With the American Film Market halfway through its 39th edition at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, producers are scrambling to adjust to the world’s ever-growing demand for more and more buzzy movies.
“There’s a voracious appetite for content,” said Mark Gooder, principal with Cornerstone Films. “Compelling stories are valuable enough that we can still do traditional pre-sales on titles that really hit the mark.”
For Cornerstone, that has meant the recently completed “After the Wedding,” starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams in a remake of Susanne Bier’s 2007 movie. “It’s immediately recognizable and female-driven,” notes Gooder.
As usual, star power has been in evidence with Ron Howard showing up to meet buyers for his Luciano Pavarotti documentary, pictured about with producer Nigel Sinclair; Aaron Paul presenting Blue Fox’s “The Parts You Lose” with The H Collective; Tate Taylor talked up his upcoming drama-comedy “Breaking News in Yuba County,” starring Allison Janney and Laura Dern; and the Cookie Monster appearing for The Exchange’s presentation of “Sesame Street” documentary “Street Gang.”
“Studios are mostly staying away from the under $30 million range if the property is not franchisable and there’s no pre-awareness of it,” noted The Exchange’s Brian O’Shea. “They mostly want to do event films. I think people are hopeful at this market, even though it’s tough because the technology is changing so quickly.”
Buyers and sellers agree there’s a clear opportunity for the independent world, given that the six majors tend to avoid projects that aren’t the start of a franchise and don’t qualify as “event” movies. Recent success stories include Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty,” which grossed nearly $100 million worldwide for STX; Anna Kendrick-Blake Lively’s “A Simple Favor” for Lionsgate; and Diane Keaton-Jane Fonda’s “Book Club,” which sold at the 2017 AFM
“Something like ‘I Feel Pretty’ is at the top end of what the independents can do,” O Shea said. “It’s similar to the new Jessica Chastain project ‘Eve’ at Voltage. I want only the best for those films because it helps everyone in the independent world.”
Nadine de Barros, head of Fortitude Intl., asserts that buyers have become far more selective. Her company launched sales this week on the Nick Robinson-Michael Shannon burglary drama “Echo Boomers.”
“When I was first here four years ago, I was able to sell out ‘End of the Tour’ with Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel, including a sale to A24, but there’s really not much of a market for smaller dramas any more,” she admitted. “That’s why films like ‘Book Club’ are perfect for AFM
Jean Prewitt, longtime chief of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, delivered a sympathetic assessment of the turbulent outlook on Friday during her Global Perspective conference appearance with Motion Picture Assn. of America chief Charles Rivkin.
“Change is coming so rapidly that everyone in this room has to really buckle down and stay as flexible and courageous as they can,” she said. “One thing we are seeing is that companies that are repositioning are doing so in a wide range of ways: changing content, diversifying, platforms like VR, genre, new partnerships. The watch word here is: the audience is there but everyone has to keep striving to not lose heart, not be discouraged to the fact that there was an old golden age that we wish would come back. This is this golden age. Independents are good at making these adjustments but it is a scary time.”
One other major change this year: Organizers of the AFM have limited access at the Loews to the official AFM participants. That’s eliminated attendees being forced to deal with a wide variety of unsolicited pitches from unofficial sources.
“People have told me, ‘It’s about time,'” said AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf. “The lobby of the Loews is a place for business, for people who have spent thousands of dollars to get here, not for someone who took a $6 Uber ride to get to the Loews.”
As to the business itself, Wolf asserts that the indie sector is filling the void left behind by studios for new mid-budget projects. “The studios are becoming more like TV with spinoffs and sequels, so creativity has found other angles,” he said.
John Friedberg, president of international sales for STX, said at the AFM’s Producer and Financier Perspective event, “There are going to be so many ways to consume content immediately on every device so the question is ‘How do you curate your time and what stands out?’”
Paramount’s exec VP of worldwide acquisitions Syrinthia Studer noted at Friday’s Buyer Perspective panel that “Book Club” had worked well following its unveiling at last year’s AFM as worldwide box office topped $68 million. She said the proliferation of platforms allows independent filmmakers to get exposure to a broader audience, adding, “It’s good for filmmakers and it’s good for content, and the marketplace is big enough for everyone to thrive.”
AFM is expecting more than 7,000 attendees from more than 80 countries during the eight days of the market.
And potentially appealing packages emerged during the first days of AFM: Dakota Fanning in immigrant drama “Sweetness in the Belly” for HanWay; Milla Jovovich and Tom Hughes in swashbuckler “Corto Maltese”; John Malkovich, Michael Kenneth Williams and Vivica A. Fox joining Liam Hemsworth and Vince Vaughn in drug drama “Arkansas”; Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman in AGC’s thriller “The Secrets We Keep”; Chloë Grace Moretz and Jack O’Connell in the Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow story “Love Is a Gun”; and Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Connie Nielsen in the thriller “The Postcard Killings.”