AFM: Recent Box-Office Bombs Make Buyers Nervous

"Madame Bovary"
"Madame Bovary"
 

A version of this story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's November AFM stand-alone issue.

Some are expecting a distinctly chilly American Film Market thanks to several films that recently have bombed or underperformed at the international box office (duds include Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, while Ron Howard's Rush hasn't lived up to expectations), leaving buyers rightly nervous.

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And just as foreign distributors prepared over the weekend for their journey to Los Angeles for AFM, which gets underway Wednesday and runs through Nov. 13, the big-budget film adaptation Ender's Game continued to do lackluster business offshore (it's faring better in North America).

To boot, international sales agents continue to fight over the same stars, making it difficult to close deals on projects at script stage. "In a way, we're reaping what we've sown," says The Solution Entertainment Group's Lisa Wilson. "There is a handful of actors and actresses whom we've made valuable, and we're all making the same offers to the same people."

Added another top sales agent: "I would say buyers are cautious and slightly disappointed. You hope that a lot of projects come in at the last minute, but it's not going to happen to the level everyone expected."

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Nevertheless, there are still enough high-profile projects to get buyers in the door. Good Universe's Elton John biopic Rocketman is generating sizeable interest, and the pop icon himself may make an appearance at AFM to personally plug the project. Another buzzed-about title is Voltage Pictures' Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler.

Buyer Dylan Wiley, senior vp/general manager of Entertainment One Films U.S., says the continued advantage of coming in early on a project is that the finished film market is so competitive. "Distributors are willing to accept some execution and timing risk for more reasonably priced product purchased in advance at AFM and other film markets," he says.

In addition to touting new wares, sales agents will use AFM to update foreign distributors on projects they've already invested in, including Johnny Depp action-comedy Mortdecai, which David Koepp began shooting last month for Lionsgate and OddLot Entertainment. Lionsgate International is selling the film overseas. Radiant Films' Madame Bovary, starring Mia Wasikowska, also began shooting in recent days.

The Age of Adaline

→ Director: Lee Toland Krieger

→ Stars: Blake Lively, Ellen Burstyn

→ Sales agent: Sierra/Affinity

→ Buzz: The romantic drama centers on a young woman who stops aging after she's in a life-threatening accident and embarks on a journey spanning the 20th century. Sidney Kimmel and Lakeshore Entertainment are eyeing a March start date. Lionsgate is distributing domestically.

American Ultra

→ Director: Nima Nourizadeh

→ Stars: Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg

→ Sales agent: FilmNation

→ Buzz: Eisenberg plays a lazy stoner who lives with his girlfriend in a small town. Their lives are upended when his past comes back to haunt him, and he becomes the target of a government operation.

Candy Store

→ Director: Stephen Gaghan

→ Stars: Robert De Niro, Jason Clarke, Omar Sy

→ Sales agent: Lotus

→ Buzz: The long-gestating crime thriller, about a beat cop in Brooklyn whose past comes back to haunt him, finally could be a go now that Worldview Entertainment and Lotus have come aboard to finance and produce.

Cymbeline

→ Director: Michael Almereyda

→ Stars: Ethan Hawke, Dakota Johnson, Milla Jovovich, Ed Harris, Anton Yelchin, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Delroy Lindo

→ Sales agent: International Film Trust

→ Buzz: The high-profile cast could prove a potent selling point (Johnson has rocketed into the public eye thanks to her casting in Fifty Shades of Grey). Made in the vein of Sons of Anarchy, the just-wrapped film charts an epic battle between dirty cops and a drug-dealing bike gang.

The Disappointments Room

→ Director: D.J. Caruso

→ Stars: Kate Beckinsale

→ Sales agent: Foresight Unlimited

→ Buzz: The supernatural thriller stars Beckinsale as a mother who moves her family to a mansion in the country. She slowly starts to lose her mind when she learns of the home's bloody past.

Exists

→ Director: Eduardo Sanchez

→ Stars: Dora Madison Burge, Brian Steele, Roger Edwards, Samuel Davis, Denise Williamson

→ Sales agent: International Film Trust

→ Buzz: Expect a market screening of the completed film to be full, even if just out of curiosity to see what Sanchez — co-director of The Blair Witch Project — has come up with. Exists follows five friends who take off for the deep woods of Texas, where they come face-to-face with a vicious beast who in fact might be Bigfoot.

Fathers and Daughters

→ Director: Gabriele Muccino

→ Stars: Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried

→ Sales agent: Voltage

→ Buzz: Crowe's casting should prove a major attraction in terms of getting buyers in the door. Voltage is producing and financing the film, about a father and daughter who live in Manhattan 25 years apart.

Gods of Egypt

→ Director: Alex Proyas

→ Stars: Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Geoffrey Rush

→ Sales agent: Lionsgate International

→ Buzz: The epic, now in preproduction, could be a home run in terms of snagging early foreign deals.

Gold

→ Director: James Watkins

→ Stars: Daniel Radcliffe

→ Sales agent: Embankment Films

→ Buzz: The biopic of British Olympian Sebastian Coe, who spearheaded the 2012 London Summer Olympics, reteams Watkins and Radcliffe for the first time since the box-office hit The Woman in Black. Co-writers Simon Beaufoy, who won the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, and William Davies, whose credits include How to Train Your Dragon, lend additional pedigree to the project, which is backed by BBC Films, the British Film Institute and AI Films.

