AFM Wrap: Upheaval in Indie Film Leaves Buyers Cautious but Calm

George Miller - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

George Miller - Getty - H 2016

Buyers put off acquisitions for now, preferring to bet on smaller films with clear theatrical (and possibly awards) potential.

Still reeling from The Weinstein Co. and Global Road Entertainment bankruptcies, not to mention Megan Ellison's apparent retrenching, the indie film industry was hesitant to bet big at the American Film Market, which wrapped Nov. 7 in Santa Monica.

International buyers kicked the tires of big titles like George Miller's Three Thousand Years of Longing and Bryan Singer's Red Sonja, but most put off buying for now, preferring to bet on smaller films with clear theatrical (and potentially awards) potential.

Among them: dark comedy Breaking News in Yuba County, starring Allison Janney and Laura Dern, which all but sold out for Stuart Ford's AGC Studios; and the Diane Keaton-topped Poms, about women who start a cheerleading squad at their retirement community, which Sierra/Affinity and Endeavor Content are selling, and reportedly drew bids from Lionsgate and MGM for North America.

"For a long time, AFM was the market for middle-of-the-road films, action and thrillers," says Ford. "But now the top buyers are only really interested in films with a certain uniqueness that gives distributors a clear way to market them theatrically."

These films tend to come in well below $20 million, as the path to market for $50 million-plus movies increasingly goes via a studio or a streaming giant like Netflix or Amazon.

"We haven't bought a big-budget film at AFM for maybe five years," says Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of German mini-major Constantin, which acquired Breaking News for Germany. "AFM is shifting from being about big presales and becoming more of a networking event." Case in point: He met with Japan's Toho at the market in 2017, which led to Constantin and Toho partnering on the Milla Jovovich starrer Monster Hunter, which Sony has picked up worldwide.

Further consolidation among midsize players in the U.S. and internationally looks inevitable, but new companies also are emerging. Ahead of AFM, veteran executive Mark Gill rolled out producer-distributor Solstice Studios, backed by $400 million in fresh capital and aiming to produce three to five $30 million to $80 million movies a year.

"The indie film business is flexible," says Moszkowicz. "With Netflix, Amazon, Apple, there has never been so much money as there is right now. As long as the cake is getting bigger, things will be fine."

This story appears in the Nov. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.