The slow recovery of the independent distribution business took a giant step at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, which featured a fast and furious flurry of big-money deals made for partially completed films whose sellers brought sizzle reels and scripts. The Iron Lady, Wettest County In The World (retitled Lawless and in competition), Looper, Great Hope Springs, Killer Elite, The Host, The Artist and Megan Ellison’s whopping $20 million buy for Terminator rights were among the films snapped up by product-hungry domestic and offshore distributors.
This year, there will be way more pictures to be bought in the Cannes market. Agents say there will be dozens of packages, promo reels and scripts for talent-attached packages. And there will be way more upstart international sales companies hawking them. Some buyers, and sellers for that matter, are looking at the list of packages — including multiple films starring the likes of Gerard Butler and Matthew McConaughey — and wondering if some of those new sales companies will have reputations tarnished if some of those proposed films don’t make it into production because the sales aren’t there.
One thing for sure: The pace of buying will be slower. Aside from more product, there are at least 10 new companies to see, all run by seasoned executives.
Among them: Good Universe, headed by ex-Lionsgate and Mandate execs Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane; Annapurna-backed Panorama Media, led by former 2929 president Marc Butan and ex-Inferno exec Kimberly Fox; Speranza 13 Media, run by former New Line International president Camela Galano; Mister Smith, run by ex-Summit International president David Garrett; The Solution, with former GK Films exec Lisa Wilson; former Hyde Park International president Mimi Steinbauer’s Radiant Films International; Optimum founder Will Clarke’s Altitude; Embankment Films, hatched by former Icon and Hanway execs Hugo Grumbar and Tim Haslam; and uConnect, led by former Lakeshore International president Peter Rogers. Oh, and Aldamisa International also recently hired veteran Miramax and Disney exec Jere Hausfater as chief operating officer.
While fiscally strapped territories like Italy are hurting, there is a feeling that a lot of buying will get done, further evidence of a continued independent recovery. To some, there is also a feeling of déjà vu, to the time when hedge fund money was flowing and bad movies with talent attachments that never should have gotten made ended up not even getting released theatrically.
While bullish, sales companies aren’t oblivious to this. Hausfater warned that there’s a risk of going “back to the days when movies get sold and don’t get made. A number of the companies will survive but they can’t all make it.” FilmNation’s Glen Basner contends the competition with all the new companies “will be good, extremely healthy. Competition forces you to do the best. It’s the life cycle of the business – new companies come in and go away. We just have to do what we do really great.” Steinbauer predicted consolidation down the line. “There are a lot of titles out there,” she said, “and you have to look at what’s real and what’s come together.”
Foresight’s Mark Damon, who did brisk business in Berlin with the Denzel Washington-Mark Wahlberg-starrer 2 Guns, said the appetite will be similar here for star-driven fare. “You notice how hungry people are for this kind of product; they’re eager to close before the market at levels that are great,” said Damon, who’s brought the Peter Berg-directed Lone Survivor. His associate Tamara Birkemoe adds the influx of new companies was “due to happen because the economy is going up so there are more people buying. I think it’s a good thing; most new companies have high level product.” Still, adds Damon, “The real question is how much of the new product is going to work.”
Still, sellers don’t come to the Croisette to sling pessimism. “Some buyers have remarked that there is more product here than they’ve seen in the last 30 years,” said Inferno’s Bill Johnson. “We feel pretty fortunate that ours stands out from the crowd. And Japan seems to be very strong, which is a surprise, and Russia is very hot and competitive, as is Latin America. What you’re really seeing is the continuation of a trend where more ‘real movies’ are falling out of the studio system, giving well capitalized independent distributors an opportunity to compete with the studios.”