AFM Sees Frenzy of Weekend Deals

Market also sees jump in attendance figures.

Sunday was no day of rest at the 31st American Film Market where a surge in general attendance gave the weeklong event an electricity not felt in a couple of years.

Jonathan Wolf, AFM managing director said the number of buyers attending was unchanged from 2009 and that there was a 2% rise in companies attending.

Even though the number of sales companies at AFM were 8-9% fewer compared with last year, there was a 20% jump in the attendance of producers, film commissioners, festival programmers and screenwriters, Wolf said.

"That rise is partly because people are having to work harder and show up at more events to get their projects together," said Wolf, who also is the exec vp of the Independent Film & Television Alliance.

On the acquisition front, the Weinstein Co. bought the sci-fi thriller Apollo 18, which will purport to reveal "found footage" of a covert mission to the moon that found evidence of other life forms. Trevor Cawood is directing from a script by Brian Miller. Producing the project are Bekmambetov Projects' Timur Bekmambetov and Michele Wolkoff.

Downers Grove is among other new projects announced at AFM. Hayden Panettiere, of TV's Heroes, and Nikki Reed, from the Twilight franchise, are attached to star in the high school-set thriller, which Bret Easton Ellis has written based on the novel by Michael Hornberg. Nelson McCormick (Prom Night) will direct the feature in Louisiana in the spring.

Producing are Oren Segal of Media Talent Group, Chiara Trento of Bystander Films and Jason Dubin of Mangrove Media. Myriad Pictures is handling worldwide rights outside of North America.

With a palpable buzz surrounding all things Asian, and particularly Chinese, much of the focus was on Peter Chan's upcoming Hong Kong-China co-production Wu Xia, shooting now in China with Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tang Wei.

The sale of finished martial arts movies to all territories gave the weeklong event a swift kick in the pants.

Newly-formed distributor China Lion, a partnership between former Village Roadshow CEO Milt Barlow and AMC, North America's No. 2 exhibitor, bought four films for day-and-date release.

"There's more punch and spunk in the market this year after last year which felt like a tired DVD market," Barlow said. "People always moan about markets, but this one it seems there are more people looking up."

For North America, Australia and New Zealand, Barlow bought What Women Want, the Poly Bona-CJ Entertainment co-production remake of the old Mel Gibson hit by Chen Daming, and, for the same territories, also picked up the March-April release of Bona's Donnie Yen action film Guan Yun Chang.

We Distribution sold China Lion Peter Chan's upcoming comedy Mr. & Mrs. Incredible and Wu Xia for Australia and New Zealand. China Lion also bought the Jackie Chan film 1911 for Australia and New Zealand from the actor's film company.

Active seller Media Asia, sold Wind Blast, to Turkey (Horizon), to Singapore's Encore Film, to Malaysia to Ram Entertainment, to Thailand to Sahamongkol and to Indonesia to P.T. Teguh.

The Hong Kong-based company also sold Motorway to Sahamongkol and to Wildside in France, and My Best Bodyguard to Horizon in Turkey and to Highfliers in the HK.

Media Int'l Pictures of Middle East picked up a Media Asia package of titles: The Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, Bruce Lee, My Brother, Wind Blast, Motorway, My Best Bodyguard and Fire of Conscience.

Earlier in the market, two U.S. acquisitions by boutique distributors signaled from the get-go that the independent distribution sector here was looking for movies.

Indomina Releasing picked up all North American rights to the French horror film The Pack, while Film Movement snagged rights to the Australian family drama Little Sparrows. Indomina exec Rob Williams negotiated with Films Distribution's Nicolas Brigaud-Robert on behalf of the filmmakers for The Pack. Umedia repped the sale for Sparrows to Film Movement.

And there has been an uptick in genre business, a traditional happy horror hunting ground for AFM buyers.

"The competition for the titles with talent and a director on board is more intense this year. We've made offers on things and discovered there are three others already in the mix," said one international-based studio buyer. "It's maybe the first signs of people regaining a bit of confidence."

The marketplace has always been aware that box office is growing globally, despite harsh economic times, but with fewer slots available on distributors' slates and increasingly risk-averse investors, the quality of deals at AFM was thought generally to be pretty high.

"It's a completely different market nowadays," said Yuko Shiomaki of Tokyo based sales company pictures dept.. "DVDs are gone and VOD isn't quite ready. Small independents must scramble to get our films noticed and this market remains a great place to do it."

Gregg Kilday contributed to this report.