Berlin’s European Film Market Off to a Sluggish Start

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Gerard Butler

Concerns over the coronavirus' impact on the Chinese market — including shuttered theaters and a growing backlog of Chinese and Hollywood tentpoles waiting for release — have cast a pall over EFM.

Berlin’s European Film Market has gotten off to a slow start — but there are signs of life.

Leonine, the new German studio formed last year by KKR’s acquisition and merger of German indies Tele Munchen Group and Universum, picked up German-speaking rights for the Gerard Butler action thriller Remote Control from STXinternational in a mid-seven-figure deal, the largest reported pact of EFM so far. The deal followed a buyer’s presentation in Berlin this week where Butler, who is also co-producing the film through his G-Base shingle, pitched the project to international distributors.

In the movie, Butler plays a former war correspondent turned corporate security consultant who gets caught up in a global conspiracy. Oscar-nominated cinematographer John Mathieson (Gladiator) will direct from a screenplay by Mark Burnell. Principal photography is planned for later this year.

The deal came a day after Leonine nabbed German and Austrian rights for Asterix & Obelix: The Silk Road, the latest in the popular French comic-book franchise, which Pathé Films is selling worldwide.

Swedish actress Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) was in town as well to meet one-on-one with international buyers and pitch The Thicket, the Western from director Elliott Lester in which she will star alongside Peter Dinklage and Charlie Plummer. The strategy seemed to work, with The Exchange, which is handling international on the picture, reporting strong business.

"The presale business is really tough right now, but we hit our targets and exceeded them for The Thicket," says Brian O’Shea of The Exchange. "Berlin is an efficient market because all the buyers come and it’s cheaper than either Cannes or AFM."

But concerns about the coronavirus and its impact on the Chinese market have cast a pall over EFM. Many sellers are worried that, with Chinese theaters still shuttered due to quarantine and a growing backlog of Chinese and Hollywood tentpoles waiting for release, their indie films will be squeezed out.

"It is impossible to know what will happen," says Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of Constantin Film, whose action feature Monster Hunter, made with Japan’s Toho and Tencent in China, is scheduled to roll out in September. "But it’s clear that these big independent films, budgeted at $60 million or up, cannot be made without the Chinese market."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 23 daily issue at the Berlin Film International Festival.