Gap between buyers, sellers at AFM

Big financial gap this year in a 'tough environment'

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It's all about minding the gap.

As the American Film Market throws open its doors Wednesday, there is a chasm in expectations between what sellers are looking for from a sale of a project to what buyers can and can't afford to pay.

"There is a big gap between what sellers need and what buyers are prepared to pay," said Stewart Till, the freshly anointed Icon U.K. chief. "There are a few green shoots around, but it is still a very tough environment."

Financiers are about as cautious as they've ever been in selecting indie projects to back, and the shrinking U.S. specialty market already is impacting the marketplace.

"Back in the day, a U.S. sale really helped lock down all the other territory sales, but now it's harder than ever to close those sales," one seller said. "Now buyers want the film to be made, let alone with a good cast attached and a big sale in place."

But sellers can take comfort from the fact that buyers are expected in numbers at AFM. And entering the market, there are a slew of projects that could whet buyer appetites with top-line casting.

Prospective hot properties include Robert Redford's historical drama "The Conspirator" for Focus Features, with a cast including Robin Wright Penn, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood and Justin Long.

K5 will be hawking "Get Low," starring Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek and Robert Duvall, and the Samuel L. Jackson starrer "Unthinkable" will be repped by Sierra Pictures.

Mandate has Paul Haggis' take on the French movie "Anything for Her," starring Russell Crowe, and Elizabeth Banks in "The Next Three Days," and Summit will be introducing buyers to "Red," the DC Comics adaptation that stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren.

Organizers said Tuesday that the market will play host to a record 80-plus fresh-faced newcomer acquisition companies, more than doubling the number of first-time participants in most previous years.

Jonathan Wolf, AFM managing director and exec vp of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, noted an increase in buyers from Far East.

Of the acquisition companies new to the AFM, 13 are from South Korea, 10 from the U.S., seven from Russia, five from China and four from Canada. And there will be multiple buying companies joining from Brazil, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Mexico, Spain and the Czech Republic.

But those hungry mouths will be fishing in a smaller pool, with a drop in exhibitors to 369 this year from 412 last year.