Berlin: Studio Deals Soar as Streamers' Offers Sputter

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George Clooney

Traditional players like Paramount, Focus and EuropaCorp scored major titles with A-list talent, pushing back hard against potential disruptors Amazon and Netflix.

It was a tale of two markets during the first five days of the Berlin International Film Festival, with three big domestic deals creating lots of heat while the international sales side remained relatively cool and quiet.

The frenzy began as sales agents and buyers were touching down in Berlin for the market on Feb. 9 when EuropaCorp scooped up U.S. rights to James Ponsoldt’s tech-world drama-thriller The Circle starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.

CAA and UTA were planning on showing seven minutes of footage during EFM, but EuropaCorp chose to aggressively buy it for about $10 million without seeing the promo.

CAA had one of its busiest festivals in recent memory, also closing the two other splashy domestic deals: Jeff Nichols’ Loving and George Clooney’s Suburbicon. Both directors were in town for the fest (Clooney with the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and Nichols with his sci-fi competition film Midnight Special), so they were able to woo buyers during CAA’s presentations.

Paramount scooped up U.S. rights for Suburbicon in a huge $10 million pact on Friday. Sources say the studio had considered buying the crime comedy for the world, but instead just took domestic rights, which allowed Bloom to sell off international in what was one of the richest deals at EFM.

"There’s an appetite for these big movies with strong commercial appeal," says CAA’s Roeg Sutherland. "Plus, it’s the time of year when distributors are looking to fill their slates for fall."

After CAA showed eight minutes of footage from Loving, which stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as a Virginia couple who are imprisoned because of their interracial marriage, a bidding war among U.S. distributors resulted in Focus acquiring North American rights for $9 million.

The buy was Focus' first since Peter Schlessel left the company, which is turning its attention to specialty films, as it did under previous chief James Schamus. However, it turns out Focus didn’t made the biggest bid. Sources say Amazon had actually offered more, but the filmmakers went with Focus, known for its success with prestige films.

Entering the festival, insiders wondered if Amazon and Netflix would be as aggressive as they had been at Sundance, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Sources say Amazon has been bidding on projects, but some filmmakers are unsure about its model, which involves partnering with a theatrical distributor. When Amazon scooped up Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea at Sundance for $10 million, a theatrical partner was not in place, and one has yet to be announced.

In contrast, the international playing field has been significantly slower, with hardly any deals announced by the end of the first weekend, normally the busiest time at the market. “People are hungry and ready to buy, but they’re hungry and ready to buy the right stuff," says Bloom's Alex Walton. “There’s enough caution around the world that if it’s not the right stuff, they’re not going to buy out of desperation."

While there are likely to be other international sales before the end of the week — including bigger deals on the David Oyelowo-Rosamund Pike starrer A United Kingdom and Steven Soderbergh’s hillbilly heist film Logan Lucky — most international players agree it’s been slower than they had hoped. Still, sales agents say that the need for product will result in some good business before the festival wraps.

"It feels like buyers are being conservative," says Highland Film Group COO and co-founder Delphine Perrier, "but I think at this market, there's been an advantage for projects that may not at first seem very commercial, because we’ve seen that unique films like Ex Machina and Room are able to come out into the world and make money."

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