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Starry Deals Driving an Unsettled American Film Market

Stars like Jason Statham, Gerard Butler, Liam Neeson and Ben Affleck have brought a semblance of stability to an unsettled American Film Market this week.

The boom in streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon along with the emergence of new services from Disney, Apple and Warner Bros. has disrupted the traditional business model for the independent sector.

“Netflix wants your movie early now,” noted Bron Studios exec Anjay Nagpal at Friday’s AFM finance conference. “They don’t want it any more after you couldn’t sell it at festivals.”

Jeffrey Greenstein, president of Millennium Media, said at the event that money offered by streamers has made it tougher to sign name actors such as Butler — who has done a trio of “Fallen” movies for Millennium.

“The numbers that Netflix, Amazon, Disney are able to offer are substantially higher than anyone can on the independent market,” Greenstein said. “Talent might have one slot a year where they can do an independent film, and they might want to go on holiday.”

Jean Prewitt, president of AFM’s parent the Independent Film & Television Alliance, observed, “Any delay nowadays and you lose your spot with talent.”

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Lionsgate made the first big deal of AFM on the second day by buying Butler’s action-thriller “The Plane” on the second day, followed by MGM’s acquisition of Statham’s “Cash Truck” with the actor portraying a mysterious truck driver who ferries cash around Los Angeles.

Neeson’s upcoming “Ice Road,” in which he plays a rig driver on a rescue mission in northern Canada, sold out most international markets for The Solution. Shooting starts Jan. 27 in Winnipeg.

“Liam is still very popular and the story is very strong,” said The Solution partner Lisa Wilson. “So if you have a reliable name, buyers will be interested, because it’s increasingly hard to find those projects from independents. Now it’s quite fashionable for stars to do Netflix projects, like Sandra Bullock on ‘Bird Box’ and ‘Unforgiven.'”

As AFM got under way, it was announced that Affleck had committed to starring as a detective in “Hypnotic,” an action thriller written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, who met with buyers on opening day. Solstice Studios and Studio 8 are producing. Solstice also showed footage for Russell Crowe’s action-thriller “Unhinged.”

“It’s been a big market for us because we’re only a year old and there’s a tremendous appetite for these kinds of films,” said Crystal Bourbeau, head of Solstice acquisitions and international.

Arianne Fraser of Highland Film Group said the script and cast of hurricane movie “13 Minutes” — Trace Adkins, Thora Birch, Peter Facinelli, Anne Heche and Paz Vega — was driving sales. “Buyers want cast they recognize,” she added.

Jodie Foster showed up in Santa Monica to meet with buyers for STXInternational’s “Prisoner 760,” in which she portrays a defense attorney. Anna Faris stopped by for a meet-and-greet for the comedy “Summer Madness” for The Exchange, which is also handling Drew Barrymore’s “The Stand-In” and “A Gift From Bob,” the sequel to “A Street Cat Named Bob.”

“We are closing a number of deals, showing the commercial needs for our buyers include not only big action fair but also high-profile female comedies and feel-good family films,” said The Exchange’s Brian O’Shea.

One of the biggest attention-getters at the 40th AFM was “Finding Jack,” announced on the first day as a movie with James Dean brought back as a military man through CGI visual effects for the Vietnam War-era indie drama.

Producer-directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh of Magic City Films and producer Donald A. Barton of Artistry Media Group were surprised by the backlash from actors and promised that they will be respectful of Dean’s legacy.

“The family has read the script and has been fully supportive,” Barton said. “We felt that using James Dean would be an excellent way to convey this character.”

All told, the AFM hosted 375 exhibiting companies, including 77 new exhibitors from 22 countries. One of those new companies is Manny Halley’s Imani Media Group, which broke into the movie business with “True to the Game,” starring Columbus Short and Erica Peeples. Imani is offering urban movies such as “On the Radio,” “Dutch” and “Gena’s Story” with stars such as Macy Gray, Lance Gross, Vivica A. Fox and Jeremy Meeks, who was on hand.

“I’m trying to emulate Tyler Perry, Will Packer and Spike Lee,” Halley said. “I fund it myself and I produce it. I’m glad that I’m here because there’s a huge demand for urban movies.”


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