AFM business has mixed conclusion

Market 'busy but uninteresting'

The 28th American Film Market emptied out Tuesday, with buyers already thin on the ground and sellers left to prepare to tell the bean counters just how successful the Santa Monica jamboree had been.

Organizers might have reported a rise in attendance for the fourth year in a row, but for most this AFM seemed to have been light on excitement and at best steady on business.

"There just hasn't been anything that has jumped out to bite you," one acquisitions executive said. "It has been one of the markets which found itself busy but uninteresting."

The AFM also faced a tricky beginning and end, starting amid the WGA strike threat and ending with picket lines up and pens down. There also is the impending threat of an actors strike next year.

A major concern expressed by savvy buyers about the dearth of big projects here is that there seemed to be the same talent popping up across multiple titles all set to start shooting at the same time.

"I don't want to be quoted because it was so bad for us," one buyer said with a laugh. "On the domestic front the market was very lame, other than the Peter Jackson sale ("District 9"). When you see the same actor attached to five prestrike projects, you know most aren't going to get made, so I think that's one reason."

Added Myles Nestel, CEO of film finance group Oceana Media Finance, which is backing five films heading into production in the spring, "I get the sense a lot of buyers are holding to see which films do get talent.

"There is more product here in the development stage -- in normal circumstances, more projects would be here at later stage," he said. "You may have thought buyers would react to the strike by picking things up like crazy, but they're sophisticated people and will only invest in what looks certain. Some buyers are saying, 'We like these projects but will hold off.'

There were one or two buzz titles with deals being hammered out, set to be finalized in the coming weeks.

Intandem, a U.K. AIM-listed sales, financing and packaging company, brought Robert B. Weide's "How To Lose Friends and Alienate People," starring Kirsten Dunst and Simon Pegg, to the AFM for U.S. buyers to take a look at footage. A U.S. deal is pending.

The company also began putting the finance together on filmmamker Martha Fiennes' $15 million-budgeted espionage thriller "Blown."

Other deals that closed as the market drew to an end included Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group acquiring all international distribution rights to Lionsgate's "The Punisher 2: War Zone," based on the Marvel comic and starring Ray Stevenson and Dominic West. SPWAG also has acquired distribution rights in a number of territories -- including Latin American, Japan, Australia and France -- to Lakeshore/Lionsgate's "Crank 2: High Voltage," starring Jason Statham.

Intandem Films CEO Gary Smith said: "We have heard that people are saying the market is quiet, but in our experience it is never quiet if you have what the distributors want. We have been working hard to source quality commercial product, and the interest we have seen across our slate at this market has confirmed that our strategy is working."

But even the action at the market's usual nexus, the Loews Hotel, was slow for many this year, with some sellers who had moved from the Le Merigot Hotel to be close to the action expressing disappointment.

"I thought it was just my floor at first," Huayi Bros. Pictures director of international sales Felice Bee said from her second-floor Loews office. "Then I realized that the Loews this year was just as slow as Le Merigot was in 2006."

Not all participants felt the market was slow, but those who claimed success this year counted themselves lucky.

"When our business works, it's the perfect balance of show and business, art and commerce," said sales agent Kathy Morgan, who noted some success with two titles this week: "Swing Vote," starring Kevin Costner, and "Laundry Warrior," produced by Barrie Osbourne ("Lord of the Rings").

"My friends are telling me that they've suffered this year as that balance is askew," Morgan said.

Jonathan Landreth and Gregg Goldstein contributed to this report.
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