Berlin Wrap: Why Big-Ticket U.S. Sales Are on the Rise

Knight of Cups
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

Films directed by Terrence Malick and Mel Gibson drew top dollar as the competition for product grows fiercer.

A verion of this story first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Berlinale always has been a seller's market, and as competition for product grows fiercer, U.S. presales are rising. "There are only a few English-language films in the official program each year, and many domestic buyers are in town with little else to distract them," says Micah Green, co-head of CAA's film-finance group.

Early in the festival, U.S. buyers recovering from Sundance quickly ignored their jet lag upon viewing a 12-minute sizzle reel of Freeheld (co-repped by CAA and WME). The gay-rights drama, starring Julianne Moore as the late Laurel Hester and Ellen Page (also a producer on the film), ignited an overnight bidding war. Lionsgate emerged the victor over Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics and Netflix, among others, paying $7 million for North American rights to the Endgame production.



It wasn't the largest sale at Berlin, which has become a breeding ground for big-ticket U.S. deals. In 2014, The Weinstein Co. prebought U.S. rights to The Imitation Game for $7 million based on a promo reel. (Weinstein sat out this Berlin, as it had Sundance.) Historically, producers waited until an indie film was done before selling it to a U.S. distributor; that way, there was a chance of hiking up the price. But that practice has changed as competition has made Berlin an ideal place to snag new projects being shopped to foreign buyers.

This year, upstart Broad Green Pictures paid $6.5 million for U.S. rights to Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups and his upcoming film, both starring Christian Bale and Natalie Portman. CAA and WME also are shepherding a deal for Lionsgate to release the World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield. In a deal valued at $10 million to $12 million (some put the price tag closer to $15 million), Cross Creek Pictures and Demarest Films are coming aboard to finance the project, now in preproduction, and will partner with Lionsgate.



And in a major worldwide deal, UTA's Independent Film Group sold Jamie Dornan's period war film Jadotville to Netflix for a reported $17 million deal for global rights. And Adopt Films acquired U.S. rights to the thriller Victoria after the movie enjoyed a warm reception at the chilly festival.

"It can be easier to capture a distributor's attention in Berlin," says Green. "At Sundance, Toronto and Cannes, you are competing with more movies. Berlin has a shorter supply."