Ambitious Projects Mark Strong AFM Deals

Variety – November 9, 2014

Amid the profound changes in the movie business, the first half of the 35th American Film Market has been dominated by the tried-and-true — action, thrillers and sci-fi with A-list attachments — as the six major studios concentrate on mega-budget tentpoles.

No project was more ambitious than Foresight Unlimited’s $120 million sci-fier “Inversion” with director Scott Waugh making storyboard presentations and major territories (Asia, Australia, Benelux, Scandinavia, Spain) snapped up by the weekend.

“I think it’s great news that a picture of this dimension can come out of the indie sector,” said Foresight topper Mark Damon, who packaged “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor.” “The indies are demonstrating that they can do this kind of movie.”

Lotus Entertainment brought Keanu Reeves and Lorenzo di Bonaventura to Santa Monica to meet with buyers on sci-fi pic “Replicas.” “Buyers have responded very well to our slate since these are all positioned to go wide,” said Lotus’ Bill Johnson.

IM Global showed up with a trio of major titles — “Free State of Jones” with Matthew McConaughey, “The Man Who Made It Snow” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Antoine Fuqua directing and “The Secret in Their Eyes” with Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman — and held a raucous Caribbean party on the second night at the Shangri-La Hotel.

Longtime indie heavyweight Lionsgate offered Mark Wahlberg’s “Deepwater Horizon,” Emma Watson-Miles Teller’s “La La Land” and “Now You See Me 2.” Among the strongest sellers: TWC’s latest Quentin Tarantino project “The Hateful Eight,” which completed casting by bringing on Channing Tatum as AFM opened; and Pathe’s “Florence,” starring Meryl Streep as a delusional wannabe opera singer.

At its first AFM, Alex Walton’s Bloom racked up strong sales on detective thriller “Nice Guys” starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling with Joel Silver producing, Noomi Rapace’s “Unlocked” and “Elvis and Nixon,” starring Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon.

“There’s just not enough product from the major studios right now,” he added.

The Exchange reported brisk sales for Hailee Steinfeld romancer “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight” with Dustin Lance Black directing. Topper Brian O’Shea said it had been useful to get the word out a few weeks before AFM — and before buyers were overwhelmed.

“That’s the value of buzz,” he added. “There’s a lot of interest in young-adult titles that people want, even though success is elusive; YAs are very sophisticated consumers and you can do really well such as ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and ‘The Spectacular Now’ because it’s very hopeful and not cynical.”

Cathy Schulman said she’s particularly pleased about getting Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney and Stephen Amell to join Cindy Chupack’s directorial debut “Whatever Makes You Happy.”

“How many movies are there are about mother-son relationships?,” she asked. “I think it’s a very underserved market now.”

Mimi Steinbauer’s Radiant Films Intl. is selling international rights to the comedy, which begins shooting next summer.

“The buyers are looking for films for 2016 so we are getting a strong response, but you have to be incredibly selective about what you bring to market these days,” she added.

Aldamisa’s Jere Hausfater, who announced Steven Seagal project “Cypher,” said that the landscape is shifting with incredible rapidity as producers scramble for more ways to monetize their investments.

“With 2014 coming to a close and international box office results in the books, what will pass for a theatrical film is again shrinking, shifting to an emphasis on the television landscape and the ever-so-popular streaming and digital platforms.”

by Dave McNary

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