Just as it did last year, the 2011 Toronto Film Festival has gotten off to a slow start on the acquisitions front. I spoke with many buyers after last night’s onslaught of acquisition title premieres, and the common feeling was these distributors need to fill slots in their schedules and they want to fall in love, but haven’t quite gotten there yet with most of these films. They had some reservations on just about all of the films they saw. These films will clearly find distribution homes, but the reaction means that deals will drag out because those distributors aren’t going to be posting large minimum guarantees, the way they did in Cannes.
Even the big sale of the festival so far, the Steve McQueen-directed NC-17 sex drama Shame, wasn’t a huge commitment for all the press hoopla that followed Deadline’s reveal that the film had sold to Fox Searchlight. I am hearing the deal was a mid-six figure minimum guarantee around $400,000, and a P&A commitment around $1.5 million. That sounds about right, because the filmmakers were most concerned with entering this year’s Oscar race to capitalize on the performances by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, and ensuring that not a frame of the picture was changed. But it doesn’t sound like a wide release picture.
As for the wide release titles, they are going to sell, but it will be a struggle for sellers to get the dollars they want. I saw one of those titles that sit atop buyer lists last night. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was scripted by Simon Beaufoy, directed by Lasse Hallstrom and stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas and Amr Waked, the latter playing a wealthy sheik who pays a fisheries scientist to stock a stream with trout. The film is sophisticated, funny, timely and utterly charming, and I would be surprised if it isn’t snapped up by Monday or sooner. That film got the best reaction from the buyers I spoke with. The pace of auctioning has been complicated by the volume of premieres last night, including Rampart, Take This Waltz, The Oranges, the hockey comedy Goon and the Morgan Spurlock-directed documentary Comic-Con: A Fan’s Hope. Buyers had to make choices, and some were seeing films like Salmon this morning. I expect a flurry of deals toward the end of the festival, which is how it played out last year.
Since there’s little going on so far, you have time to notice things. Here are a few things I’ve noticed:
* A surprise hot title has been the martial arts film The Raid, which Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group smartly bought at Cannes based on some footage. Studios are now looking into remake rights on that one, mindful that Sony has first look.
* I’ve liked everything Jonah Hill has done since Superbad, but this guy is poised to have a major career once Moneyball is released by Sony Pictures. Playing the statistics-savvy geek sidekick to Brad Pitt’s Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, Hill is a revelation and they make a terrific tandem in a picture that Bennett Miller directed with the heart you would expect from a script that has both Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin sharing screen credit. And while Hill initially shocked me with his weight loss, he seemed to be settling into his svelte frame quite nicely at the premiere and you could not have knocked the smile off his face if you tried.
* There are few better places to watch a movie here than Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto venue where the glitziest gala titles play. But there is a high price to be paid. You have to get there early, and once you find your seat, you are subjected to the most excruciating and torturous red carpet coverage, supplied by the broadcast team from E Talk TV. These talking heads have absolutely nothing interesting to say to the stars they chat up for a feed that is broadcast only to the audience inside the theater. It is loud, and there is collective squirming when they ask questions like this one, lobbed to Philip Seymour Hoffman as he made his way into the Moneyball premiere: “You play Oakland A’s manager Art Howe. When you put on that uniform, do you wear it, or does it wear you?” Hoffman responded as though he’d swallowed bad shellfish. I recall that at Cannes red carpet premieres, they also show footage of arriving stars. But there is no soundtrack and instead of being assaulted with loud verbal nothingness, you simply watch the stars arrive and pose as they make their way into the theater. It’s fun, provides a sense of spectacle and lets you know when they are going to lower the lights and drop the puck and start the movie. Toronto Film Festival organizers might want to consider this strategy going forward; I’ve gone to three Thomson Hall premieres, and what they’ve got going on right now is insufferable.