Home Entertainment Berlin’s Market Rocks to Big Star Project Tickets 

Berlin’s Market Rocks to Big Star Project Tickets 

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Scarlett Johansson, Margot Robbie, Cate Blanchett, and Dave Bautista all star in projects at one of the biggest Berlin markets in recent memory, post and pre-pandemic.

Whether this year’s high-rollers will sell is the crux at a 2024 European Film Market which AGC Studios’ Stuart Ford is describing as a “watershed market.”

The big question is: “Was the tepid AFM an anomaly brought about by the strikes and a broader industry pullback in 2023? Or was the AFM an indicator of a more sustained downturn?” he asks. 

It’s early days in 2024 but “signs for Berlin are quite positive,” says Ford, who is bringing to market three new star-driven thrillers starring Will Smith –action movie “Sugar Bandits” – Sylvester Stallone and Michelle Yeoh.

“One week ago, I would have said this is going to be a dry market. Now it’s going to be a busy market,” agrees Martin Moszkowicz at Constantin Film, whose survival thriller “Titan” launches at the EFM. 

Of high-profile tutles, Johansson stars in Andrea Arnold’s “Featherwood,” from FilmNation, “Game of Thrones” Sophie Turner and Kit Harrington in “The Dreadful,” from UTA/Film Bride Int. Dave Bautista heads “Afterburn,” a futuristic action adventure repped by Black Bear and CAA Media Finance. 

A24 has a huge slate, led by “The Materialists,” from Celine Song, hot off “Past Lives,” with Dakota Johnson in talks and Chris Evans and Pedro Pascal circling. Lionsgate will be selling AFM holdovers – “Highlander,” for instance – plus Idris Elba survival thriller “Above Below” and Renny Harlin’s “Strangers” trilogy.

This year’s market “feels like the big one” after an extended period of disruption and disorder. “There’s a lot more coming out,” says Janina Vilsmaier at Protagonist Pictures which is bringing “Rumours,” with Cate Blanchett and Alicia Vikander. “There’s a lot more announcements,” she adds.

But will buyers respond? 

“There’s definitely more of a thirst from buyers who were starved of the usual array of new product launches in the second half of 2023, as indicated by the late Sundance sales flurry, argues Alison Thompson, at Cornerstone Films, which is launching Andrea Arnold’s “Bird” starring Barry Keoghan.

“We’re coming off one of the healthiest Sundances that we’ve had for years, both in terms of streamers and independents buying,” says Nick Shumaker, at Anonymous Content’s AC Independent, referring to Sony Pictures Classics’ buying “Kneecap.”

“We were fortunate to get one multi-territory deal and one worldwide deal with Sony Pictures Classics, which is wonderful to have them buying content aimed for younger audiences,” Shumaker adds.

Muddying the waters, fallout from the actors strike is still very much being felt when packaging films. “The most difficult thing to accomplish right now is finding out talent schedules, their log jams, their commitments between studio, streamer and indie space,” notes Kristen Figeroid at Neon International, which comes to Berlin with a crop of buzzy projects, such as “A Big Bold Beautiful Journey” with Margot Robbie and Colin Farrell. 

Buyers are at least getting what they’re asking for. With the current contraction of ancillary TV revenues, “everyone’s looking for that kind of the Holy Grail of the big theatrical title,” says Mister Smith Entertainment’s David Garrett, who is introducing Omar Sy-starrer “The Strangers’ Case,” a Berlin Special Gala about refugee bravery and heartbreak. 

For independent distributors internationally, the two key issues are the same as in the U.S.: Will audiences keep returning to theaters for non-tentpole films, and will SVOD platforms rediscover an appetite for licensing theatrical feature films from local all-rights buyers? That major retreat from SVOD first window licensing has hurt indie distributors worldwide over the past few years,” Ford notes.

“Meanwhile, 2024 is unquestionably a year when studio theatrical slates are a bit thinner and so in theory there’ll be more breathing room for robustly commercially independent films at the box office, particularly in Q3 and Q4,” he adds.

“There’s some really big holes in release schedules for the end of summer” because “studios have been pushing content around,” concurs Brian Beckmann, at Arclight Films, which is bringing to market Paul Schrader’s “Oh, Canada,” with Jacob Elordi.

On the downside, however, “the U.S. domestic market has had a partial collapse because the pay TV window has not been buying much. Even just two years ago, on a $6 million budget genre movie, you would have very comfortably put $2 million against domestic. Now you’re lucky if you get anything,” says one sales agent.

Also, most bigger markets in Europe are still down in overall attendance. “Streamers are cutting expenditure, trying to focus more on hit originals than volume,” Moszkowicz notes.

Yet could that signal a move into acquisitions? 

“There’s a body of opinion that as both global and the local streaming platforms scale back the breadth of their own production activities, their ongoing need for product will in turn generate a rebound in SVOD license fees paid for premium third party product. And that licensing uptick can in turn fuel buyer confidence at the markets,” says Ford. 

Currently, however, “The long and short of it is that revenue streams are contracting in scale,” says one industry veteran. 

With less hard cash sloshing about the marketplace, producers and sales agents are reacting or identifying potential growth axes in the marketplace.

AMC Networks’ Scott Shooman, head of AMC Networks, which takes in IFC Films, points to “The Taste of Things” which topped the specialty box office over the Super Bowl weekend with $126,000. “It’s a great indication that there’s still an audience there for this type of movie,” he adds.

“It’s refreshing to see the independent market continue to pick up to levels that we haven’t seen since before the pandemic,” adds Shumaker.

Some sales agents are re-setting their lineups. “You’ve got to really pay attention to the audience and what they want to see,” says Shooman. 

“Based on how some of the foreign sales agents have changed their lineup, that people who customarily may have sold costume period dramas are leaning into the genre space, for example,” he adds.

Many companies are plowing into the soft money business, seeking to offset tumbling sales revenues by tax breaks or co-production equity, backed by subsidy funds. 

“It’s almost impossible to make any film nowadays without a sizable chunk of soft monies,” says Garrett.

The packaging frenzy may explain why delegate numbers look to be spiking at the Berlinale. 

There’s also some blue sky on the global landscape, such as China. “There’s still a tremendous amount of censorship and things that you have to go through, but if you’re mindful of those things, then you can do a very good job again,” says Beckman. “The TV market continues to explode in China, so even if you don’t have a theatrical type of product to place in China, their TV consumption is very large.”

The jury is out as to market appetites. “Cannes in May will be a more reliable gauge of where the independent sector is at,” says Ford. “But the EFM is going to be a useful bellwether.”