The dealmaking story of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival was succinctly summed up this way by Inferno’s Bill Johnson: “Worst weather I’ve ever seen in Cannes, no big headlines, but a solid market with nice product, but probably too much of it. The good news is that distributors around the world opened their wallets, there are plenty of private equity and high net worth investors.”
Last year’s Cannes saw domestic and foreign buyers plunking down big sums to acquire films based on little more than sizzle reels. And for drama, you had Lars von Trier’s bizarre application to the Nazi party, and the wonder of Terrence Malick’s return to directing with Palme D’Or winner and eventual Best Picture Oscar nominee Tree Of Life.
This year, the most widely hyped competition film has been Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, mostly for the graphic, depraved sexual exploits perpetrated by Nicole Kidman’s death row groupie. Then there’s all the free-love doled out by Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund in Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Neither film drew raves. Despite a 16-minute standing ovation for Paperboy at its festival screening and enthusiasm in the market, the biggest record set at this festival was for rainfall – and contents of the pockets of those guys selling $50 umbrellas along the Croisette.
That doesn’t mean this wasn’t a very successful festival that demonstrated vibrancy of film around the world. Despite the struggling economies in European countries, sellers all week reported surprisingly strong sales, with Italy and Greece the exceptions. Japan was pre-buying again and the importance of China is growing. These territories weren’t shy about making deals for films that have no domestic deals.
This year’s event also was a debut for new sales companies run by veteran execs, but the abundance of product – one distributor says they received 113 scripts in just the handful of days ahead of the market – resulted in buyers having a difficult time taking it all in. Buyers were also cautious. They’re “more sophisticated every year,” says Exclusive Media’s Alex Walton. Distribs were buying, but it wasn’t “exuberant buying,” another exec says.
All the product on paper at on the market also had people posing the eternal question of which movies will actually get made. “Movies fall apart on the five yard line all the time,” an exec cautions. Millennium’s Mark Gill estimates “you can basically divide by 3.” Inferno’s Johnson says if you had the right product, you went home happy. Inferno almost completely sold out Grace Of Monaco and the Guillermo del Toro-directed stop-motion animated Pinocchio. “That feeling has returned that if you have a good idea and good elements, you will find a way to get your movie made.”
As for domestic buyers, the festival was a quiet one as distributors didn’t jump at a plethora of packages the way they did last year. Sony Pictures Classics took completed pics Love Is All You Need and Fortnight title No. And eOne, the subject of rumblings that it’s about to buy Alliance, made some late acquisitions including North American rights to Elmore Leonard adaptation Freaky Deaky and A Late Quartet with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Still, the buying pace always seems to be triggered by Harvey Weinstein and yet his biggest splash was in previewing footage from upcoming Oscar bait films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Cannes habitué Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Weinstein preempted the Dustin Hoffman-directed The Quartet and made an opportunistic acquisition of Code Name: Geronimo. That hunt for Osama Bin Laden film will be released early in the fall, ahead of rival film Zero Dark Thirty from Kathryn Bigelow that’s locked into a December bow. Sony moved Bigelow’s movie after Republicans cried foul and the Pentagon investigated whether she and screenwriter Mark Boal got too much help from DC in researching their film that could have bolstered Barack Obama’s reelection hopes. Weinstein, an outspoken Democrat who had no such qualms about introducing an Act Of Valor-style action film on the subject, bought Code Name Geronimo based on a short trailer brought by Voltage Pictures’ Nicolas Chartier. Voltage sold most of the world after Weinstein committed to a domestic release.
IM Global had solid sales on Paranoia with Relativity taking it in the US and its Dead Man Down going to FilmDistrict which also picked up Oculus from Focus Features International. Focus chief Alison Thompson says that despite stress on the buyers, it was business as usual. CBS Films closed a preemptive deal for the US on action thriller Ends of the Earth a day ahead of the fest. Sierra/Affinity added Dennis liadis-directed thriller Plus One to its slate, also just ahead of the market. That company’s chief Nick Meyer also says buyers were very excited about Tommy Lee Jones/Matthew Fox starrer The Emperor and The Coup with Owen Wilson. Meanwhile, FilmNation did brisk international business with Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring and acquired most of the world on David Michod’s The Rover.
But, many believed the deal that people were waiting for was Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy. Mark Gill contends that because the film is so review-dependent, a sale wasn’t immediately likely. Gill says it would be understandable if buyers wait till after prizes on Sunday and it’s still possible that Millennium Entertainment might keep the film for itself for theatrical and send it out VOD under its deal with Netflix. Another Lee Daniels-directed film, The Butler, has almost sold out internationally at twice the estimates with major offers said to be on the table for the U.S.
Back on the international front, Mark Damon’s Foresight sold out on Motor City and Lone Survivor, aided by the presence of Gerard Butler and Peter Berg on the Croisette which lends credence to the theory that buyers get excited by seeing stars. Jere Hausfater of Aldamisa, which had Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For and Machete Kills, says the “velocity of sales was beyond expectations.”
Foreign outfits like Studiocanal, Pathé and Gaumont reported strong sales on titles like Susanne Bier’s Serena with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence; Christophe Gans’ Beauty And The Beast and Two Mothers with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, respectively. Gaumont’s Cécile Gaget, who was selling eventual blockbuster The Intouchables last year, says buyers are looking for an “emotional connection.” Samuel Hadida’s Metropolitan Filmexport wins the prize this year for having pre-bought the most competition films for France, doing red-carpet duty for Killing Them Softly, Lawless and The Paperboy. Hadida is also bullish on his pick-up of American Bullshit, the Megan Ellison-backed drama from David O. Russell. “This is the movie distributors will be upset they didn’t get and the movie sales people will be upset they didn’t sell,” he says.
Private equity was also back as financiers increasingly see film investment a wise, if risky, move with a fair return. Two large funds were announced; one from Millennium and West Coast Partners for $100M and another, AngelWorld Entertainment and its $150M. The latter then quickly announced two pictures it’s backing: The Big Shoe with Susan Sarandon and The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea with Jessica Biel. Chinese mogul Bruno Wu also came to town to announce his $30M backing of a remake of John Woo’s The Killer. And, Media Content Capital made an 8-figure investment in QED International, the financing and sales company run by Bill Block.
Other deals also came together, but buyers said that they didn’t feel the pressure or the need to pounce at this point. Hollywood agents brokering these deals were hardly chastened; deals on some films will follow in the festival’s wake, and sellers will get another shot at sales opportunities at the Toronto Film Festival in early fall.