The Hollywood majors are wading into the marketplace to pick up the slack left by the TV crisis in Europe, with a slew of deals closed in recent days that leaves sales companies sighing with relief but independents out in the cold.
Paramount Pictures alone has just acquired rights in Italy and Japan to The Good Girl from Myriad Pictures, is in talks to buy the UK rights to The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion from Capitol Films and has just swept up a slew of rights including North America to CJ Entertainment's The Way Home. That's one week after it acquired rights in the UK, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand to Sahara from Crusader and Summit Entertainment.
The Paramount deal on Scorpion, which has remained unsold in the UK even though director Woody Allen is in Cannes with his next film, appears to be a rich one for Capitol involving a significant p&a commitment from the studio which would release it through UIP. Unlike most independent UK distributors, Paramount has the cushion of a pay-TV deal with satellite broadcaster BskyB, which can provide more than $1m per film.
Ironically movies produced by Paramount are the talk of independent distributors hungry for big budget product. Cobalt Media is selling territories on Richard Donner's Timeline, while several sellers, including Paramount-based Seven Arts and Lakeshore, are bidding on F Gary Gray's $80m remake of The Italian Job to star Mark Wahlberg and possibly Jennifer Lopez.
The cost-conscious studio may be selling off its own expensive movies but is actively hoovering up rights on independent films to fill its pay-TV pipelines. Mutual Film Co's Gary Levinsohn, who is co-financing Timeline with Cobalt, says that Paramount is even starting to gauge the appetite of foreign independents through partners like him before greenlighting pictures. "They're not making films that the market can't handle," said Levinsohn last week.
For Patrick Wachsberger, one of the market's leading sellers at Summit Entertainment, financing movies the independent route may be a thing of the past. On Summit in-house production Mr And Mrs Smith, Wachsberger has teamed up with his old friend Arnon Milchan at New Regency Productions. New Regency will handle domestic distribution and several international territories through its wide-reaching agreement with 20th Century Fox, while Wachsberger will cherry-pick key territories to sell through Summit. "That way, we have a chance at some big upside and so do they," he said.
As for studios, whose pay and free TV partners are obligated to take whichever films they feed them, they too are buying on an opportunistic - and cost-effective - basis. "Yes, we can afford to pay more because of our output deals," said one studio buyer yesterday, "but let's face it, most of the projects they want us to buy have been turned down by us already, so we want to take advantage of the soft market as well to bring down the prices."