New companies with international sales capabilities are pouring into the business, many of them choosing to launch in London. Buyers at Cannes could be spoilt for choice.

When I started reporting on the film business in 1990, London was considered the de facto home of international film sales. Majestic, PolyGram (previously Manifesto), CiBy (later G2 and United Artists), Rank, Castle Rock, Capitol, Sovereign, Lumiere, Film Four, J&M, Summit, The Sales Company and many more companies led the space, selling the cream of independent cinema around the world from the streets of Soho.

It was a logical hub for sales, bearing in mind that the UK acted as a bridge between the US and the rest of the world and the rest of the world and the US. UIP was based in London, Europe was on the doorstep, Cannes, MIFED and the London Screenings were in the neighbourhood, and the world’s biggest buyers (excluding Japan and Australia) were on the same time zone for easy communication.

In 2012, the picture is a different one. Yes, London is still the base for some prestigious brands like  Focus and HanWay, but since the sale of Capitol a few years back, most of the action for bigger budget films has moved to LA where Summit, Lionsgate, IM Global, FilmNation, Sierra/Affinity, Inferno, Hyde Park and others lead the game, hustling with agents, producers and talent directly and on the same time zone. Being closer to the source, it appears, is more important these days than being close to the buyers.

Some like Exclusive, Content and Summit have presences in both LA and London, while Paris boasts big names like Wild Bunch and StudioCanal.

That status quo could be about to change, with London about to regain some of its clout. E1 has already launched its new London-based sales outfit under Sally Caplan which should launch a handful of films at Cannes; Tim Haslam and former Icon UK head Hugo Grumbar have teamed up to launch Embankment Films; former Optimum head Will Clarke is hatching a new outfit that apparently has a sales component; and what’s the betting that outgoing Summit sales chief David Garrett will launch his own operation once his duties with Summit are completed?

There appears to be a need for ambitious sales & financing companies in Europe that could service the vibrant production and distribution community here more closely, both catering to new production and enabling it. Certainly the UK is bracing for a surge in English language production following probable new EIS regulation in April.

Then again, maybe this flurry of new activity in the sales sphere is not strictly related to location, but a worldwide need for new suppliers. LA has also seen a brace of new outfits in recent months: former New Line International chief Cam Galano is back with Speranza13 Media, Lisa Wilson has teamed with Myles Nestel for The Solution Entertainment Group, Mimi Steinbauer has launched Radiant Films International, and it’s highly likely that Joe Drake will be setting up a new shingle once he leaves Lionsgate, perhaps with his old ally Helen Lee Kim.
None of these companies are just traditional sales agencies. They have the capability to bring on finance, soft money and presales, and add real market value to projects that wouldn’t otherwise have any. Some of them are producing their own films directly. The people may be the same as always, but their role in making films or making films happen has never been more central.

Sales is about to become super-competitive again, on both sides of the Atlantic. For buyers, the flow of new projects going into Cannes could become a deluge.