Berlin Market Preview: Newbies, Vets Buy Early and Often

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Matthias Schoenaerts of 'Racer and the Jailbird'

"You can't really build a release slate anymore just by culling through finished films at festivals."

Strikes at the Berlin airports — and in London — threw travel plans out of whack for many executives trying to make it to Berlin for the start of the European Film Market, which kicks off Thursday.

But travel chaos aside, most are expecting a buoyant EFM, helped by strong business in Sundance, which produced a slew of deals, including from Netflix (11 films), Amazon (5) and the Hollywood majors, which have becoming increasingly aggressive in snatching up independent titles, both for domestic and international distribution.

"The studios are no longer making the volume of films they need for their international distribution operations and international TV deals,” says Gabrielle Stewart of Hanway Films. “So they are buying a lot more.”

On the domestic side, at least two newcomers are hunting for deals in Berlin after aggressively pursuing titles at Sundance. Neon, the new company from Alamo Drafthouse creator Tim League and former Radius-TWC chief Tom Quinn, has closed the first domestic deal out of Berlin, prebuying North American rights to Michael R. Roskam’s Racer and the Jailbird, starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Adele Exarchopoulos, from Wild Bunch. Annapurna, with plans to distribute its own films, also is hoping to fill its slate and will be on the ground at the EFM.

Along with Neon and Annapurna, Amazon and Netflix continue to be active buyers at festivals, and several other tech companies are on the verge of also joining the playing field. As a buyer, it takes more than just money to get the approval of a filmmaker with a hot project.

“Whether it’s a new traditional distributor or streaming company, the question is how you stand out in the crowd and market the film, as there will be several new services and companies coming into the marketplace," says UTA’s Rena Ronson. "And the key will always be how to best reach the audience, however they end up watching."

The increase in deep-pocketed buyers eyeing finished films is putting more pressure on distributors to buy early, at the development or script stage.

"The majority of major distributors continue to be focused on prebuying. Every type of distributor — from the traditional studios to emerging independents and streaming companies,” says CAA’s Micah Green. "There is execution risk in these pickups to be sure, but the reality of the market right now is that most of the best projects are gone by the time they’re completed. You can’t really build a release slate anymore just by culling through finished films at festivals."

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