It was a bumpy start to the AFM’s tenure at new home Le Méridien Delfina. Most industry we spoke to were unhappy about something venue-related whether it be the noisy strikes that took place all week, cost, size of rooms, “maze-like” structure, slow lifts (the fire department was reportedly called Friday to help guests stuck in one of the two lifts serving the hotel’s lobby), parking issues, location or general aesthetic. Talk of alternatives continues to bubble. Miami and Las Vegas were mooted destinations among disgruntled industry. But a reimagined fall market has been a long-running point of discussion and many still think Los Angeles offers more than most cities. AFM organizers IFTA told us they have a multi-year deal with the Méridien so it may be a case of listening, learning and improving where possible.
More from Deadline
This market was always going to be “light” as one packaging agent described it, due to the strike. Sellers and packagers were hampered by not being able to secure or announce a number of actors for projects. There were a handful of packages that were whispered to buyers but not formally unveiled. Thorsten Ritter of German sales firm Beta told us: “We are facing uncertainty amongst the agents as to what they feel is best for their talent. Having an actor commit at the moment is a difficult thing to accomplish.” Paris-based Gregory Chambet of WTFilms added: “The strike has had an impact on two of our projects which are on standby because we cannot move forward with casting or even detailed discussions with American partners due to the strike.” Despite that challenge, buyers we spoke to were pleasantly surprised by the number of projects that were announced, many with interim agreements or European shooting schedules. The indie sector remains resourceful and resilient. As ever at AFM, sellers leaned into genre fare. Among those projects we heard positive things about were A24’s Civil War and Mother Mary, FilmNation’s Novocaine, Black Bear’s She Rides Shotgun and Wicker, Anton and Charades’ Night Of The Zoopocalypse, and Protagonist’s Spider Island. There were a couple of big-budget options for those with deeper pockets: Lionsgate’s Highlander reboot, which has a budget well north of $100M (prices were eye-watering, with the initial Germany ask reportedly north of $20M), and Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga, which comprises two $100M movies. As has been the trend the last couple of years, the big-ticket in-market deals are increasingly scarce, even the traditional ‘slew of deals’ stories on big packages. Deals will get tied up (Netflix, Neon, and SPC were among buyers out of TIFF, eventually) but everything takes longer now. Thus, there are the familiar promises of “a Big Berlin”. Arclight’s Brian Beckman predicts: “I think Berlin is in a very unique position, because you’re going to see a lot of announcements of projects that were put on hold or delayed, or new projects that are coming together, because everybody has been prepping and getting stuff together.”
Some familiar faces entered the market fray in new guises. After launching only two months ago, Neon International made its market debut with an impressive slate under the watch of Kristen Figeroid. Among first projects are It Follows sequel They Follow and Daisy Ridley survival thriller We Bury The Dead. Former Lionsgate UK chief and Marv executive Zygi Kamasa launched UK distributor True Brit Entertainment. Range continues to ramp up its sales involvement under the guidance of Jess Lacy. German outfit K5, which re-launched at Cannes, is selling international on Costner’s Horizon movies. Meanwhile, old war horse Miramax was at its first market in years without figurehead Bill Block so will likely be in the market for a sales and production leader.
Mainstream U.S. distributors and sellers are tapping into international content beyond the traditional European base. On the eve of AFM we broke news of Lionsgate’s deal for Indian action movie, Kill, which is being sold by WME Independent. The rare deal marks one of the first times an Indian production has partnered with a Hollywood studio on a theatrical release in North America and the UK for a mainstream Hindi-language film. It’s also a sign of the times: content is increasingly borderless and companies are increasingly language agnostic. Stuart Ford’s AGC International announced during the AFM that it was handling global rights outside the Middle East and Pakistan to Voy! Voy! Voy!, the dramedy about a group of impoverished Egyptians who join a professional blind soccer team as a ploy to get to Europe. The film is Egypt’s candidate for the international film Oscar. AGC has corporate ties to the film’s financier Image Nation Abu Dhabi and the deal for Voy! Voy! Voy! marks the latest bid to bring Arabic-language content to wider audiences, following their collaboration as co-producers and distributors on action film The Ambush (Al Kameen), directed by Pierre Morel, which is touted as one of biggest Arabic-language features ever shot in the Gulf. Meanwhile, France’s Other Angle Pictures has expanded its footprint into the U.S. market with a new LA-based arm focused on distribution, production and international sales of French features with a focus on crowd-pleasing comedies and more commercial dramas. The global audience for global content continues to grow.
Theatrical remains a conundrum for the indie market, but also the golden ticket at a time when streamers may be retrenching. The theatrical success of movies like Barbie, Oppenheimer and Five Nights At Freddy’s has breathed life into the theatrical business in recent months. While those three movies are all studio releases, their outsized successes are examples of theatrical’s ongoing promise. For international buyers, finding that unique proposition — an affordable project with strong story, talent, and domestic distribution chances — in the saturated indie markets remains a challenge. Genre offers the potential for that affordable breakout winner and we saw plenty of genre fare on sale in Santa Monica, even if the depth of theatrical product is less than at Cannes. Heading into the market, we also revealed the solid theatrical-level deals done on Guy Ritchie’s new action movie with Jake Gyllenhaal and Henry Cavill.
Melanie Goodfellow contributed to this report.
Best of Deadline