There is a healthy variety of new movie packages at the American Film Market, which gets under way today in Santa Monica. As we noted in our preview, there are also some strong holdovers from recent markets (such as Eve and UglyDolls) and pre-existing projects which are being reconfigured with good new cast. Below is a selection of the hottest market debuts.
The depth of projects looks solid on paper. One aspect that isn’t so impressive: the ratio of female filmmakers. Only three of the 25 or so highlight projects below have women directors. A little like in Venice, while the number of female directors remains low there are at least a decent number of new projects with strong female characters and starring roles. These include Breaking News In Yuba County, Misbehaviour, Red Sonja, The Wind, and The Glorias. This is an improvement for a market (AFM) which has been well known for its male-driven action and genre fare.
A few side notes from my first foray down to the Loews yesterday: I understand there is a strong digital contingent among accredited buyers this year. Netflix has a record nine buyers coming to market, while Amazon has four. Apple has its first accredited buyer since 2015 and Walmart’s streaming service Vudu has three. Fandor has one and Filmrise seven. Whether they all attend remains to be seen but it’s a sign of the times. SVOD acquisitions execs I spoke to pre-market were in relatively chipper form. Understandably so. Indie distributors will need to be quick on the draw for movies they like.
AFM has long had a strong Asian presence and this year looks to be no different. In terms of exhibitor nationality, the five best-represented countries after the U.S are: UK (34), France (29), South Korea (22), China (17) and Japan (13).
And if the Loews lobby and bar area seems quieter this year, the event tells me that is because of a new policy whereby only badge-holders will be allowed into the hotel.
HOT MARKET DEBUTS
Three Thousand Years Of Longing — Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are attached to star in this big-canvas George Miller fantasy romance. Plot is being kept under wraps but the story is understood to revolve around a genie. Shoot is due to get under way next year. Feted franchise creator Miller will produce alongside his regular collaborator Doug Mitchell. FilmNation is handling international sales. CAA reps North America and China.
Minamata — Johnny Depp has been set to star as celebrated photographer W. Eugene Smith in Minamata, about his documentation of the corporate and environmental scandal of the same name in Japan. Andrew Levitas will direct the film based on the book by Aileen Mioko Smith and Smith, and adapted by David K. Kessler. Shoot is due to begin in Japan followed by Serbia in January. HanWay Films handles international. CAA reps domestic.
Breaking News In Yuba County — Allison Janney and Laura Dern are set to star in this black comedy from The Help and Girl On The Train director Tate Taylor. Amanda Idoko’s script follows overlooked pencil pusher Sue Bottoms (Janney) who catches her husband in bed with another woman, the shock of which causes him to die of a heart attack. She buries his body and takes advantage of the growing celebrity status that comes from having a missing husband. But she quickly finds herself in over her head. Producing with Taylor will be Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker, Franklin Leonard, and John Norris. Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios will finance and launch sales this week. CAA and Endeavor co-rep U.S.
Waldo — Mel Gibson, Charlie Hunnam and Eiza González are attached to star in Tim Kirkby’s action-thriller about a disgraced former LAPD detective, played by Hunnam, living the life of a minimalist in the woods. His quiet life comes to an abrupt halt when he is roped back into working as a private eye to investigate the murder of an eccentric television star’s wife. Andrew Lazar, Christina Weiss Lurie and Steve Shainberg will produce. Shoot is due first quarter 2019. IMR International is handling foreign sales. CAA reps domestic.
Misbehaviour — Keira Knightley will lead a cast alongside Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jessie Buckley in this dramedy from The Crown outfit Left Bank Pictures. Philippa Lowthorpe will direct the true story about the first black woman to win the Miss World competition. The 1970 edition of the controversial but much-watched event was hosted by Bob Hope in London and featured a demonstration from the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement. Pathé handles sales.
Jungleland — A reluctant bareknuckle boxer (Jack O’Connell) and his brother (Charlie Hunnam) must travel across the country for one last fight, but an unexpected travel companion (Jessica Barden) — the girlfriend of a dangerous mob boss — exposes the cracks in their bond along the way. Max Winkler directs the script he wrote with Theodore B. Bressman and David Branson Smith. Romulus Entertainment financed the pic, which recently wrapped shoot. Mister Smith handles foreign sales, CAA and Endeavor handle U.S.
