“I am genuinely excited”: European sales agents look ahead to 2023 European Film Market

There is a palpable mix of anticipation and anxiety among European sales agents as they prepare for the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin, the first fully physical edition since 2020.

After a quiet American Film Market in November, the expectation is for Berlin to be buzzing. Execs are reporting their meeting schedules are already heavily booked, at least for the first few days of the market.

“I am genuinely excited,” says London-based Embankment Films co-founder Hugo Grumbar of his return to a physical EFM. “It’s been very active, very early in terms of meetings getting booked up. We feel it’s going to be the first majorly attended market since we had a pause for Covid.”

Alison Thompson, co-president of UK and LA-based Cornerstone Films, is equally upbeat. “Independent distributors have become more robust and have worked on their business plans, which is enabling them to move forward with more optimism than the last two or three years,” she says.

Munich-based Beta Cinema has secured itself a bigger space within the Gropius Bau, taking over the old Protagonist Pictures stand. “We are expanding in size and maybe even expanding in content and quality as well, doing more English-language films than we ever did and doing more pre-sales business,” says Thorsten Ritter, EVP acquisitions, sales and marketing at Beta Cinema.

The Match Factory has also moved to a new booth in the Gropius Bau. “It is great to be finally back at the EFM in its full form. We are feeling positive about the market and excited about our line-up,” enthuses head of sales Thania Dimitrakopoulou.

The Playmaker Munich is innovating its set-up for the times, installing an “online meeting cabin” as part of its Gropius Bau booth.

More than ever before, sales companies say they are not sure exactly what buyers are looking for and how much they will pay for what they find.

“Theatrical, traditional all-rights buyers — they are very, very cautious. Even when they buy, the offer is significantly less than before,” notes Yuan Rothbauer, founder and co-managing director of Germany’s Picture Tree International. Sales agents are responding by focusing on more commercial material and foregrounding English-language titles. Sellers (and their filmmakers) may want their films to be seen in cinemas but if they don’t get satisfactory asking prices, they are likely to cut deals with the streamers.

“Buyers are buying less,” says Cornerstone co-president Mark Gooder. “They want to know they’re buying things that tick a lot of boxes — the basic storyline, level of casting, the genre space… The one or two films that really hit the spot coming out of Sundance were in that thriller space.”

“The arthouse market has changed,” says Moritz Hemminger, deputy head of sales and acquisitions at The Playmaker Munich. “And the change is here to stay. It has become more difficult for drama and arthouse titles.”

Some sellers now will not take on arthouse dramas unless they have the launch platform provided by selection in a major festival.

“Buyers, more and more, are looking for completed titles that are either in the process of festivals, or starting their festival journey,” notes Anna Krupnova, director and co-founder of UK sales outfit Reason8 Films, which is handling The Temple Woods Gang in Forum. “Genre, as always, seem to be the films [buyers] are looking for.”

“Three or four years ago, we would have had more drama on our slate,” concedes Cornerstone’s Thompson. “Drama and issue-based drama is quite tough right now.”

“More of the buyers in the US are telling me they need cast-driven projects to sell to streaming platforms, and it’s the same internationally — buyers are saying they need bigger casts and bigger genres, like action and thriller,” agrees Andrew Nerger, director of international at UK-based Signature Entertainment, whose slate includes crime thriller Desperation Road, starring Mel Gibson.

Evgeniy Drachov, head of production and sales at leading Ukrainian outfit FILM.UA Distribution, says the team is concentrating on “high-value” projects. For EFM, these include big-budget animated feature Mavka, The Forest Song, which it managed to complete in Ukraine in spite of the Russian invasion.