European Films Vie For Attention at AFM

 

LONDON – A couple of idiots trying to outdo rock band U2, a 3D animated young barbarian with low self-esteem and a movie about four girls, three days, two cities and one chance are three titles from European shores vying for attention amid the hustle and bustle of this year's American Film Market.

The duo trying to outdo U2 are self-proclaimed idiots in Killing Bono, a movie that sees rising stars Ben Barnes and Robert Sheehan as hapless brothers Neil and Ivan McCormick who set up a band in Dublin, Ireland in the late 1970s.

Sadly for them, so did their classmates and rivals, who go on to become the global phenomenon U2. Based on a true story and grounded in Neil McCormack's book of the same name Stateside, the screenplay is written by British comedy writing royalty Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais alongside Simon Maxell. Nick Hamm directs.

The comedy is being sold during the AFM by U.K.-based international sales and finance banner the Salt Co. and is just one of hundreds of titles from the Eurozone aiming to do well Stateside.

Comedy is an oft-found element to movies looking to get ahead at the AFM. Or at least noticed amid the myriad titles being touted.

And if jokes can be combined with the clear and present appetite at the box office for 3D and animation, then Danish sales company LevelK might just be laughing all the way to deal memos.

LevelK, in losing its AFM virginity this year, is bringing a project to the market which certainly boasts key ingredients necessary for success during the Santa Monica buying and selling jamboree: Humor and animation.

Set up by experienced sales executive Tine Klint -- this will be her eighth AFM but her first as the head of her own company -- buyers bustling towards LevelK's office will be treated to teasers on the prospect of Ronal Barbarian, from the writer/director team behind popular Danish sci-fi spoof Journey To Saturn.

Ronal is billed as a barbarian with a pageboy haircut and twig-like arms and not much of a hit with the Barbarian ladies. Filmmakers Thorbjørn Christoffersen, Kresten Vestbjerg Andersen and Philip Einstein Lipski plan to make the comedy 3D animation feature in Danish and English.

Klint said she is also bringing Spanish-language teasers, "because the humor will go down well with Spanish speaking territories." It's a serious business selling foreign comedy titles across borders.

The project is co-produced by Danish commercial broadcaster, TV 2/Danmark, and supported by the Danish Film Institute.

Klint doesn't have any finished films on her growing sales slate, but is confident that buyers will sign deal memos on the basis of established filmmakers working in proven genres.

At the AFM, Klint will also be pushing Turkish director Umit Unal's The Voice, a movie about a bank employee whose routine life is brought to an end when she hears an inner voice and cannot escape unless she submits to it, and Polish director Jan Komasa's Suicide Room (Sala Samobojcow), which follows the son of a wealthy businessman and woman who is subject to a series of humiliating events 100 days before graduation.

Both Salt and LevelK have benefited from cash support from the trade promotions body European Film Promotion for selected titles on their slates.

More specifically EFP's Film Sales Support program, which is made available to selected European sales agents for their marketing campaigns of European films, is out in force at the Santa Monica shindig.

"It's funny because initially EFP wrote and said they didn't want too many applications because they were worried about being over subscribed," Klint says. "It's good to get backing for taking projects to market at such an early [script and promotional materials] stage."

"Demand for FSS is great for the AFM. We would have been able to support twice as many films if it hadn't been for our limited budget", said Hungary's Magyar Filmunio chief and EFP president Eva Vezer.

This year marks the second year the EFP has backed efforts by sales and financiers from the European Union member states to travel to the AFM in the quest for distribution deals and finance packaging. It's certainly proving a popular source of marketing help.

With eight production and sales companies from Finland alone garnering support, the EFP help is certainly in demand as the indie sales sector casts its net ever wider for financial partners.

EFP is also propping up efforts from Denmark and Sweden alongside other Eurozone participants from the U.K., Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Switzerland.

"The AFM is a key market in the yearly film business calendar between Toronto, Rome and Berlin, and EFP's umbrella office makes it much easier, especially for smaller companies, to be present here", said Finnish Film Foundation head of international promotion Jaana Puskala.

