The Toronto Film Festival acquisition parade continues. National Geographic Entertainment has acquired U.S. theatrical rights to The First Grader, the true story of an 84-year old Kenyan former Mau Mau rebel who battles to get an education. Justin Chadwick directed and Ann Peacock wrote the script. Pic played Toronto and Telluride.
ANALYSIS: Buyers and sellers of acquisition titles walked away from the Toronto International Film Festival exhausted from the all-night haggling sessions, but fully energized and cautiously optimistic. (See my take on the buyers below.) They feel the prolific deal making is a sign the specialty film biz has corrected a course of drunken dealmaking by studios that raised stakes to unreasonable levels before retreating. The Toronto fest’s primary role will always be as an awards season platform, and as a cost-efficient way to fly in junket journalists and Golden Globe voters for screenings and marathon press conferences. But this year, Toronto re-established itself alongside Sundance as the two most important festivals to secure distribution for finished films. Does all this mean specialty film is back?
After discussions with buyers and sellers all weekend, the answer is a qualified yes. At least it’s back to before studios set up divisions, overspent and elevated the economics to ridiculous levels. The game has been returned to the grinders happy to scratch for domestic grosses that don’t often pass $10 million. The flood of hedge funded movies that never should have been made has been flushed. This year’s crop reflected the course correction: I didn’t see a bad movie out of the dozen or so I watched, and most were shrewdly made and reflective of the economic reality. I counted two deals with north of $3 million minimum guarantees, Dirty Girl and Everything Must Go. There were a bunch more that just crossed 7 figures. While dealmakers said they couldn’t recall a Toronto festival with as many closed deals as this one, the money was a far cry from the years when, say, Thank You For Smoking, Trust the Man and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party all sold for north of $6 million. Or other fests where $10 million was spent for Hamlet 2, and $10.5 million for Little Miss Sunshine. Those are cautionary tales in this marketplace. This time, nobody made a deal where they will lose their shirts.
Rabbit Hole was originally a $10 million proposition, but that was cut in half, the perfect price for a movie with a career performance from Nicole Kidman. Everything Must Go was around the same price, despite starring Will Ferrell. Twilight producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey wrote that check, but it was a reasonable risk. The $3 million supplied by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, plus foreign sales, will make them whole. Movies like the Robert Redford-directed The Conspirator, rumored to have a budget a bit over $20 million, and the Terrence Malick-directed Tree of Life, are under greater pressure to perform domestically.
Agents packaging these pictures said that the days when foreign presales underwrote budgets is gone, but the new economic models can work. Films can still be built for profit if budgets are modest, and if soft money opportunities are maximized. Rebates as high as 60% are possible if you shoot in certain European locations. So are smart domestic, foreign and ancillary distribution deals that include a VOD component which can now mean high six-figures to a film. Oh yeah, and you have to make a deal with a distributor that doesn’t flake, as happened to fest films I Love You Phillip Morris, Casino Jack, and Happythankyoumoreplease.
“This sector never died, the audience for these films never stopped turning out for them,” said one acquisitions exec who made several major Toronto deals. “What crashed and burned were these studios that chased a mirage, hired 80 people with $10 million in overhead to staff divisions, spent too much acquiring and making movies and then blew $30 million on marketing. The implosion of DVD brought them all down. The remaining players are realistic about what these films can do, and we are excited by factors like VOD, or Netflix taking on the pay channels and paying real money for pay TV windows when Showtime and HBO weren’t. We’re all taking our shots conservatively, based on a lot of different models.”
