As dealmakers converge at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, the international independent marketplace is not in great shape. The global film industry is still dealing with recession, drop-offs in DVD sales, rampant film piracy and the implosion of the North American indies. The major studios are better able to weather this turbulence than the indies, which have little margin for error.
But sellers need buyers, and everyone needs movies. On the financing side, while investors are willing to back pictures, because most North American distributors refuse to plunk down money upfront to nab release rights, producers are forced to raise funding from overseas distribs. But foreign pre-sales are more conservative than ever. When folks are running scared, they tend not to take bold risks (which is what most great films are).
That's why genre is king and quality dramas are almost impossible, unless a filmmaker of the stature of Darren Aronofsky or Peter Weir pushes into existence such projects as Black Swan and The Way Back by cobbling together funding from all over the world.
Anthony D'Alessandro has assembled a Players Guide to a baker's dozen of key companies at the market:
Coming off a positive note last year, the American Film Market looks to beat the recessionary blues once again. Sellers remain upbeat about consumer demand for genre titles, whether it’s on the bigscreen, DVD or VOD. 427 films are selling in the market this year; 43 are world premiere screenings and 306 are market bows. Exhibitors from 36 countries are hosting 700+ screenings. And with 8-10% fewer sellers this year, strong pictures should have a better shot at finding buyers.
Company: Affinity International
Known for: Jointly owned by Odd Lot Entertainment and Bold Films, this well-capitalized emerging foreign sales agent has quickly become known for arthouse pleasers such as Bottle Shock.
Key Player: President of Worldwide Distribution, Brian O'Shea.
Past hit: $26 million Legion ($67.9 million worldwide).
Past flop: The $2.5 million divorce romantic comedy Ira & Abby, which grossed $600,000 worldwide.
AFM agenda: Selling the Will Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna Spanish pastiche comedy The House of My Father as well as the Ryan Gosling-Carey Mulligan Drive (which FilmDistrict acquired Wednesday). Rep Robert Rodriguez's label.
Company: Exclusive Media Group
Key players: Nigel Sinclair [pictured] and Guy East (co-chairman)
Known for: Formed in May 2008, Exclusive is the parent company to Hammer Films, Spitfire Pictures and Great Britain’s Hammer Film Company, in sum, a library of over 550 films. Exclusive produces 7-8 films a year and handles both international sales and distribution.
Past flop: Vampire remake Let Me In cost $20 million and fell short stateside with $12 million and $3 million abroad. However, more overseas territories have yet to open.
AFM agenda: Sony recently acquired domestic on George Clooney’s Ides of March, which the company is selling foreign and co-funded. Exclusive is backing and selling overseas on So Undercover, a Miley Cyrus action comedy. Peter Weir's $30 million World War II survival epic The Way Back, starring Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell and Ed Harris, was spread throughout their sub-units: Spitfire financed, Newmarket is releasing domestic, Exclusive is managing foreign.
Company Film Nation
Known for: New York-based foreign sales company launched in 2008 with no domestic ties; the L.A- based production side is looking to make two to three films a year. Early last year, Film Nation acquired GreenStreet’s sales unit, GreeneStreet Films International. They are selling foreign on films in the $10-$40 million range; have made mark with horror and suspense titles; expanding plate of genres.
Key player: CEO Glen Basner, who helped to build Focus International and the Weinstein Co.'s international arm.
Past Release: Devil has made $11 million abroad so far; Europe and Asia are left to open.
AFM Agenda: Exclusive sales company for Media Rights Capital and Samuels Media, Film Nation sells projects non-exclusively for Endgame Entertainment. Selling award-buzz title The King's Speech, Terrence Malick's next romantic drama, set in Oklahoma, starring Ben Affleck, and Scarlett Johansson starring as an alien in Jonathan Glazer's Under Your Skin as well as remaining rights for Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In. Also selling its own films: James McTiegue's The Raven about Edgar Allen Poe and Newmarket co-production Bull Rush.
Company: Focus Features International
Key players: Alison Thompson, co-president, Andrew Karpen, President.
Known for: Universal specialized film subsidiary Focus Features' foreign sales arm backs classy titles that have the potential to find a mainstream audience around the globe, but recently have had less output than in years past.
Past hits:Ang Lee's $14-million Brokeback Mountain ($178 million global B.O.), also $20-million George Clooney-starrer The American $59 million global. Past flops: Lee's $30-million Taking Woodstock ($10 million worldwide).
AFM agenda: The company has already consolidated a big slate for next year, including Hannah, Eagle, One Day, Beginners, Jane Eyre. Focus is using AFM to coordinate marketing and distribution plans with their global partners while selling the remaining foreign on these films. The classic label recently sold all territories with UTA on their Ewan McGregor-Christopher Plummer Toronto pick-up Beginners
Company: Hyde Park Entertainment
Known for: Over 100 titles yielding $1 billion in revenue; this often inconsistent company has ebbed and flowed for years.
Key player: Enigmatic and controversial CEO Ashok Armitraj is "like an uncle everyone likes," says one veteran seller.
Past hit: Revived Steve Martin’s career with Bringing Down the House, which grossed $165-million worldwide.
Past flop:: Bet on Steve Martin again with his vanity novelette Shopgirl, an also-ran at $12 million worldwide.
AFM agenda: Convincing foreign buyers to shell out big bucks for a piece of Marvel comic book sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 3D.
Company: IM Global
Known for: Reliance's international film sales and financing subsidiary is a brash foreign sales juggernaut that is reinventing the horror wheel with foreign sales on Paranormal Activity last year which screamed $193 million worldwide. Forged deal with Alliance, make loads of dough on high volume, opened sales office during Toronto Film Fest. Question: are they expanding too quickly?