A Hologram for the King

→ Director: Tom Tykwer

→ Star: Tom Hanks

→ Sales agent: Lotus

→ Buzz: The project, which begins shooting early next year, pairs Hanks with one of his Cloud Atlas directors. Hanks is enjoying a box-office renaissance with Captain Phillips, providing a potential boost for the Lotus title. He plays a down-and-out businessman who flees to Saudi Arabia in the hope of a better fortune.

Jenny's Wedding

→ Director: Mary Agnes Donoghue

→ Stars Katherine Heigl, Tom Wilkinson, Linda Emond, Grace Gummer

→ Sales agent: The Solution Group

→ Buzz: Considering its A-list cast, the romantic comedy, now in production, could have broad appeal if the script is good. It stars Heigl as a woman whose decision to finally wed wreaks havoc on her family.

The Lobster

→ Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

→ Stars: Jason Clarke, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux, Olivia Colman

→ Sales agent: Protagonist Pictures

→ Buzz: The unconventional romance pic, set in a dystopian future where finding a partner is a matter of life and death, marks Lanthimos' English-language directing debut. The Greek filmmaker was nominated for an Oscar for Dogtooth (2009).

Kill the Trumpet Player

→ Director: Don Cheadle

→ Stars: TBA

→ Sales agent: IM Global

→ Buzz: The Miles Davis biopic is a passion project for Cheadle, who makes his feature directorial debut. Zoe Saldana and Ewan McGregor are in talks to co-star (and in June, Cheadle issued a casting call for a young black trumpeter). Herbie Hancock has signed on as music supervisor.

London Fields

→ Director: Matthew Cullen

→ Stars: Amber Heard, Billy Bob Thornton, Johnny Depp, Jim Sturgess

→ Sales agent: IM Global

→ Buzz: The crime thriller, based on Martin Amis' book about a promiscuous psychic, has upped the stakes with a cameo by Depp, who can be a huge draw overseas.

London Has Fallen

→ Director: TBA

→ Stars: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman

→ Sales agent: Nu Image/Millennium

→ Buzz: The newly announced project, now in the script stage, is a sequel to Millennium's White House terrorist pic Olympus Has Fallen, which grossed a solid $161 million worldwide in the spring, including a foreign take of $62.1 million. This time, the action is set in London, where the U.S. president (Eckhart) and his trusted Secret Service agent (Butler) are attending the funeral of the British prime minister. Freeman plays the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who also is in London.


Murder of a Cat

→ Director: Gillian Greene

→ Stars: Nikki Reed, Fran Kranz, Greg Kinnear, Blythe Danner, J.K. Simmons

→ Sales agent: Exclusive Media

→ Buzz: Produced by Sam Raimi and billed as a modern-day mystery full of surprises and romance, it follows Clinton Moisey, who sets out to uncover the truth behind the double life of his murdered cat.

1:30 Train

→ Director: Chris Evans

→ Stars: Evans, Alice Eve

→ Sales agent: Sierra/Affinity

→ Buzz: Like Russell Crowe and Don Cheadle, Evans (aka Captain America) is making his feature directorial debut. Thanks to The Avengers, Sierra/Affinity is banking on Evans' star power to win over foreign buyers. The romantic dramedy revolves around two strangers who meet in New York City's underbelly.

Rob the Mob

→ Director: Raymond De Felitta

→ Stars: Michael Pitt, Andy Garcia, Ray Romano, Nina Arianda, Aida Turturro

→ Sales agent: The Exchange

→ Buzz: The Mafia film, about a couple who boldly steals from some of New York City's most powerful mobsters, will have its first market screening at AFM.

Rocketman

→ Director Michael Gracey

→ Star: Tom Hardy

→ Sales agent: Good Universe

→ Buzz: The Elton John biopic is being executive produced by the pop icon and is set to start shooting in fall 2014 with John rerecording many of his hits for the soundtrack.

A Slight Trick of the Mind

→ Director: Bill Condon

→ Star: Ian McKellen

→ Sales agent: FilmNation

→ Buzz: McKellen starring as the legendary Sherlock Holmes should make this adaptation of author Mitch Cullin's mystery novel a hot property. Condon's involvement also doesn't hurt, even though his WikiLeaks pic The Fifth Estate is a dud. Len Blavatnik's AI Films is co-financing with BBC Films.

Slow West

→ Director: John Maclean

→ Stars: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee

→ Sales agent: Hanway

→ Buzz: Westerns can be a tough sell, but Fassbender has plenty of pedigree, as do producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman of The King's Speech fame. The three are producing the film along with Conor McCaughan and Rachel Gardner.

Untitled Lance Armstrong project

→ Director: Stephen Frears

→ Stars: Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet

→ Sales agent: StudioCanal

→ Buzz: StudioCanal has come aboard to finance the Working Title film, based on journalist David Walsh's book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong. Frears began shooting in October.

The Water Diviner

→ Director: Russell Crowe

→ Stars: Crowe, Olga Kurylenko

→ Sales agent: Mister Smith Entertainment

→ Buzz: Crowe in the director's seat should spark interest (he hasn't made a narrative feature, only two documentaries). Financed in part by Brett Ratner's RatPac Entertainment, the post-World War I drama stars Crowe as an Australian farmer who goes to Turkey to look for his missing sons. Crowe begins shooting in December.

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