Cannes market uncertain during credit crunch

Sellers hope promises from Berlin film festival are kept

CANNES -- Buyers and sellers will be going back to basics at the Marche du Film this year as the global credit crunch forces everyone to pinch pennies and deliver the right deals for the right price.

Coming in, sellers are hopeful that promises made in Berlin will turn into freshly inked deal memos.

"Every meeting we took at the European Film Market in February, buyers sat down and said 'we're not buying anything until Cannes.' Let's hope they do," one U.S. seller said.

"Distributors were very hesitant in Berlin, because no one could see the extent and duration of the crisis," said Thorsten Ritter, head of Bavaria Film International. "I'm hopeful that coming into Cannes, they will have a better idea of their budgets and be willing to buy."

The coming days will show whether the market has hit rock bottom and is ready to bounce back or if there is yet more pain to come.

Given the dearth of equity, declining TV and home entertainment revenue and increasing competition for soft money, some sellers are anxious about where the cash will come from.

Sellers also are feeling the pinch.

"We are being much more careful about what we screen and are being more realistic about our expectations," said Rikke Ennis, CEO of Danish sales juggernaut TrustNordisk. "We are only screening titles we know have a realistic chance of sealing deals for here. The days of getting behind a small, difficult film just because we love it are gone."

But the picture is not uniformly bleak.

The Asian film business seems only dented rather than shattered by the effects of global slowdown. The biggest dampener on buying power has been the weakness of currencies including the Korean Won and the Taiwanese and Singapore dollars.

Theatrical boxoffice remains steady or on an upward trend, though TV revenue is clearly under pressure from slowing ad growth. Home video is being squeezed by piracy and the shift to online consumption.

Production finance also has remained available, in large part because private equity and bank funding were only ever small components of most film budgets. Most films in Asia are instead bankrolled through cash flow and the growing regional market for some genres of film means that some kinds of project are actually expanding.

Certainly the days of extravagant blow outs to create buzz for a title or company seem long gone. 2009 is the year of the party pooper. Vanity Fair canceling its Hotel du Cap bash sent a sobering message to all Cannes cognoscenti.

Several Cannes regulars have decided to opt out this year as even designer belts tighten. Parisian glamour mag Gala, a regular splurger on the Croisette, is staying home this year. As is London private members club Century, which has closed the doors on its usual beach-front club.

Gift-bag hungry celebs will have a harder time scrounging for chatskis with the No. 1 goodie giver Nathalie Dubois opting out this year.

But marketgoers will still have some opportunity to do deals awash in a sea of free rose and maybe even the odd glass of champagne at more intimate shindigs. And for monster bash seekers, there will be a handful of opportunities including shindigs for "Inglourious Basterds" and "Broken Embraces," both of which will take place on the Iles de Lerins.

Mindful of the need to booze up and boogie, especially in these tough times, BBC Films is going ahead with its annual cocktail party on the beach. Why? BBC Films managing director Jane Wright said the industry needed a morale booster.

"The reaction from the filmmaking community was 'please, please please don't cancel it,' " she said.

Patrick Frater and Rebecca Leffler contributed to this report.
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