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As the international film industry tries to get itself excited about the start of another virtual European Film Market — the online-only EFM officially kicks off Thursday in Berlin — it’s safe to say that buyers, sales agents and producers are all suffering from Zoom fatigue.
“We already noticed at the [virtual] AFM last year: buyers were in a bad mood, sales companies noticed that buyers were in a bad mood and sales companies were in a bad mood,” says Janina Vilsmaier, head of sales at U.K.-based Protagonist Pictures, whose EFM titles include Saoirse Ronan project The Outrun and the Eric Bana/Kiernan Shipka-starrer Berlin Nobody. “You just want to sit across the room and talk to someone again, not do everything on a screen.”
Business is still being done. Earlier this week, HanWay unveiled a slew of deals for McCarthy — the upcoming biopic starring Michael Shannon as the infamous red-baiting U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy — including sales to The Jokers for France, Tohokushinsha for Japan, and Vértice Cine for Italy, Spain, Portugal and Latin America.
On the eve of the Berlin market, STX inked a domestic deal for Ferrari, Michael Mann’s long-in-development biopic about the legendary Italian car designer, with House of Gucci star Adam Driver stepping in to replace Hugh Jackman in the title role and Penélope Cruz and Shailene Woodley joining the cast.
Also shortly before Berlin officially kicked off, art house streaming group MUBI picked up multiple territory rights on select unsold territories, including in Latin America, India, the Middle East and Africa, for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s multi-Oscar nominee Drive My Car from its in-house sales group The Match Factory, which MUBI acquired last month.
But, notes Vilsmaier, virtual markets favor certain films, movies with recognizable names that fit into clear genre categories. A movie like Protagonist’s The Innocents — a low-budget Norwegian supernatural horror — needs a physical market to generate buzz.
“I sold out The Innocents worldwide last year,” notes Vilsmaier. “But 80 percent of the distributors who bought it were there, physically, with me in Cannes.”
Berlin, traditionally, has been the market to launch big-budget indie projects, but shifts in the global market — particularly the drop-off in big prebuys out of Asia — mean there will be few, if any, $100 million-plus packages on offer at EFM 2022.
“For the really big films, the $150 million-plus, you go directly to a streamer or a studio for a worldwide deal,” notes one top financier. “The indie world can’t shoulder those kinds of numbers anymore.”
It won’t help matters that Roland Emmerich’s $150 million sci-fi disaster epic Moonfall — the last really big movie financed via the traditional indie presale model — crash-landed on its opening weekend, with an estimated $10 million in North America and a similarly disappointing $9.4 million from 45 markets internationally. Better news for art house and specialty titles, which make up the bulk of the EFM lineup, came from the performance of Joachim Trier’s Oscar contender The Worst Person in the World, which pulled in $135,042 from just four cinemas in New York and L.A., the best showing for a non English-language film since 2019.
“We still believe in the theatrical audience, and the adult, art house audience,” says Cécile Gaget, president of international sales, production and distribution at Anton, which is selling Claire Denis’ Berlin competition title Both Sides of the Blade at EFM. “We’ve seen across Europe how, when cinemas have reopened, audience is willing to come back. If you have the right film.”
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