EFM Preview & Hot Pics List: Film Biz Mulls Talent Drain And Next ‘Parasite’ In Berlin As Coronavirus Shadow Looms

Following another streamer-dominated Sundance where deal-making soared beyond $120M, the onus at the European Film Market in Berlin is expected to shift back to a more traditional scene of single territory theatrical acquisitions, largely by European buyers. Scroll down for our list of hot market debuts.

The EFM, which officially gets underway tomorrow, doesn’t often boast the same riches as Cannes in terms of scaled, glamour projects, but this year’s selection of pre-sale titles reveals certain trends about the market.

Talent has been painfully hard to come by. The usual scramble for bankable names has been even more pronounced this year and a handful of the larger sellers have yet to announce new projects or are still in holding patterns regarding talent. In theory, the EFM’s later start date was meant to help packagers. But the distraction of awards season and the flood of talent to TV and the streamers continues to pose major challenges. Is the ongoing WGA dispute beginning to bite into movie packaging?

“While it’s great that we’ve had a little more time between Sundance, the Oscars and Berlin, I haven’t seen the uptick in terms of the ability to put things together,” one leading U.S. seller told me.

In good news for buyers, a few strong projects have dropped late in the day, including the Gerard Butler action-thriller Remote Control (Butler will take part in a buyer presentation tomorrow), and, at the other end of the spectrum, Robert Pattinson-Margaret Qualley love story The Stars At Noon, which A24 has pounced on for domestic. A handful more solid packages will be revealed and there is at least one former studio movie that could still re-purpose for the market.

As one sales vet noted, there are a group of “handsome” and cerebral projects at this EFM. A few of the most interesting prospects come from women directors (though the overall number is still lagging) and there is a decent number of strong female roles in the offing. As is often the case at these markets, ethnic diversity is much harder to come by, however.

In terms of hot pre-buy prospects revealed last week, Olivia Wilde will be in town to talk to buyers about Olympic gymnast biopic Perfect. Buyers I’ve spoken to are high on the script, which they say is akin to Whiplash. Endeavor Content’s slate includes Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter, a classy-looking book adaptation whose cast includes Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson.

A24’s lineup includes Joaquin Phoenix’s first post-Joker movie from director Mike Mills, while FilmNation will also launch Eddie Redmayne-Jessica Chastain thriller The Good Nurse. Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone dystopian story Little America is an action package generating strong interest.

Promos likely to generate heat include Russell Crowe movie The Georgetown Project, Justin Timberlake pic Palmer and Nicolas Cage starrer Pig.

Another noticeable trend this market is the good number of classy, foreign-language movies on sale. Sellers and buyers tell us they are on the lookout for the next Parasite.

Asghar Farhadi is back with A Hero, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas are starring in Official Competition and Edward Berger is set to direct a German-language All Quiet On The Western Front.

“The trick is to find the next Parasite or Knives Out,” says veteran German buyer Al Munteanu of Square One Entertainment. “But the key in today’s theatrical market is also looking for films from different sources. The notion that movies can only come from Hollywood has been debunked, partly as a result of the streamers and their proliferation of subtitled dramas. The run-of-the-mill action film that may or may not be theatrical has its value but the occasional French or Korean film won’t be as expensive and just may break out in a big way.”

He continued, “I don’t think there will be a disproportionate growth in interest in Asian films after Parasite. People have always bought Korean films and animation from Japan. But Parasite‘s success does level the playing field to an extent for non-Hollywood movies.”

“I’m hoping there will be a Parasite bounce,” adds Jan Naszewski, CEO of Euro seller New Europe Film Sales, which recently sold Oscar-nominated Corpus Christi. “It’s a good selling point. I think it is indicative of a change in audience behaviour. Subtitles are an easier sell than ever before.”

The Berlin Film Festival’s new artistic director Carlo Chatrian has put together a solid-looking arthouse lineup for his first edition. It’s low-wattage, however, which isn’t great for building buzz or business. Johnny Depp starrer Minamata and fest opener My Salinger Year are among finished films which could draw interest from buyers. In a sign of the times, the festival’s TV lineup is where a lot of the attention is amassed. There are new projects from Cate Blanchett, Damien Chazelle and Jason Segal, among others.

