Commercial titles find buyers at EFM

Presales sparked to life in Berlin

BERLIN -- The buyers are back. While business at the European Film Market hasn't returned to dizzying levels, for sellers with commercial or buzzworthy fest projects, deals are getting done.

Bidding wars have broken out on desirable movies in the market and, whisper it softly, buyers can actually pay what they promise.

"There are some very aggressive prices being asked but really commercial films are being made now with much more realistic budgets," Icon Entertainment president Stewart Till told THR. "Everyone knows that prices are linked to budgets so the market has adjusted to the difficult economic situation."

Icon has had a buoyant market with good sales volumes on the Mel Gibson prison drama "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" heralding a steady stream of international buyers. Till also said bringing in talent to support fresh sales slate projects helped spark interest.

That was true for Lionsgate's "Riddick," the third in the "Pitch Black" franchise, which set off a bidding war in Russia after Vin Diesel flew in Saturday to pitch the project. Danish director Lars Von Trier showed up to pitch buyers on his feature "Melancholia," helping TrustNordisk close presales with Benelux (Wildbunch) and Poland (Gutek Film). Other VIP faces seen shilling their upcomings included Renny Harlin, Emilio Estevez and actors Ulrich Thomsen and Hiam Abbass. The latter two took part in Berlin's co-production market, pitching financiers on their respective directorial debuts.

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Von Trier's appearance also gave rise to Berlin's best rumor -- that the Danish enfant terrible was planning a remake of Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver." Speaking to THR, Von Trier's longtime business partner Peter Aalbaek Jensen dismissed the rumor but it helped provide the EFM with further heat.

Presales, declared dead after Cannes last year, sparked to life in Berlin.

The projects that sold were in the action and thriller genres and were talent-dependent, a far cry from the heyday were dramas with first-time directors and newcomers actors were finding financing. But the key territories -- U.S., Germany, France and Japan -- remained hard nuts to crack.

"That part of the market is picking up," said Hannibal Pictures CEO Richard Rionda del Castro, who locked up multiple territories in presales for "Son of No One," the Al Pacino police thriller that begins shooting in March. "But you need to have a genre. And distributors want names."

Sellers also say there were fewer project announcements, which was a good thing, as when too many projects enter the marketplace and actors make too many attachments, the hopeful titles end up falling apart.

"You buy five titles and you don't know if one is going to get made or five," said Dirk Schweizer,head of Universum and acquisitions chief for RTL Television.

The place to look for new projects may be Cannes. Several companies were letting buyers know that they'd be bringing plenty of goodies to France, among them Icon, Locomotive and mPower.

Projects expecting to make a splash on the Croisette include Woody Allen's latest project, which Spain's Imagina is selling, and Fortissimo's "Norwegian Wood."

"People need product. That's what we're seeing," Imagina sales head Beatriz Setuain said. "They're not paying what they were paying a few years ago particularly for the small or medium product. But the big films are selling well and have gone up. Last year, we were selling more catalog titles, this year it's new films. We can say mission accomplished."

Myriad closed several territories on Sundance movie "Happythankyoumoreplease," directed by "How I Met Your Mother" star Josh Radnor. Territories sewn up include Greece (Spentzos), Middle East (Eagle) Portugal (VCM), Switzerland (Praesens), Spain (Filmax), South Korea (Daisy Entertainment)

Hannibal sold "Give 'Em Hell", the Thomas Jane crime thriller, to Canada ( E1), Germany (Splendid), U.K., (Momentum), Australia (Horizon), Greece (Spentzos), Portugal (Lusu Mundo), Spain (Novel Wide Pictures), Turkey (Saran), Latin and South America (Swen), Poland (Monolith), CIS (Soyuz), Hungary (RTL), Yugoslavia (Grandview Castle), Romania (ITV), Israel (5 Star).

Hannibal's Antonio Banderas thriller "The Big Bang" also walked away with a slew of deals: Canada (E1), Poland (Monolith), CIS (Soyuz), Hungary (RTL), Romania (Intermedia), Czech Republic and Slovakia (Hollywood), former Yugoslavia (Grandview Castle), Greece (Spentzos), Turkey (Horizon), Middle East (Eagle), Latin and South America (Swen),

The company's "Gun," directed by Jessy Terrero and starring 50 Cent, also did well: Canada (E1), Benelux (Les films Elysees), Turkey (Horizon), Middle East (Eagle), Latin and South America (Swen), Poland (Monolith), Hungary (RTL), Romania (Program 4 Media), former Yugoslavia (Taramount), Czech Republic (Vapet), Thailand (IPA). A U.K. deal is expected soon.

Fortissimo completed several deals, selling Michele Yeoh actioneer "Reign of Assassins" to the U.K. (Lionsgate), Russia and the Baltics (Film Depot /Volga Films) and Israel (United King), Generations title "Road, Movie" to Germany (Senator) Australia and New Zealand (Madman), Benelux (Paradiso) and Israel (United King) with a North America deal close; and Doris Dorrie's "Hairdresser," a Berlinale Special title which closed for Benelux (Paradiso), Poland (Vivarto) and Israel (United King). Fortissimo's Sundance hit "Winter's Bone" and Japanese horror "Shock Labyrinth: Extreme 3D" also signed for multiple territories.

"This Berlin met our expectations," Fortissimo boss Michael Werner said.

Things were looking up for several Gallic sales and acquisitions companies as well, including Studiocanal.

"Chateau Potsdamer 2010 is a great year for us, selling 40% more than last year across a stronger and more eclectic lineup," Studiocanal's exec vp Int sales Harold Van Lier said of the company's post-crisis EFM success. He added: "We are seeing parts of the world showing promising signs of recovery, including Italy, Russia, Latin America and Korea while the U.S. has been about playing the upside with the likes of Sony ('Chloe') and Lionsgate ('The Last Exorcism')."

In addition to the Von Trier project, TrustNordisk closed on Susanne Bier's "The Revenge" for Spain (Golem) and Poland (Vivarto); Berlin competition title "A Somewhat Gentle Man" for Benelux (Wildbunch), Poland (Vivarto) and CIS/Baltics (Maywin Media), Danish competition entry "A Family" for Benelux (Wildbunch) and Poland (Vivarto) and Josef Fares' "Balls" for Israel (New Cinema).

Stuart Kemp, Rebecca Leffler and Pamela Rolfe contributed to this report.