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Buoyant, but not booming, Berlin market points to busier Cannes

Hottest sellers include 2 Guns starring Denzel Washington [pictured] for Foresight and Steven Soderbergh’s Bitter Pill for FilmNation.

The 2012 EFM saw a healthy flow of sales on big budget action titles and quality independent fare. While prices weren’t always top dollar, most territories were busy and there was widespread optimism about the quality of the projects heading into what many were predicting will be another buoyant Cannes.

The Solution’s Lisa Wilson, one of a number of US sales veterans to arrive with new companies, echoed a familiar sentiment: “Overall the sense that I got was that people were very optimistic. Talking to the other sellers they seemed to have a good market,” she told Screen.

“Three years ago we were in shock,” recalls Mimi Steinbauer of Radiant, who like Wilson saw good business on a new slate. “At 2009 Berlin we were ready to throw ourselves off the roofs. But going into Cannes there is a lot of product so the appetite is there if you have the right material.”

Mark Damon’s Foresight stole many of the EFM headlines with big-budget action 2 Guns selling out for big numbers and Jim Carrey comedy Pierre Pierre and Reese Witherspoon comedy Rule #1 also seeing near-sellouts. Foresight will pick up at least two more titles for Cannes, both in the $60-70m range.

FilmNation did a roaring trade on titles including Steven Soderbergh’s Bitter Pill, J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost and Eli Roth’s Aftershock, among others, while Summit saw predictably strong business on The Tomb starring Schwarzenegger and Stallone and buzz title Beautiful Creatures. IM Global drew in buyers with Katherine Heigl-starring The Happytown Murders, and Sierra Affinity offered new projects with Jason Statham and Kate Hudson. Exclusive had a hit with Can A Song Save Your Life which will star Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo.

Nick Meyer, CEO of Sierra / Affinity, said: “Berlin proved to be a buoyant market for Sierra / Affinity and many other companies as well.  The response to our new titles was really strong, froHeat and Everly to Wer and Celeste and Jesse Forever, buyers found films they liked that fit well into their mix of product for the future.”

While the MGB halls were not jam packed, there was appetite for a range of product. UK sales outfits did particularly good business. The likes of Protagonist, HanWay, WestEnd Films, Bankside Films and The Salt Company all brought exciting new product to the market and were in demand.

 “This was one of our best ever markets,” said Protagonist CEO Ben Roberts. “Having an eclectic slate meant we were able to catch a wide range of buyers. Some of those were buyers not necessarily enthused by festival product and continued to revisit us later in the market. On the whole, business was buoyant and we saw great business across our titles.”

 As expected Italy and Greece offered sellers little joy, and Spain prices continue to disappoint.

“The market is tough and the independent distributors are suffering very much in each territory with the exception of some fast growing territories like Brazil and some others. Generally, it is tough everywhere but they (buyers) still need strong and marketable films,” said StudioCanal’s Harold van Lier.

“Italy and European countries are declining but the rest of the world is improving,” Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval commented of prices at the EFM.

Despite that trend, Wild Bunch saw good business on its slate, Elle Driver scored a raft of deals on Farewell My Queen and Bachelorette and The Match Factory also closed deals on a number of festival titles including Barbara and Postcards From The Zoo.

eOne and Momentum made the biggest splashes among UK buyers, with eOne picking up Bitter Pill, 2 Guns and Miss You Already for some hefty prices and Momentum taking Most Wanted Man, Everly and Can A Song Save Your Life among others.

UK buyers were also busy acquiring a high volume of genre VOD fare in order to satisfy the growing number of local online platforms, including recently launched Netflix.

The BRIC countries continue to rocket. “China was through the roof,” one executive told Screen. “Japan has come back. The numbers are in the hundreds of thousands rather than millions but better than before. India is strong for the right film and we’ve seen really strong numbers from Latin America.”

Hot Asian sellers included big-budget action titles such as CJ Entertainment’s war epic My Way, Toei’s Second World War drama Admiral Yamamoto and Lotte Entertainment’s historical action epic War Of The Arrows.

Kini Kim, CJ Entertainment head of international sales, said: “People are saying that Chinese buyers are being very aggressive, although that could just be a bubble. European buyers are complaining about the economic situation in general, which is why it’s difficult for certain titles in these territories. Overall I’d say the market wasn’t fantastic, but fairly solid, and we’re happy with the result.”

This EFM will also be remembered for the splash made by Russia, largely thanks to the campaigning of the Russian Cinema Fund which brought a host of the territory’s leading companies to the EFM for the first time.

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