Key player: Hard-charging CEO Stuart Ford.
Past hits: Colin Firth’s best actor Oscar nomination drove a global gross of $25 million for Tom Ford's $7 million A Single Man.
Past flops:Few went to see the Liam Neeson horror thriller After.life, which grossed just over $1 million worldwide.
AFM agenda:: Selling the $65-million BBC/Reliance Big production Walking with Dinosaurs 3D. Recently sewed up a three-picture deal with Lionsgate for domestic on Judge Dredd 3D, Jason Statham headliner Safe and Dwayne Johnson-Simon West combo Protection.
Company: Inferno Entertainment
Known for:Assembled the $4-million summer indie hit and much-buzzed award season title The Kids Are All Right which has reaped $24.3 million worldwide. Have output deal with Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group. But what's real?
Key players: Partners Bill Johnson and Jim Seibel.
Past hits:The Women (2008) made $50 million worldwide off a $16-million budget.
Past flops:Co-financed Richard Kelly bomb Southland Tales which made under $500,000 worldwide.
AFM agenda: Bankrolling and selling territories for Cogan’s Trade, a comedy heist project that will potentially reteam director Andrew Dominick with his Assassination of Jesse James headliner Brad Pitt. Also pushing foreign sales on the Liam Neeson plane-survivor actioner The Grey (which boasts strong script) and the Robert DeNiro-Jason Statham shoot-em up The Killer Elite.
Company: Lionsgate International (formerly Mandate International, the international sales and distribution arm of Lionsgate)
Known for: Aggressive genre-focused player making profitable acquisitions as well as financing through off-shore sales.
Key Player Helen Lee-Kim, president of Lionsgate International, is a veteran top foreign sales agent.
Past hits:In its 7th chapter,Saw 3D hasn’t ceased to please fans chalking up close to $50 million in its first week worldwide off a $20 million production spend.
Past flops:The $75-million Katherine Heigl Killers didn’t produce wondrous worldwide results ($92 million) on par with her previous summer comedy The Ugly Truth, which swooned $205 million on a global scale.
AFM agenda:: The Lasse Hallstrom romance film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen starring Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor. There’s also an untitled Tony Scott Jersey mob film in the mix.
Known for: Backing and selling overseas for a wildly eclectic range of sub-Z grade to arthouse product, from Van Wilder to Kinsey.
Key player: President and CEO Kirk D'Amico, a savvy survivor.
Past hits: $17-million Jeepers Creepers 2 ($63 million worldwide).
Past flops: Attempted to revive the career of cult horror maestro Dario Argento with Mother of Tears which made $58,000 stateside and about $3 million in his Italian homeland.
AFM agenda: Selling international on the financial crisis thriller Margin Call starring Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore.
Company: Nu Image
Known for: B-grade actioners studded with stars such as Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Al Pacino; when can't sell North America on film such as Nic Cage-starrer Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, will take out minimal First Look release en route to video. Own Ealing studio in Bulgaria.
Key player: Wily, colorful co-chairman Avi Lerner [pictured] is worth millions; never makes arrogant self-destructive moves that destroy some indies.
Past hit: Stallone’s The Expendables with a $260 million worldwide gross.
Past flop: Comedy My Mom’s New Boyfriend, starring Selma Blair, Antonio Banderas and Meg Ryan, went straight to video in the U.S.
AFM agenda: They are in pre-production on the feature adaptation of videogame Kane & Lynch starring Bruce Willis and Jamie Foxx. They’re also teasing Rambo V. Post-production titles include Pacino starrer Son of No One, remake Conan and Nicolas Cage’s Drive Angry.
Company: Parlay Films
Known for: This emerging division of GK Films boasts a number of projects such as Amy Heckerling’s bloodsucker movie Vamps.
Key player: Lisa Wilson, GK Films President of international distribution.
AFM agenda: Screening Keanu Reeves' crime drama Henry’s Life; luring foreign buyers to the paranormal thriller Red Lights, starring Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver, and financial suspense title Arbitrage, toplining Al Pacino.
Company: Studio Canal
Known for: Backed by deep-pocketed European media monolith Canal Plus, this stable and aggressive foreign sales co. focuses on French language productions but is putting its hands into more Hollywood productions. Some titles come from Optimum UK distribution company. Not a buyer of North American indie movies.
Key player: Head of international acquisition and production Ron Halpern has eccentric taste--which can be a good thing.
Past hit:Fat cash cow The Last Exorcism was made for $2 million and grossed $60 million around the world.
Past flop: Working Title's $50-million Pirate Radio failed to broadcast a profit; it grossed a total $36 million worldwide.
AFM agenda:: Handling the financing and foreign sales for the feature adaptation of John LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which stars Colin Firth, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy, and teaming up with Exorcism’s Eli Roth and Eric Newman again for Gavin Palone’s directorial debut Psycho Killer (who wants to visit that set?).
Company: Summit Entertainment
Known for: This reputable foreign sales company has been an integral part of international financing since 1993; for the last four years it's been part of the bigger Summit Machine, and thus is selling more of its own and fewer outside titles.
Key players: Co-chairmen Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger [pictured].
Past hits: Young adult franchise turned $1.8 billion titan Twilight, and DC Comics adult hit Red, which has so far amassed $85 million-plus worldwide.
Past flops: Typically whatever this company misfires stateside, they make up for abroad (i.e. Twilight thesp Robert Pattinson’s Remember Me scored $36 million foreign vs. $19 million domestic). Bandslam didn’t move needles with Vanessa Hudgens at a $12-million global gross.
AFM agenda: Selling international on Sam Worthington high-concept thriller Man on a Ledge which also co-stars Ed Harris and Elizabeth Banks.