Slow Market at AFM? Hollywood A-Listers to the Rescue!

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After plenty of insider angst about a down market, projects with stars like Liam Neeson, Paul Rudd and J.K. Simmons emerge to entice buyers on the eve of AFM.

AFM was shaping up to be another in what has become a worryingly long line of sluggish markets, but a raft of high-profile titles has arrived in the 11th hour to give buyers hope.

Felt, a new project featuring box-office draw Liam Neeson as "Deep Throat" informer Mark Felt, closed financing on the eve of AFM, and Sierra/Affinity has added it to its market slate. Peter Landesman, the filmmaker behind the upcoming Will Smith NFL drama Concussion, is directing the Watergate drama about the man responsible for leaking information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Meanwhile, FilmNation took it down to the wire before confirming its A-list cast for adventure drama The Modern Ocean, with Anne Hathaway, Keanu Reeves and Jeff Goldblum in the ensemble of Shane Carruth’s third feature.

Fortitude signed J.K. Simmons to star in its hot dramedy title The Bachelors from Kurt Voelker (Sweet November) shortly before AFM’s official Nov. 4 launch, and Lotus confirmed director Duncan Jones’ Mute, a sci-fi thriller starring Paul Rudd and Alexander Skarsgard.

Despite the late rush, most buyers still expect a slow AFM. “It’s been the same story every market this year — shockingly few films and sales agents finding it harder to package projects and harder to attach talent,” said Marc Schmidheiny, head of acquisitions at German distributor DCM. “It’s the worst AFM we’ve seen so far in terms of how little is out there."

Without a big new title to sell this market, Alex Walton of sales outfit Bloom will use AFM to update buyers on films in its pipeline and show footage. Bloom also screened a nearly completed cut of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Reynolds, for foreign buyers prebuying the movie (Warner Bros. is distributing in North America).

“We’re trying to use (AFM) as strategically as we can,” Walton said. “We always look to have things for a main market, but the project we were planning to bring wasn’t ready. I’d much rather be packaging quality than just rush to sell. It’s challenging getting cast. There’s so much competition for talent.”

It seems a lack of supply, not demand, could hurt the market. Jamie Carmichael, president of Content Film, noted that pre-market screenings of its promo reel — including the first images of its VFX-heavy sci-fi feature Higher Power, from producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and its dramedy Youth in Oregon, starring Frank Langella, Billy Crudup and Christina Applegate — were packed. "I can tell you, people are looking for movies to buy. So that’s a good sign," Carmichael said.

Elizabeth Williams, head of acquisitions at upstart U.K. distributor Signature Entertainment, which has been coming to AFM for five years, said she’s anticipating a “really busy market.”

“There’s a long shopping list we’re looking to whittle,” she added without naming names for fear of sellers “sticking a few extra zeros on the price.”

Signature this summer was buoyed by an equity investment from the chairman of U.K. soccer club West Ham, and just this week it inked a six-slate deal with Emmett Furla’s Oasis Films.

Alex Ritman and Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.

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