Mosul — Joe and Anthony Russo’s upstart studio AGBO and Condé Nast Entertainment have teamed up to produce thriller Mosul, the true story of an elite police unit made up almost entirely of native sons of Mosul who fought to liberate the Iraqi city from six thousand ISIS militants. Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan makes his directorial debut on the feature, which is based on Luke Mogelson’s reporting in The New Yorker about his time embedded with a SWAT unit as they fought to destroy ISIS. Oscar-winning Avatar DoP Mauro Fiore is lighting. Endeavor handles world sales.
Red Sonja — Bryan Singer is in talks to direct the big-screen adaptation of the 1970s sword-and-sorcery comic book spinoff. Ashley Miller, who wrote X-Men: First Class (which Singer produced), is writing the screenplay. This project has long been in development, and was almost put together in 2008, but this is the furthest along it’s been since then. Millennium is financing, producing and repping sales on the big-budget female-fronted franchise hopeful.
Dirt Music — Kelly Macdonald and Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound) star in the story of an illicit romance in a tightly-knit Oz community between a fragile woman named Georgie and a mysterious young poacher. When Georgie’s partner gets wind of the tryst a chase ensues between the two men across Australia’s remote and unforgiving terrain. Adapted from Tim Winton’s acclaimed novel by Jack Thorne, producers are Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey of Wildgaze Films and Angie Fielder and Polly Staniford of Australian outfit Aquarius Films. Gregor Jordan directs. Cornerstone reps sales on the film which recently wrapped shoot.
The Glorias: A Life On The Road — Based on the memoir of feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Julie Taymor’s film will follow Steinem’s journey to become a crusader for equal rights and her groundbreaking work as a journalist and activist. Oscar-winner Julianne Moore will star with Alicia Vikander in talks to join. FilmNation reps international, Endeavor handles U.S.
Waiting For The Barbarians — The feature film adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s acclaimed novel of the same name will star Johnny Depp, Mark Rylance and Robert Pattinson. Production is underway in Morocco with in-demand Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra. The story follows a British magistrate (Rylance) working in a small colonial town who begins to question his loyalty to the Empire. AMBI is handling sales.
Synchronic — Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan are in talks to topline this sci-fi thriller from The Endless directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Pic follows two New Orleans paramedics, whose lives are ripped apart after encountering a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects. XYZ Films is handling international sales and co-reps domestic with UTA Independent Film Group.
Falling — Viggo Mortensen is to make his directorial debut on this intimate LGBT-themed drama about a son’s relationship with his aging father. The Green Book and Captain Fantastic star wrote the screenplay and will play one of the two leading roles. Cast also includes Lance Henriksen and Sverrir Gudnason. HanWay Films will handle international sales. UTA Independent Film Group will oversee the U.S. sale.
Drake Doremus Untitled — Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan and Matthew Gray Gubler have been set to lead Drake Doremus’ next movie, production on which is underway in Los Angeles. CJ Entertainment is developing, financing and producing the untitled pic with Like Crazy director Doremus, who co-wrote the original screenplay about a thirtysomething woman navigating love and heartbreak with novelist Jardine Libaire. Protagonist Pictures handles international sales (CJ will rep Asia). UTA Independent Film Group handles domestic.
Arkansas — Vince Vaughn, Liam Hemsworth, and Clark Duke topline Arkansas, the first directorial outing for Clark, who also wrote the script. The film follows a pair of low level drug runners in the Dixie Mafia, Kyle (Hemsworth) and Swin (Duke), who live by the orders of an Arkansas-based drug kingpin Frog (Vaughn), whom they’ve never met. But when a deal goes horribly wrong, deadly consequences are soon to rattle the duo’s routine lives. Shoot is underway in Alabama. VMI International and Storyboard Media are handling sales on the project.
