Laura Austin-Little, an EFM veteran, is heading back to Berlin, this time with brand-new company Black Bear International, the extension of Teddy Schwarzman’s production-finance outfit that was announced out of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
The executive vp, international sales, who joined the company from STX, is heading to the first in-person EFM in three years armed with a slate that includes Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare and Nicolas Cage horror Longlegs.
Prior to touching down in Germany, Austin-Little discussed what she is most looking forward to about the in-person EFM and her “refuge” on the top floor of the Hyatt.
What’s your state of mind heading into the European Film Market?
It’s the first market of the year, so I tend to be more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than at markets later in the year. This is the first Berlin market in three years because of the pandemic, so I am excited to return to the city. Coming into this market, Black Bear International is a new company, so this will be our first EFM, and the acquisition appetite among the combination of independents, studios and streamers is strong, so I think that will add up to a positive experience, hopefully.
What have you missed most about the physical markets?
This is such a relationship-driven business so I’ve missed seeing some of my close friends who I have at markets over the years. We all live in different countries. I rarely get to see them outside of the market.
What have you missed most about the in-person Berlin market in particular?
It’s not so much relating to the business side of things, but Berlin for me is a great city with such a rich history. When I was younger I used to tag an extra day on the end of the market to go to the historical sites like the Holocaust memorial. Where the EFM is located we are surrounded by so many landmarks and I still find that fascinating that the wall that divided East from West [Germany] runs straight through where we currently hold EFM. I’m a historian at heart.
What’s been your best and worst experience with the virtual markets of the past three years?Starting with the good, I was certainly fresher every day without the endless drinks, dinners, parties and socializing — all of the things that were a part of every market experience and leave you frazzled by the end of the market. I also missed that, as well. But from a negative standpoint, the virtual markets made it harder to generate a competitive environment the same as a physical market does when everyone is on the ground and the idea is you have to finish negotiations before everyone leaves.
What has changed about how you do business?
In terms of the actual business itself, during the pandemic that hiatus accelerated a change that technology had already shifted from content being king to the consumer being king. From a business perspective, there are no increased outlets for content, and the demand has never been healthier. Ultimately, we are looking to the studios, which are going from a period of adaption and experimentation in regard to distribution models and windowing. We just have to be willing to adapt and theatrical distributors need to be willing to adapt.
What’s your favorite, only-in-Berlin moment from physical festivals/markets past?
Berlin, from my experience, has many restaurants and night spots that you don’t expect from the façade. I’ve gone down some strange alleys to discover trendy, hip little places. I even once find myself in the middle of an underground rave with a Latin American distributor that we inadvertently happened upon. Something about Berlin is you can expect the unexpected.
What’s the first thing you’ll do after landing in Berlin for EFM 2023?
Straight into some pre-EFM calls and then a Black Bear International team dinner to boost morale and to get ready for a week of chaos.
What restaurant or bar have you missed?
They are not discoveries, but Grill Royale and my favorite Japanese spot Ryōtei. They are all a bit of a scene during the market, but I like them and I hope they are still there.
Best place to get away from the fest frenzy?
I like to refuge at the top of the Hyatt hotel when the entire floor is converted into a gym area. I like to detox and destress in the steam room they have there in the morning before inevitably re-toxing later that night.
One thing you won’t travel without, besides your phone?
My workout clothes. My only way of destressing is being in the gym at 7 a.m.
Most interesting celeb encounter in Berlin?
Not naming any names. Last Berlin, I was having dinner at Ryōtei with an Italian distributor and some friends and I saw the lead actor of the action film that I just launched was eating there with his agent, and my friend really wanted an introduction. We went up to say hi, and we thought it would be a brief “hi and bye,” but he was so welcoming that he invited us to join him.
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