A Hopeful Sign for Mid-Sized Movies

Berlin’s European Film Market was the first big test of the post-strike indie film market. Executives were cautiously optimistic ahead of the EFM, reporting a “flood” of big, star-stocked projects that came together just ahead of the market, including A Big Bold Beautiful Journey (Margot Robbie’s first film post-Barbie), The Materialists (Celine Song’s first film post-Past Lives, which has Dakota Johnson, Chris Evans and Pedro Pascal circling) and action packages featuring box office draws Will Smith, Dave Bautista, Channing Tatum and Bob Odenkirk.

Coming out of Berlin, the mood has shifted from “cautiously” to just plain optimistic.

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“It was good, really good,” says Palisades Park CEO Tamara Birkemoe, noting several international sales for The Magic Faraway Tree, an adaptation of the beloved Enid Blyton children’s book by British director Ben Gregor, which Wonka writer Simon Farnaby is adapting for the screen. “I felt people were happy to have the big projects back.”

“It was a really productive market,” notes one U.S.-based seller. “There wasn’t that much presold [i.e. movies in preproduction] in Sundance and most of the deals there were for smaller films. In Berlin, we saw a real appetite for bigger-budgeted movies, the $20 million to $50 million films, which have been harder to presell domestically.”

While there are few independent U.S. distributors able to do wide releases for bigger films — “there are a lot of domestic buyers in the Sony Pictures Classics, A24, Neon Bleecker Street space, not many in the Lionsgate space” notes one seller — the international market is chock-a-block with midsized to large indie players (Leonine, Gaga, Eagle Pictures) ready to place bigger bets on great scripts with proven talent to lock down movies before they are picked up by a studio or streamer.

“I feel like international is much more positive at this point,” says Birkemoe. “International buyers were really willing to put their bets into the bigger projects.”

Smaller indie movies with strong buzz in Park City were quickly snatched up — Sony Pictures Classics nabbing Irish rap drama Kneecap, Focus Features taking coming-of-age tale Didi from first-time director Sean Wang — but the biggest reported deal out of Sundance was Netflix’s $17 million worldwide buy of Greg Jardin’s comedy horror It’s What’s Inside.

In contrast, Berlin saw two major studio deals close during EFM, both with Sony. The price tag for its worldwide acquisition of A Big Bold Beautiful Journey from 30West and CAA Media Finance was estimated at about $50 million. (Kogonada is directing and his After Yang actor Colin Farrell will co-star with Robbie). Sony Pictures also scooped up most of the world for Song’s The Materialists, from A24, which is releasing the film stateside.

And while no deals have been announced on some of the other big Berlin buzz packages, including Roofman with Channing Tatum (CAA and FilmNation), Dave Bautista actioner Afterburn (Black Bear and CAA) and the Ben Wheatley/Bob Odenkirk package Normal (from by Nobody/John Wick screenwriter Derek Kolstad) that WME Independent is selling, they are expected to be able to lock up their budgets through presales without needing a domestic buyer.

“This is really good news for the independent business, because it means these movies, this bigger budget indie films, will get made,” notes one sales rep. “And I’m confident they will sell [domestically] once they are made.”

Even better news: International demand for bigger movies exceeded supply at this year’s EFM, suggesting there is still slack in the market. That bodes well for Cannes.

“I’m getting new packages in every day,” says Birkemoe. “I think Cannes is going to be very strong, too. I can’t say about the rest of the year yet, but I’m confident business in Cannes will be good.”

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