The FSS program specifically is rallying behind 25 movie titles from Spain, Germany, the U.K., Hungary, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Norway, Finland, Portugal and the Netherlands.

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The money might be sniffed at in some quarters as small beer, but for companies trying to raise the profile for small, niche product amid the clamoring and shouting of a traditional AFM, the cash is a welcome filip to any marketing budget.

FSS covers up to 50% of costs for the rental of an office, booking of market screenings and market badges as well as the production of promotional material. Across the 25 titles supported, the FSS is expecting to dish out close to €68,000 ($95,500) for the materials this AFM.

"The AFM is the last non-European market of the year at which we offer our support," FSS project director Susanne Davis. "Basically, the support covers the same items which include reimbursing costs towards all publicity material but also towards the costs for hiring a booth and booking market screenings."

Few attendees from the other side of the pond will be flying into Los Angeles first class however because sales agents aren't allowed to offset air fares. Accommodation costs can be. "We weren't able to support all requests by applying sales agents, ending up helping with the marketing of 25 European films," Davis said.

Of course not all European sellers enjoy the largesse proffered by the FSS. To be eligible for what is a fairly unique support system, companies are monitored by member organizations such as the U.K. Film Council, France's CNC and the Nordisk Film and TV Fond and the German Federal Government's Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

And several larger, established independent sales and finance labels have been traveling to AFM under their own steam for years, with sales forces faced with ever-trickier market conditions.

The global economic turmoil, the depletion of the U.S. indie market and studio specialty arms, and the cuts in distribution slots available to any movie, let alone titles with European arthouse sensibilities, has meant it's as hard as ever to do a deal for stateside exposure.

But Stewart Till, Icon U.K. CEO, thinks this year's AFM attendees will be comforted in the knowledge that the appetite from consumers, be it in theatrical ticket sales, DVD rentals or purchases and the emerging desire for video-on-demand services, remain healthy despite the tough economic conditions of the last two years plus.

"With the decline in U.S. buyers -- the market is so reduced from the days of Warner Independent, Paramount Vantage, New Line and such like -- and the big distributors reducing the number of slots for movies, it's tough to sell to the U.S.," Till said. "The absolute minimum you have to have these days is a good script, a director who knows what they are doing and some recognizable cast for a reasonable price. Reducing the risk you [as a distributor] are exposed to is key to any deal being done."

Till is optimistic about the prospects for proper business levels during this year's AFM and is looking to tie up deals on Icon's sales slate which includes 4.3.2.1, co-directed and written and co-directed by Noel Clarke alongside Mark Davis and starring Hugo Weaving and Emily Watson. The movie details the story of four girls, three days, two cities and one chance set in London and New York.

Urban and "keeping it real," Clarke's rise to indie stardom is well-documented so it will be a litmus-test for British movie-making to see if one of the U.S. distributors bites.

Icon also counts West Is West, starring Jimi Mistry and Om Puri, and Emilio Estevez's The Way, starring his father Martin Sheen, as hot prospects for AFM on its sales slate.

Of course, should U.S. buyers and beyond need a reminder of the level of movies Europeans think they are bringing to market, the EFP has one other trick up its sleeve.

It is presenting 13 movies from its member countries from across Europe that have been submitted for consideration as best foreign-language film at the upcoming Academy Awards at the Wilshire Screening Room in Beverly Hills, between Nov. 3-10 during the American Film Market.

The aim, of course, is to give the baker's dozen maximum exposure during awards season in L.A. and also "provide a platform for European films seeking U.S. distribution," EFP said.

Entries from Spain, Iceland, Bulgaria and the Netherlands are among those selected. In 2009, two of the eight European films submitted for similar screenings in L.A. were selected for the Academy Awards shortlist of nine titles.

"These screenings are a great chance to highlight some of Europe's best films during the Oscar campaigns and also for the U.S. buyers attending the AFM", Vezer says. "We are extremely pleased to be able to present 13 of our films this year, a big increase compared to the eight films in 2009 and six in 2008. This shows that more and more members of our EFP network want to make use of this opportunity and spotlight the films where the decision-makers meet."

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