This year’s EFM will be challenged by the loss of the CineStar multiplex and IMAX screen at the Sony Center, and the temporary closure of the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden mall with its many convenient food options. But the event’s biggest headache comes from Coronavirus, which has significantly dented attendance from Asia. At last count, more than 60 Chinese delegates had cancelled. That number will have increased since last week. Most sellers we spoke to have had meetings cancelled and some are anxious about taking the meetings that haven’t.

Last year’s EFM attendance was down year-on-year and this year’s is looking like it could be again. Even before the Coronavirus struck, many we spoke to expected numbers to be reduced.

“I think you’ll notice that people are sending smaller teams,” one veteran buyer told me. “It feels like most the major teams are cut back. It’s the nature of the business now. It’s expensive and people are buying less at markets. I expect a number of people to leave on Saturday.”


The Lost Daughter – Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson and Peter Sarsgaard lead the starry cast of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, which follows a college professor on a seaside summer vacation who becomes consumed by a woman and her young daughter. Gyllenhaal penned the adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel and is also producing. Endeavor Content is handling world sales.

The Stars At Noon – Robert Pattinson and Margaret Qualley are attached to star in this love story/thriller from French filmmaker Claire Denis. Set in 1984 during the Nicaraguan Revolution, the film follows a mysterious English businessman and headstrong American journalist who strike up a passionate romance. RT Features are among producers. Wild Bunch has international. CAA has sold domestic to A24.

The Good Nurse – Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne lead this starry $30m production about the true story of the pursuit and capture of Charlie Cullen, a nurse who is regarded as one of the most prolific serial killers in history. The script comes from 1917 scribe Krysty Wilson-Cairns and The Hunt writer Tobias Lindholm, the latter is also directing. Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa is producing with FilmNation, which is handling sales at EFM.

PerfectBooksmart filmmaker Olivia Wilde is taking on this biopic of Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug, based on the book Landing On My Feet, A Diary Of Dreams, which Strug co-wrote. CAA is handling domestic and FilmNation is on International rights.

A Hero – Arthouse stalwart Farhadi is back with this Farsi-language project that will shoot in Iran this summer, marking a return to his native tongue for the A Separation director following his English-language thriller Everybody Knows. Plot details are under-wraps. Memento Films International is handling world sales.

Official Competition – Following their turn in Almodóvar’s Pain And Glory, Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz are re-teaming on this Spanish-language movie from Argentinian directing duo Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat. Cruz will play a renowned filmmaker, with Banderas as a Hollywood heartthrob. Protagonist Pictures is handling world rights. CAA Media Finance and Paradigm are representing US rights.

Remote Control – Gerard Butler is starring in this action thriller from Hyde Park, STX, G-Base and James Bond producers Eon. Butler will play a former war correspondent turned corporate security consultant, whose life is overturned when he receives a mysterious phone call from an unknown source. STX will distribute in the U.S. and launch international sales in Berlin.

Untitled Joaquin Phoenix movie – As Phoenix’s first post-Joker movie, this is likely to cause some buzz in the market. The project comes from 20th Century Women and Beginners filmmaker Mike Mills and will see Phoenix play an artist left to take care of his precocious young nephew as they forge an unexpected bond over a cross country trip. A24 is producing and handling sales.

A Head Full Of Ghosts – Scott Cooper is directing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s Margaret Qualley in this psychological horror about a woman who must confront the devastating memories of her childhood. MadRiver International is handling sales, with CAA Media Finance repping U.S. rights.

All Quiet On The Western Front – Edward Berger is helming the first German-language adaptation of the classic anti-war novel. Daniel Bruhl is in the cast and also acting as an executive producer. Rocket Science is producing and launching world sales at EFM, where Berger will be in town to discuss the project.

Ground Control To Major TomHorrible Bosses director Seth Gordon is helming this story of an astronaut and a NASA ground control expert who have never met but fall in love over the course of the astronaut’s classified mission to an abandoned space station. Solstice is distributing domestically and handling international rights.