I was pessimistic going in. It was my second fest and, last year, besides writing about Harvey Weinstein’s deal for A Single Man, I sat in the hotel mostly writing about Battleship, Real Steel, and other big studio deals because nothing happened. This time, buyers came to Toronto feeling there was no movie they had to have, and the festival got off to a slow start. But, suddenly, pics were selling competitively in the wake of premiere screenings. IFC responded to the raucous crowd reaction at the midnight premiere of James Gunn’s Super and outbid rivals, paying 7 figures. Then Harvey Weinstein paid north of $3 million to win Dirty Girl hours after its premiere. Buyers accustomed to waiting for sellers to take low offers were losing properties. The floodgates really opened on Wednesday when Sony bought James Wan’s Insidious, Weinstein bought Submarine, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions teamed for the Robert Redford-directed The Conspirator, Anchor Bay Films bought Beautiful Boy, and IFC bought Werner Herzog’s 3D docu Caves of Forgotten Dreams. All but the docu brought 7-figure minimum guarantees, I’m told.
EXCLUSIVE: In a 7-figure deal for one of the last star-driven pictures to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Image Entertainment has acquired U.S. distribution rights to Passion Play, the Mitch Glazer-directed drama that stars Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox and Bill Murray. The deal includes a theatrical release component. The picture premiered September 10 at the festival. Rourke plays a down on his luck jazz trumpeter in 50s Los Angeles, targeted for death by a mob boss (Murray). He escapes, goes on the lam and winds up in the orbit of a winged girl (Fox) who’s the main attraction of a Mexican carnival. Daniel Dubiecki, Megan Ellison and Jonah Hirsch produced and Rebecca Wang is exec producer. Glazer made his directorial debut on the film. ICM packaged the film and represented the picture at the festival, as well as Glazer, Rourke and Fox. Second high profile deal for ICM this weekend after it teamed with CAA on a Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions deal for the Will Ferrell-starrer Everything Must Go on Friday night.
Below is some footage from the film:
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s the latest of what deal makers are calling an unprecedented volume of distribution pacts for Toronto International Film Festival fare: Focus Features has acquired distribution rights to Beginners, the film that writer/director Mike Mills unveiled on September 11th. Focus acquired worldwide rights, excluding Canada, France, Australia, Scandinavia and Benelux. The deal was brokered by UTA Independent Film Group, which packaged the film. I’m told the big part of the deal is a P&A commitment of around $2 million, with a generous gross corridor for the filmmakers. There were five other offers on the table for domestic distribution.
BREAKING NEWS: Oscilloscope Laboratories has just wrapped up North American rights to the Jalmari Helander-directed Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, following its Toronto International Film Festival. Pic is a dark re-imagining of the St. Nick myth. The film will be released this year, in time for the holidays. “This is really a unique film, the filmmaking exceptional, Jalmari’s sense of timing perfect,” said Oscilloscope chief
EXCLUSIVE: In their second major deal of the Toronto International Film Festival, Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions have teamed to acquire Everything Must Go, the Dan Rush-directed drama that stars Will Ferrell. I’m told the deal was north of a $3 million minimum guarantee. I’ve heard that dealmakers at ICM and CAA had about 5 offers, but finally closed with Lionsgate and Roadside. This is the latest in a spectacular flurry of 11th hour acquisition deals at Toronto heading into the fest’s final weekend.
I’ve been so busy breaking Toronto deals that I didn’t note right away an Oscilloscope press release: it has acquired North American distribution rights to Kelly Reichardt’s Western drama Meek’s Cutoff. Adam Yauch previously distributed Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy in 2008. Pic premiered during Toronto and will be released next year. Cinetic Media sold it.
EXCLUSIVE: IFC Films has made yet another significant acquisition of a Toronto International Film Festival film, paying a low seven-figure minimum guarantee for domestic distribution rights on Peep World, the Barry W. Blaustein-directed film that stars Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Ben Schwartz, Judy Greer, Kate Mara, Taraji Henson, Lesley Ann Warren and Ron Rifkin. The deal was made by CAA, which repped Peep World producers Occupant Films. Occupant principals Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino and Keith Calder produced the picture.