Dry Run — Todd Haynes is on board to direct Participant drama Dry Run (working title), Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa’s screenplay about a corporate attorney who takes on chemical giant DuPont and risks his job and family to expose a decades-long conspiracy. Mark Ruffalo is producing with Killer Films. The story is based on Nathaniel Rich’s New York Times article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare. Focus has U.S. rights. Lionsgate reps international.
The Banker — Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Nicholas Hoult and Nia Long will star in George Nolfi’s fact based drama, based on the true story of two African American entrepreneurs, Bernard Garrett (Mackie) and Joe Morris (Jackson), who during the 1950’s tried to circumvent the racial limitations of the era and take on the establishment by recruiting a working class white man, Matt Steiner (Hoult) and training him to pose as the head of their business empire while they pretended to be a janitor and a chauffeur. Romulus Entertainment is financing. Mister Smith reps international sales. Endeavor and ICM co-rep U.S.
Mainstream — After making her directorial debut on Palo Alto, Gia Coppola is set to direct and co-write Mainstream as her followup. Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke, Nat Wolff and Jason Schwartzman have been set to star in an eccentric love triangle and cautionary tale of preserving your identity within the fast-moving internet age. Coppola wrote the script with Tom Stuart, with filming to get underway at year’s end. CAA Media Finance is handling domestic sales, Wild Bunch is handling foreign.
The Boy 2 — Katie Holmes will star in this horror-thriller sequel, whose first installment topped $65M global. William Brent Bell will direct the story of a young family which is unaware of the terrifying history of the estate into which they move and where their young son soon makes an unsettling new friend, an eerily life-like doll he calls Brahms. Shoot is due to get underway in January. STX handles sales.
Skin — Jamie Bell stars as a repentant skinhead in this well-received Toronto drama, which was picked up for domestic by A24/DIRECTV. The Maven Pictures title from Israeli director Guy Nattiv is inspired by the true story of Bryon Widner, a white supremacist who turned his back on the movement and underwent excruciating tattoo removal surgeries. Vera Farmiga and Patti Cake$ breakout Danielle MacDonald also star. Voltage Pictures handles international sales.
The Beast — Gaumont and Contents Panda, the international business subsidiary of Train To Busan outfit Next Entertainment World are behind this Korean remake of Olivier Marchal’s 36, the French thriller starring Gérard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil. The remake will depict the confrontation between two strong-willed rival detectives with different methods who are trying to solve the murder of a missing girl after discovering her limbless body. Lee Sung-min, You Chea-myung and Jeon Hye-jin are starring. Shoot is imminent. Contents Panda handles sales to Asian territories and Gaumont reps the rest of the world.
The Kiss Quotient — This early stage romance-comedy project which combines elements of Pretty Woman and Crazy Rich Asians is based on Helen Hoang’s well-received 2018 debut novel of the same name. Story follows Stella, a brilliant econometrician on the autism spectrum who knows everything about algorithms but nothing about romance. In an effort to grow comfortable with the idea of dating, she hires a male escort to help her better understand relationships — but she doesn’t expect that they will find themselves completely entranced by one another. Lionsgate handles sales.
The Wind — IFC Midnight snapped up this supernatural horror debut after its Midnight Madness debut in Toronto. Written by Teresa Sutherland and directed by Emma Tammi, it tells the story of a woman who, after moving to the Western frontier of the U.S. in the late 1800s to settle in with her husband, is driven mad by an evil presence. Caitlin Gerard, Ashley Zukerman and Julia Goldani Telles star. Upcoming festivals include Sitges. Magnolia handles international.
War Of Their Worlds — After making a splash in Cannes with animation Next Gen, which was snapped up by Netflix in a big-dollar deal, growing Canadian firm Tangent Animation is teaming up with SC Films to produce family animation pic War Of Their Worlds, which the latter will launch sales on at the AFM. Described as a classic cat and mouse story of sworn enemies, the film will follow Nipsy the mouse and her family who have a happy life in an abandoned house that just won’t sell. That is until a ruthless property developer sees potential in their run-down space and sends in two eager cats to chase the mice out of their home.