High cost of business at midmarket

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CANNES -- A handful of sought-after titles, big prices putting off those without deep pockets and the return of concerns about a weakened dollar are having an effect on the business levels at this year's Marche du Film.

Buyers agree that the breakdown between top, middle and dreck level project prospects has seen a slight swelling at the high end of the market -- but prices are upscale, too.

"There does seem to be more high-end, sought-after titles this year," one U.K. buyer said. "But the sellers know it, and the prices for U.K. and Germany, for instance, are right up there."

Another marketgoer noted just how late cast was being added at the quality end. "It's unusual for casting to actually be added just as you are about to go into a meeting, but that is happening now," the buyer said.

"There are two actors staring in every big film being sold here, TBA and TBC," quipped Alexander von Duelmen of East European acquisitions group EEAP.

Jerome Bliah, president of International Film Distribution Consultants, a company that analyzes each film's asking price versus an assessment of script quality, talent and potential marketability, said the weak dollar has been a drag on the market.

"There has been such a drop in the business. The euro exchange is a plus for the Europeans, but prices were already inflated by 30%. Some prices just don't make sense," Bliah said.

But it certainly seems that if you have the product, buyers will come, with sales houses including Summit, Dreamachine, Focus Features, Capitol Films and Relativity Media mentioned as quality outlets.

Summit closed a major deal with Germany, selling Roman Polanski's "Pompeii" to Munich indie giant Constantin Film. Germany's Concorde Filmverleih also bought a Summit title -- "Get Some" -- as well as picking up "Pathology" from Lakeshore.

And the market is abuzz with the prospect of Focus Features set to sign within days a major German deal for its entire Cannes slate in a bundle, with at least three Teutonic distributors in the bidding.

At the Spanish stand, things have been generally quiet. One exception has been the bustle around Latido Films, which has sold a number of territories on Carlos Saura's upcoming "Fados" as well as Juan Carlos Tabio's "Horn of Plenty."

"Ten years ago at the Cannes market, about one-fourth of the space here was dedicated to world cinema," Latido chief Max Saidel said. "Now more than two-thirds is dedicated to world cinema. There's a lot of competition, and buyers are very selective."

On the U.S. acquisitions front, all the usual suspects are chasing the same couple of films.

"Everyone was focused on (James Gray's) 'We Own the Night,' and now we're moving on to (Gus Van Sant's) 'Paranoid Park,'" Overture's Danny Rosett said one day after Columbia grabbed "Night." "There are no surprises -- people are going slowly and being cautious. It's not disappointing; people are still hopeful and it's still early."

Tatiana Siegel, Gregg Goldstein and Pamela Rolfe contributed to this report.
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