Berlin Film Market Adjusts to Major Shifts in Global Business

Claire Denis, Noomi Rapace, Olivia Wilde,
Anthony Harvey/David Fisher/Matt Baron/David Fisher/Shutterstock

Trends and shifts in the global indie film biz mark the 2020 European Film Market.

Women direct or star in some of the hottest packages being brought to Berlin: Olivia Wilde’s biopic of gymnast Kerri Strug, “Perfect,” from FilmNation; Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, “The Lost Daughter,” starring Olivia Colman, sold by Endeavor Content; Noomi Rapace-starrer “O2” a Black List survival thriller from Wild Bunch with Alexandre Aja producing; and Gaby Dellal’s shark attack thriller “Something in the Water,” from Studiocanal.

Claire Denis’ “The Stars at Noon,” with Robert Pattinson, was the subject of the EFM’s first high-profile U.S. deal on Tuesday, sold to A24.

Although there will be bigger projects, such as Gerard Butler action-thriller “Remote Control,” from STXInternational; or Solstice Studios’ deep space thriller “Ground Control to Major Tom,” with Seth Gordon directing, in today’s climate, $30 million — the reported budget of FilmNation’s serial killer thriller “The Good Nurse” with Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, and AGC Studios’ Sylvester Stallone vehicle “Little America” — looks like the new $50 million.

“Buyers might make the odd exception for the occasional bigger-budget Gerard Butler action movie, but the independent market literally just cannot support more expensive movies anymore,” said Mister Smith Entertainment’s David Garrett, who is introducing Justin Timberlake-starrer “Palmer” at EFM.

“Ancillary revenues declined so substantially that if you want to finance a film in the independent market, you have to budget very keenly,” he added.

That’s a question of market logic. In key territories, target box office for wide independent releases used to be $3 million. Now most independent films struggle to hit $1 million.

Juggernauts are now very largely put through studios or streaming platforms, the route “The Irishman” took.

“Markets are going to concentrate on lower-budgeted or smaller, niche-type movies,” said Constantin Film’s Martin Moszkowicz.

A flurry of projects have gone out to buyers: Thriller “The Thicket,” with Noomi Rapace and Peter Dinklage; Bruce Willis sci-fi action movie “Cosmic Sin,” also from The Exchange; and an untitled A24 Joaquin Phoenix drama.

Nobody’s claiming, moreover, that the bottom’s fallen out of the pre-sales market.

Distributors are looking for films “with strong theatrical potential that are either commercial like ‘Reminiscence’ (starring Rebecca Ferguson and Hugh Jackman) or subversive and bold like ‘Promising Young Woman,’” said FilmNation’s Alice Laffille, who noted that FilmNation sold out both worldwide, including to the U.S., at 2019’s EFM.

Equally symptomatic of a new landscape, one of the biggest projects being introduced at EFM is German-language: “All Quiet on the Western Front,” starring Daniel Brühl; and one of its biggest star packages is Spanish-language: “Official Competition,” with Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas. Another hot title, “Hero,” marks Asghar Farhadi’s return to Farsi-language filmmaking.

“Even if Bong Joon Ho’s genius can’t be matched, the amazing box office and critical success of ‘Parasite’ is a blessing for talented auteurs around the world, and certainly gives independent distributors confidence,” said Memento Films Intl.’s Emilie Georges.

The days of frenzied film buys may be over, however. The international biz is now adjusting to a new industry ecosystem after streaming platform disruptions, where pre-sales are just part of the equation. Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Apple Plus all look to be in Berlin, and looking for movies as well as production talks.

“The entertainment landscape is shaping up to a new normal,” said FilmNation’s Rob Carney. ”This means fewer titles. We have to be better at our job, source better movies. That means coming on board at an earlier stage, financing and producing select projects.”

Many movie companies have moved into drama series production, with such high-profile projects as Working Title’s “The Luminaries” starring in the expanding Berlinale Series Market.

Distributors’ lower paying prices “puts much more pressure on soft monies and equity,” said Garrett. So Berlin, like every other market, is becoming ever more of a co-production meet. Film commissions have also become more important at markets as they tout another key piece to financing: production incentives.

The announcement of international production alliances — giving independent companies more bargaining muscle with platforms and pooling their talent contacts — looks like another industry trend this Berlin.

“Most producers mix movies and TV. Writers, directors, below the line. They’re all busy, all over Europe, probably the world,” said Moszkowicz. Whatever the caliber of this year’s pre-sales market, trends and shifts in the global business mean a busy 70th Berlin Festival.