The Toronto International Film Festival is winding down, but the deals keep coming. Anchor Bay Films and Celluloid Nightmares have closed distribution deals in English-speaking territories for the Adam Wingard-directed A Horrible Way To Die, a thriller which premiered Wednesday night at TIFF’s Vanguard program. A theatrical component is part of the mix. Pic follows an escaped serial killer as he blazes a violent cross-country path to meet up with the ex-girlfriend who put him behind bars. Simon Barrett wrote the script.
TORONTO: IFC is closing a deal for U.S. distribution rights on the Werner Herzog-directed 3D documentary Caves of Forgotten Dreams. I’m told that the deal should be finished today. It’s a 6-figure pact, good money for a documentary whose TV rights were already claimed by The History Channel. It will get a theatrical release in 2011. People were blown away by Herzog’s film, in which he photographed 35,000 year old Chauvet Caves of Southern France, which reveal the origins of human creative expression. The deal’s being negotiated by Submarine’s Josh Braun. It is IFC’s second splashy deal of the Toronto Film Festival, after buying US rights to the raucous superhero romp Super.
TORONTO: The Toronto deals are exploding! Anchor Bay Films has just closed all English-speaking rights to Beautiful Boy, the Shawn Ku-directed drama. I’m told the deal was 7-figures, negotiated by Paradigm Motion Picture Finance Group’s Ben Weiss with Anchor Bay Films’ Kevin Kasha. Deal includes a P&A commitment. Lightning Entertainment is selling foreign. It stars Maria Bello and Michael Sheen as disengaged parents of a college student who discover not only that he has been killed in a campus shooting, but that he was the triggerman who massacred other students. The picture premiered Sunday and has been a topic of buzz, particularly for those strong lead performances and Ku’s and Michael Armbruster’s script. Anchor Bay continues to raise its profile after acquiring and releasing Solitary Man and City Island. First Point Entertainment’s Lee Clay and Gold Rush Entertainment’s Eric Gozlan produced the pic.
TORONTO: The Weinstein Company has acquired Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Films-produced Submarine after an all-night bargaining session with WME. The deal is around $1 million minimum guarantee with a P&A commitment. There were three other bidders. The picture will be released in 2011. Directed by Richard Ayoade in his feature debut, Submarine is an adaptation of the Joe Dunthorne coming of age novel following a 15-year old boy through the impending breakup of his parents’ marriage and his own first relationship. The film premiered Sunday at the Winter Garden, but bidding really heated up last night. Its deal was finally closed after a marathon session between TWC’s Harvey Weinstein, David Glasser and Laine Kline, along with WME’s Graham Taylor and Mark Ankner and Protagonist’s Ben Roberts. This now makes 3 Toronto films bought by the Weinstein Co including Sarah’s Key and Dirty Girl.
EXCLUSIVE FROM TORONTO: The Toronto deal logjam seems to be breaking. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group is closing a deal for North American distribution rights to Insidious, the James Wan-directed thriller that premiered in the Midnight Madness program Tuesday. Leigh Whannell wrote the script. I’m told it is a 7-figure deal that is still being finalized after a marathon bargaining session following the screening. The film is a modern take on the haunted house chiller genre. It’s guaranteed a theatrical release, with a level to be determined. Wan and Whannell created the Saw franchise, with Wan directing and Whannell scripting the first pic in that series. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play a married couple with three kids. When tragedy strikes the youngest, begin to experience things science can’t explain. Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye also star. Pic’s produced by Jason Blum, Steven Schneider and Paranormal Activity helmer Oren Peli Stuart Ford’s IM Global has foreign on the picture and has sold out the world. CAA and Paradigm repped it.
TORONTO: It’s crunch time for deal makers at Toronto. The Four Seasons lobby, crammed since Friday, was empty at lunchtime. Across the street at the Park Hyatt, nobody’s left but the junket crowd. While there are some terrific Toronto-premiered films that are in play, nothing has closed since the 7-figure Sunday deals for Super and Dirty Girl. The closest thing to fresh action so far today is Magnet Releasing capturing North American rights to Chawz, a Korean film about a rampaging killer pig. Let’s hope for an afternoon rally!
