If there is a recurring theme among buyers and sellers we’ve spoken to in the early moments of the Cannes Film Festival, it is that none can remember the last time there was such a sellers’ market here on the Croisette. The trouble is, nobody seems to really have anything all that compelling to sell, and that is driving the sellers crazy.
The market opened in the grandest possible way, with a record-setting $20M deal as Paramount paid for North America and China rights to the Denis Villeneuve-directed science fiction film Story Of Your Life. Well, the weather has also been grand so far — the deals, not so much. In fact, the next one came as The Weinstein Company finally closed its long-expected deal for Grace Of Monaco, slashing its original $5M commitment almost in half for a film where director Olivier Dahan shot a version that didn’t reflect the original script, before unveiling it as the Cannes opening-night film to terrible reviews.
Since then, nobody has seemed in much of a hurry to gobble up much of anything. No one was saying Paramount spent drunkenly in setting the record with Story Of Your Life. The rationale: $20M for a movie with commercial potential budgeted around $50M, an actress who routinely garners Oscar nominations for her work in Amy Adams, and a director who is fast emerging, is something major Hollywood studios would pay any day. With a major U.S. wide release in place, Glen Basner’s FilmNation’s effort to finish sales around the world has been the equivalent of selling ice cream in the desert. Territories are paying generously, in a textbook example of how the deal-making here is supposed to work.
If only there were more of those films. A package could still fall into place that creates another feeding frenzy, but most sellers are resigned to kicking themselves for not having enough killer product and missing out on an opportunity. Buyers and sellers are moving warily, particularly those who are coming here with other projects that haven’t begun production, or are selling on the basis of a sizzle reel. Some of these movies might just as easily surface as Toronto business as walk away with a big Cannes deal. Then again, there are those that believe the lack of films that have come together with sought-after talent is not a momentary anomaly, but part of a larger trend.