While the normally freezing weather in Berlin is an annual lament, this year’s unseasonably balmy clime became a major focus of conversation. And, as they say, when people have nothing else to talk about, they talk about the weather… The notably lackluster European Film Market boasted a small handful of buzz titles and only a few headline-grabbing deals. As such, the usual whispers of “Do we really need to be here?” grew louder in the last week. Another talking point was the early-in-the-market news of a shake-up at Exclusive Media, the production and foreign sales company headed by well-respected veterans Nigel Sinclair and Guy East. And, reliably, Lars von Trier’s director’s cut premiere of Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 was a head-turner, albeit for star Shia LaBeouf‘s pre-screening antics here.
Distribution consultant Jason Resnick mused yesterday, “It was the warmest Berlin ever, and yet the coldest Berlin ever.” Yet, no one was particularly shocked by the way business went here. Offshore and domestic deals were done, but folks roundly agreed there was a serious lack of oomph. As one exec told me ahead of the market, “Everybody is asking where the projects are.” The fact was that projects were slow to come together, unaided by the rat-a-tat-tat of the AFM, the holidays and Sundance on the calendar which increasingly amplify complaints about the packed schedule. Berlin has never been the hottest of annual markets, but it has had some more momentum in recent years. It’s unlikely there will be a mass exodus in 2015 — there’s always a concern of missing out — but sources say that screening prices went up this year and stands are growing more expensive, leading to some real cost/benefit soul-searching. Attendance was reportedly higher at the 2014 EFM, but one exec felt there were fewer “tire kickers.”
The sluggishness of this market also gave rise to a belief that there will be a lot of shopping in Cannes. FilmNation‘s Glen Basner, however, tells me he “did not get the sense buyers were waiting for Cannes.” His three new films, Daniel Craig-starrer The Whole Truth, John Carney’s Sing Street and JC Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, “sold very well, and our market was very different” than what’s being said about this Berlin. “Additionally, our promo screening for The Imitation Game resulted in the largest ever U.S. deal in Berlin history.” Indeed, the biggest domestic deal of this – and any – year in Berlin was The Weinstein Co’s $7M pick-up of Morten Tyldum’s Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer. CAA brokered the deal based on a promo reel that had five bidders going after it hard before TWC took it off the table.
Also active domestically was Open Road, which came into the market with a pre-buy on John Hillcoat’s Triple Nine. It followed that up by taking U.S. rights to QED International’s ensemble comedy Rock The Kasbah starring a very Berlin-present Bill Murray. And just yesterday, the company acquired U.S. rights to thriller The Tank. Further, Radius-TWC closed a $2M deal with Pathé for North American rights to Pablo Escobar pic Paradise Lost, and earlier snapped up the Salma Hayek thriller Everly and Danish horror pic When Animals Dream. Early last week, Sony Pictures Classics struck on Competition title Aloft which screens tonight.
Internationally, TrustNordisk had good going with Mads Mikkelsen-starrer The Salvation, Competition black comedy In Order Of Disappearance and drama Someone You Love. (The Scandinavian company had sold several of its titles to Magnolia for the U.S. last year, including Nymphomaniac, which made headlines Sunday when director von Trier sported a Persona Non Grata t-shirt and star LaBeouf wore a paper bag on his head.)
Nadine de Barros, Daniel Wagner and Rob Barnum’s new outfit Fortitude International closed a multi-territory deal with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions on The End Of The Tour, starring Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace. SPWA also ponied up for XYZ Films’ Kevin Smith horror pic Tusk in several territories. IM Global did brisk business on its Mattel movie Max Steel and on Labor Of Love, a reteam for Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan. The latter came to Berlin to talk up his vision to buyers for what was one of the hotter titles. There’s still uncertainty in the TV sector in France and Germany, where one buyer says distributors will only go for movies “that can really work theatrically.” In France, Samuel Hadida’s Metropolitan picked up the Shyamalan movie while Fortissimo closed with France’s Memento on Competition pic Black Coal, Thin Ice. EOne Films International notably sold Berlinale Special title Watermark in the UK, Australia and German speaking Europe. Germany’s Square One acquired K5 International’s hot Willis-starrer Vice, Mister Smith’s Race and Highland Film Group’s The Wright Girls.
Other titles that had buzz during the market included competition pic ’71. Director Yann Demange’s debut feature is roundly cited as a revelation for both the helmer and star Jack O’Connell. I hear U.S. buyers have been courting the Protagonist Pictures title. Also, Pathé’s Suffragette with Carey Mulligan starring was high on the radar. Pathé took the film over from Focus Features International after the sales division closed at the end of last year.
Turning to the issue of Exclusive Media, some folks are wondering if the company could go the way of FFI. But others expect it to carry on under new management. Many caution that no one knows anything yet and the last official word from Sinclair was in the form of a statement that said, “Exclusive Media’s management is engaged in collaborative discussions with our partners from (primary backer) Dasym Investment Strategies BV regarding the forward plan for the company.”
Coming into the market, Exclusive was forced to re-assess plans for Jake Gyllenhaal/Amy Adams-starrer Ezekiel Moss after director Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death. On Day 2 of the market came news of the shake-up, and then a few days later it was learned that Exclusive’s Pelé biopic would not be ready for release for this summer’s World Cup. I understand, however, that buyers have been overwhelmingly supportive. Exclusive’s president of international, Alex Walton, is roundly-liked and by all accounts handled a busy week with aplomb. Being able to speak to clients face-to-face amid it all was sort of serendipitous timing.