TORONTO: While buyers are seeing films and showing interest in some titles, Monday was slow compared to Sunday’s blitz of 7-figure deals for Super and Dirty Girl. The only action so far today: Sony Pictures Classics acquired U.S. rights to Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, a film buyers saw at Venice and Telluride.
EXCLUSIVE FROM TORONTO: In the second major acquisition of the day at the Toronto Film Festival, Dirty Girl is near a deal to be acquired by The Weinstein Co for distribution in the U.S., France, UK, Australia/New Zealand, and South Africa. I’m told there is a guaranteed theatrical release, and that the deal is north of $3 million. The deal is coming together quickly, and in short proximity of the film making its Toronto premiere this evening. The Abe Sylvia-directed indie is set in the 1980s and is about a young lady
UPDATE: Toldja! IFC (below) has confirmed its Super buy.
EXCLUSIVE FROM TORONTO: In the first major deal since 2010 Toronto began, IFC has captured U.S. rights to Super, the raucous James Gunn-directed film which had several buyers circling since its premiere at Friday’s Midnight Madness low-budget genre program. I’m told it was a seven-figure commitment and happened after an all-night bargaining session. IFC doesn’t usually pay that much for its deals, but there was competition. I heard that Magnolia was among three other bidders vying for the deal brokered by UTA’s Rich Klubeck and WME’s Graham Taylor. The pic rocked the audience in its premiere at the Ryerson Theater. Rainn Wilson plays a wannabe superhero (his power comes from the business end of a plumber’s wrench), Ellen Page as his psycho sidekick, and Kevin Bacon in a hilarious turn as the drug dealer who charms away the superhero’s troubled gal (Liv Tyler).
New York, NY (September 12, 2010) – IFC Films, the leading American distributor of independent and foreign films, announced today that the company has acquired U.S. rights to James Gunn’s shockingly hilarious SUPER after an all-night auction that concluded this morning. IFC Films will release SUPER under its new IFC Midnight banner. SUPER was also written by Gunn, and was produced by Miranda Bailey via her LA-based production company, Ambush Entertainment and Ted Hope, via his Gotham-based production
TORONTO: As Toronto got into full swing Friday, audiences seemed more enthusiastic about the new films than buyers. At a time when Big Media earnings are up and the box office outlook is bright, the gloomy sales climate here indicates that the shakeout in the indie film sector isn’t over. It is hard to imagine there would be so many star-driven films vamping hard to find distribution. There is the Robert Redford-directed The Conspirator with James McAvoy (which premieres today in a gala screening), the Will Ferrell-starrer Everything Must Go (which I saw last night), the Nicole Kidman lead The Rabbit Hole, the Keanu Reeves-led Henry’s Crime, the Rachel Weisz heroine The Whistleblower and dozens of other pics with strong casts and helmers. I haven’t seen a bad film yet. No doubt the worthy films will find distribution. Problem is, buyers are in no hurry and willing to wait out sellers in order to pay rock-bottom prices for these indies. Films that once attracted $1.5 million in minimum guarantees now bring $250,000, partly because of the old law of supply and demand: there are simply more good indies than capable distributors because the specialty DVD film market has cratered so badly.
Toronto has just gotten underway, but the deals are falling from the sky already. I’m hearing that Wild Bunch is close to making a deal for Music Box to distribute Potiche in the U.S. The Francois Ozon-directed French farce stars Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu in what’s been described by critics as a screwball comedy that’s still “arch, knowing, and self-aware”. The film has privately screened for buyers since around the time of the Cannes Film Festival, and it made its fest premiere in Venice. Music Box is starting to make waves, especially after it made a deal for all three Swedish-made films from the Stieg Larsson book trilogy.