Berlin 2012: High-Profile Projects Drive Busy EFM

European Film Market-Berlin-2011
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Hot scripts with talent attached give Berlin some heat, but presales for small-budget flicks remain scarce.

BERLIN -- The temperatures may have been chilly, but the European Film Market was on fire as sellers introduced a handful of high-profile projects that were quickly gobbled up.

“It was the busiest Berlin ever and a real market,” said FilmNation CEO and founder Glen Basner, who secured the biggest studio deal of his sales career for Robert Redford’s next film All Is Lost, directed by J.C. Chandor.

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In a sign of the intense dealmaking that went on, Hollywood studios got into the action in a major way. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions swooped in as the EFM opened on Feb. 9 and bought rights to most of the world for newly announced Denzel Washington-Mark Wahlberg action pic Two Guns, while eOne paid $10.6 million for the U.K. and Canada.

Mark Damon’s Foresight Unlimited Inked an estimated $45 million to $50 million in presale business for Two Guns, but Damon declined to reveal how much Sony’s portion was (in some territories, independent distributors are taking the film). The 78-year-old former actor, a foreign sales pioneer, enjoyed the best market of his career. Between Two Guns and his other films, he’ll walk away with at least $65 million in business.

One British sales agent said that the presales market this year is good for those with big, commercial projects but almost non-existent for small, low-budget films.

“Mark [Damon] has set the bar at $70 million in presales at this market, so we’re going to have to raise it in Cannes,” joked one veteran British sales agent.

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Finished films, or those in postproduction, also seemed to fare well at the market. “When someone else has taken on the risk of the development and production of a film without us having to put in early money and it still gets made, it usually is worth looking at,” said one U.K. based studio acquisitions executive. “The market for finished films with quality cast has been competitive and lively.”

Documentary Marley also drew foreign sales at the EFM thanks with reggae legend Bob Marley as its subject matter and Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald as its director. Universal Pictures International Entertainment struck a deal for U.K. and Scandinavian rights to the film in Berlin, while other firms bought it for Italy and Spain.

But presales dominated the day. FilmNation has had a strong EFM with such films as All Is Lost, Bitter Pill and A Most Wanted Man.

Other companies doing strong business included Sierra/Affinity, Exclusive Media and Summit Entertainment.

IM Global also was a winner at the market with R-rated film noir puppet comedy Happytime Murders, which is from the Henson Co. and might star Katherine Heigl, and erotic thriller Plush, which reunites director Catherine Hardwicke with Evan Rachel Wood.

Happytime Murders was widely seen as the most unique and unusual project being shopped in Berlin. While no deals were announced as of late Tuesday, the film has enjoyed a good market, according to sources.

Director Brian Henson, the son of the legendary Jim Henson, came to the German capital to help push the project.

According to EFM organizers, the market drew 1,700 buyers this year as of Tuesday, up from 1,532 in 2011. Participants, a figure that could change, exceeded the 7,800 mark, compared with 6,982 last year.

Berlin is traditionally viewed as not quite as big a market as November’s AFM in Santa Monica and Cannes, but this year it came close.

Lisa Wilson, founder of The Solution Entertainment Group, did well with bittersweet comedy Writers, starring Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly, which sold to several territories. Said Wilson: “It’s been a very good market.”