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Despite the chilly Berlin weather and the lack of a physical market this year, the 2022 EFM is generating a surprising amount of heat, with several major deals expected in the coming days as buyers scramble for the top presales titles on offer.
Most sellers began screening films and doing Zoom meetings with distributors Monday, so bidding is well underway — and in at least one case already completed. Sony Pictures signed a $60 million worldwide deal for worldwide rights to Tom Hanks starrer A Man Called Otto with STX International and CAA Media Finance, the biggest buy of the Berlin market so far. Other star-driven projects, including FilmNation’s Jonestown drama White Night, with Chloë Grace Moretz and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Protagonist’s thriller Berlin Nobody, with Eric Bana and Kiernan Shipka, could also spark bidding wars.
“There aren’t that many big packages out there, so there’s a lot of competition for the few movies everyone wants,” notes Nadezda Motina, founder and CEO of Russian distributor Arna Media. “We’re going to see a lot of bidding and some very high numbers.”
There have already been a handful of small-to-mid-size deals, with STX picking up domestic rights on Michael Mann’s Ferrari biopic, starring Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz and Shailene Woodley (STX is also selling international on the film at EFM); IFC Midnight taking North American rights to Rubikon, a science fiction disaster film from director Magdalena Lauritsch, from The Playmaker Munich; and Menemsha Films has picked up North American rights to Saskia Diesing’s WWII drama Lost Transport from Global Screen.
But it’s a paradox of the indie market that asking figures for rights have stayed at or near pre-pandemic levels even as the theatrical market has slumped. Two of this year’s biggest independently financed films — female actioner The 355, starring Jessica Chastain and Penélope Cruz, and Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi disaster movie Moonfall, with Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson— both bombed badly. The former has earned just $23 million worldwide on an estimated $75 million budget and the latter, which cost a reported $150 million to make, opened domestically to just $10 million.
“We’re paying as much or more for these films, but you don’t know how or even if you’ll be able to bring them into theaters,” says Andrew Frank of Canadian indie distributor Mongrel Media. “Meanwhile, transactional VOD is vanishing and it’s become harder to sell the films to the big streamers, since they usually got first pass at them and turned them down before the independents get a look.”
But hope springs eternal in the indie film world, and figures out this week from European exhibitors’ association UNIC showed box office revenue in the region jumped 42 percent last year to $4.24 billion. While still 57 percent short of 2019 results, the numbers at least are pointing in the right direction. U.K.-based box office analyst Gower Street is forecasting a major box office bounce-back this year, with global theatrical revenue expected to jump 55 percent to $33.2 million and ticket receipts in Europe to soar 75 percent to $7.8 billion.
Those numbers are helping convince Berlin buyers to pony up.
“At the end of the day, people need content, they need films,” says Millennium Media co-president Jonathan Yunger. “And we’re seeing audiences, especially younger audiences, come back. Just look at the business Jackass did.” (Jackass Forever, the return of Johnny Knoxville’s slapstick, gross-out comedy franchise after a 12-year hiatus, grossed $23.5 million on its opening weekend on a reported $10 million budget. Three quarters of all ticket buyers were under the age of 35.)
“The demand right now is for youth-skewing and horror titles, because those will work in the theaters,” says Yunger. “With the films for older audiences, we’ll have to see when and how they come back.”
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