ‘The Osbornes.’”

“The old model is half-broken,” Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz said.

But Constantin and other companies are responding with new plays that are driving market trends and reinvigorating the independent business.

Women are moving to the fore. Slightly more of the EFM’s highest-profile projects headline women rather than men, including Vikander-starrer “The Marsh King’s Daughter,” from STXinternational and producer-financier Black Bear Pictures. Moore leads a remake of Susanne Bier’s “After the Wedding,” from Cornerstone.

Independents are still making big movies, though “our goal is to do expensive movies only if we see franchise potential,” Wachsberger said, citing “The Kingkiller Chronicle.”

Constantin will shoot writer Anderson’s “Monster Hunter,” based on Capcom’s now fastest-selling video game. “We’re jumping into the void left by the studios, making movies up to $50 million to $60 million. Buyers are looking for material that stands out and has a cinematic experience basis,” Moszkowicz said.

So the market is skewing two ways: “bigger movies with a franchise or fan base,” and “more original quality director-driven titles that can cut through, being distinctive and fresh,” said Protagonist’s Dave Bishop. A case in point: Protagonist closed most of its international sales on “The Florida Project” and “The Rider” at Cannes last year.

Distributors and sales agents are also pushing deeper into production, often of local projects. Constantin’s German movie releases alone grossed an extraordinary $110 million last year.

Moreover, as the overseas theatrical business shrinks for English and foreign-language movies alike, some of the world’s biggest independent players are firing up the remake business, sometimes spectacularly. “Perfect Strangers” has earned $43.3 million for the Italian original and the Spanish remake, which is still on release.

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