Little America – Sylvester Stallone is attached to this action movie set in a dystopian future where America has become bankrupt and turned into a war zone. Stallone plays a former Army Ranger hired by an Asian billionaire to find his daughter. AGC Studios is launching the project for sales and co-repping North America with CAA Media Finance.

Fencer – Zoe Saldana will play an ambitious female athlete facing personal demons as she vies for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in writer-director Jasmine McGlade’s story inspired by her own experiences as a national champion fencer. Casey Affleck is producing with Whitaker Lader. HanWay is handling international, UTA Independent Film Group and CAA Media Finance are co-repping the U.S.

Untitled Mike Leigh movie – The latest project from Mr Turner director Leigh is gearing up to shoot this summer. Plot details are under-wraps, but the pic comes from Leigh’s Thin Man, Film4, Ingenious and Spanish outfit Mediapro. Bleecker Street has taken U.S. rights and eOne has pre-bought UK. Cornerstone is handling further sales at EFM.

Faithfull Lucy Boynton will star as iconic singer-songwriter Marianne Faithfull in this biopic from McQueen filmmaker Ian Bonhôte. Altitude is handling world rights.

The Heart – Sam Rockwell, Octavia Spencer and Allison Janney lead this pic about a woman and a man who, desperate for cash, take the job of delivering a human heart from New York to Florida in 24 hours. Downhill duo Nat Faxon and Jim Rash wrote and are directing. Sierra/Affinity is handling sales.

O2 – Noomi Rapace leads this Black List thriller from director Franck Khalfoun. The story centers on a woman who wakes up in a cryogenic medical pod with no memory, and just 90 minutes of oxygen. Wild Bunch International is on international and CAA Media Finance is repping domestic.

Erik Pendzich/REX/Shutterstock

The Book of Ruth – Ruth Wilson and Matt Bomer are attached to lead this pic about a devout Christian who becomes an AIDS activist in 1980s America. Two-time Tony-nominee Michael Arden is helming, his feature debut. Independent Film Sales is launching the project at EFM, with North American rights handled by CAA Media Finance.

Shane – Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan is getting the feature doc treatment in this project from director Julien Temple and producer Johnny Depp. The movie will combine animation, unseen footage from Temple’s own archives and contributions from collaborators. HanWay is launching world sales at the EFM and will screen first footage.

Palmer – Fisher Stevens helms this pic about a former college football phenomenon who, after a stint in jail, returns to his hometown to get his life back on track. Justin Timberlake, June Squibb, and Juno Temple are among the cast. Mister Smith Entertainment is launching the movie at EFM.

The Thicket – Sophia Lillis, Noomi Rapace, Charlie Plummer and Peter Dinklage lead this thriller about a young man who goes on a quest rescue his sister after she is kidnapped by a violent killer and her gang. The Exchange is handling sales with CAA Media finance and ICM Partners co-repping domestic.

Midnight In The Switchgrass – Megan Fox and Bruce Willis have joined Emile Hirsch in Randall Emmett’s directorial debut, which follows an FBI agent and a Florida State officer who team up to investigate a string of unsolved murder cases. Highland Film Group is selling at EFM.

Something In The Water –  Noel Clarke and Jason Maza’s Unstoppable banner is producing this shark attack thriller with Studiocanal. Gaby Dellal (3 Generations) is directing from a script by Cat Clarke. Studiocanal is handling EFM sales.

 Untitled Samuel L. Jackson movie – Samuel L. Jackson will play a retired hitman in this untitled pic from Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot helmers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. Endeavor Content is handling global sales.

Wolf – 1917 actor George MacKay will star alongside Lily Rose-Depp in this Irish-Polish co-pro genre pic from rising writer-director Nathalie Biancheri. Shoot will take place in Ireland this year. Bankside is handling sales.

Lord of MisruleThe Boy and The Devil Inside filmmaker William Brent Bell is set to direct this contemporary folk-horror the writer of The Quiet Ones. Bankside is launching world sales.

The Portable Door – Christoph Waltz, Guy Pearce and Patrick Gibson are attached to star in this comedy-fantasy, which Arclight is launching. In the family pic, a young man lands a job at a magical firm, only to find that its leaders are hiding darker motives. Muppets creator The Jim Henson Company is producing.

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