AFM: Buyers and Producers Are Betting on Smaller, More Niche Films

The Hummingbird Project - Salma Hayek and Alexander Skarsgard - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of TIFF

Dealmakers are focusing on films that can stand out in a very crowded field: "Basically, either you're a Marvel or 'Star Wars' film or you're an Oscar contender. You need a film that feels like an event."

In place of cookie-cutter projects carried by surefire A-listers and a ton of P&A, buyers and producers at this year's AFM are taking what could be called the Blumhouse approach: mimicking the playbook of the company behind Get Out, Insidious and BlackKklansman by betting on smaller, more niche films that can stand out in a crowded field.

"Basically, either you're a Marvel or Star Wars film or you're an Oscar contender," says Gabrielle Stewart, managing director of Brit sales group HanWay. "You need a film that feels like an event, something that will capture the imagination of the cinemagoing public and give the journalists and critics something to write about."

For The Hummingbird Project — the Jesse Eisenberg-Alexander Skarsgard thriller that HanWay sold strongly following its Toronto debut — the media buzz came from the film's setting in a torn-from-the-headlines world of high-frequency trading.

"The moment you get into commodification, where you're just one of a dozen action movies or midbudget rom-coms, it's harder to stand out," says Fabien Westerhoff of the U.K.'s Film Constellation. "Only a small number of films will capture people's attention. If you're one of those three to four, the payoff is much greater. If you're not, you're left with crumbs."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.