Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Strong lineup makes for promising AFM


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Affirmation for AFM

The American Film Market may be shaking off its longtime slump.

There are a number of reasons why the mood could be improved when AFM unspools today in its usual beachside Santa Monica venues, the Loews and Le Merigot hotels.

For one, there’s a strong lineup of high-profile projects looking to sell off international rights. Footage for some will be shown for the first time.

Mandate Intl. has Matthew Vaughn’s "Kick-Ass" and Paul Haggis’ "The Next Three Days," starring Russell Crowe.

Focus Features Intl.’s slate includes Robert Redford’s "The Conspirators," with James McAvoy, and George Clooney starrer "The American," helmed by Anton Corbijn ("Control").

IM Global already has made some presales on John Wells’ "The Company Men," starring Ben Affleck, while Summit’s offerings include "Red," with Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman, and "Twilight" helmer Catherine Hardwicke’s "If I Stay."

Glen Basner’s FilmNation has a slate that includes Darren Aronofsky’s "The Black Swan," while GK Films’ new sales label, Parlay, has Keanu Reeves starrer "Henry’s Crime."

The seismic changes in the film biz over the past year could also favor the international pic market. The rule that a film must have a U.S. release to secure a foreign buyer is being challenged in many ways.

Buyers and sellers were stunned last month when Alejandro Amenabar’s 4th century-set epic "Agora," toplining Rachel Weisz, opened to blockbuster numbers in Spain. "Agora" has placed No. 1 for four weekends in a row, with a cume of $25 million through Sunday.

It was a given that "Agora" would do well at the Spanish B.O. considering Amenabar’s loyal following in his home country, but no one expected the pic to do that kind of business, particularly after the movie failed to find a U.S. buyer following its May preem at the Cannes Film Festival.

Focus Features Intl., which reps the pic’s foreign rights, first showed buyers footage of "Agora" at last year’s AFM. Hardly any buyers bit, with many citing the pic’s high pricetag. Now, there’s renewed interest in "Agora" among both foreign and U.S. suitors.

The past year has seen a number of indie titles do boffo business at the worldwide box office. Chief among them was Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire." Pathe Intl. had priced the film well and made pre-sales in a number of territories, while Fox Searchlight and Warner Bros. eventually ended up partnering on the U.S. release.

Sci-fi hit "District 9" was sold around the world by QED Intl. Though Sony picked up many territories on the film, including the U.S., some overseas indies ended up with the title.

IM Global also sold off most international rights to micro-budgeted horror-thriller "Paranormal Activity" after it showed the pic to foreign buyers along with 300 teenagers at AFM last year. IM Global’s Stuart Ford felt he had to allay concerns as to why Paramount was sitting on the film.

This fall, Par finally gave a greenlight to the pic’s domestic release, and it’s been a runaway hit.

"Paranormal" is only now beginning to roll out overseas, much to the delight of those buyers who claimed a stake a year ago.

Overseas rights to Oren Peli’s "Paranormal" follow-up "Area 51" are still up for grabs from IM Global.

If there’s a perennial complaint about AFM, it’s the status of projects. Often, packages are shopped that haven’t quite jelled.

This year, key international sales companies seem to be coming into the market with firmer packages, even if some of those projects have been discussed at earlier markets.

As in other areas of the film biz, there has been a massive consolidation in the international sales arena. That’s resulted in fewer sellers making the trek to AFM. This year, there is a 10% decline in the number of exhibitors, from 412 in 2008 to 369.

However, a record number of new buyers have registered, although many of these companies could acquire rights for TV, cable or homevid.

One plus for foreign buyers is a weakened dollar.

"If a film makes economic sense, it will do well," one international sales exec said. "People trying to find financing and make pre-sales will have a more difficult time."

The mart, which runs through Nov. 11, is set to screen 486 completed films in 28 languages. That includes 75 world premieres and 328 market premieres, according to AFM organizers the Independent Film &Television Alliance (IFTA).

(Dave McNary and Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.)

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