With the market officially wrapped, the deal pace has slowed to a crawl and the focus turns back to the movies. That’s after a week of international sales on some key titles and a few high-profile domestic deals in an environment that nevertheless was marked by caution. Oftentimes as Cannes is about to start, there are splashy announcements of domestic pick-ups on fest-related movies and that helps set the pace. In 2011, The Weinstein Co. acquired The Artist before the curtain lifted. Last year, it grabbed The Sapphires and Sony Pictures Classics bought Susanne Bier’s Love Is All You Need on Day One. This year, there were no eve-of-the-fest acquisitions on titles that are in official selection (although Warner Bros. moved in on Ryan Gosling’s How To Catch A Monster which is currently shooting and Lionsgate arrived in town having taken the upcoming The Quiet Ones). Ultimately, U.S. buyers that I spoke with ahead of the fest said they would be opportunistic, but cautious. “Everyone goes in very carefully,” Sony Classics’ Tom Bernard told me. “There’s a lot of pushback in the ancillary areas so when you’re spending money, you have to spend it wisely.”
Foreign sellers say there’s a shift in the balance of key territories. China, Russia, Brazil, the Middle East and even India – which has such a massive local box office – are becoming “significant pieces of the puzzle.” Spain and Italy remain the places that make sellers misty given the economic crises there. Rai, however, did pick up The Gunman starring Sean Penn in what was a notable buy for the company. That movie virtually sold out for Studiocanal.
Although sales agents lament the sorry state of home entertainment and the fact that VOD hasn’t penetrated deeply enough on a global scale, the resounding commentary on this market is that buyers need to know a movie is guaranteed a theatrical release. “It has to be more like the offer you can’t refuse,” IFT‘s Ariel Veneziano says. Even so, with TV buying fewer movies, distributors are finding it risky to commit since they can’t guarantee a sale at home. Alison Thompson of Focus Features International says, “Finally there is an industry recognition that the TV market has been underpinning the film business” and business models need to be redefined.
Thompson says Focus is being “realistic” about asking prices which helped it sell out hot Berlin title Kill The Messenger back in February. “If distributors are looking for a reason to discriminate between movies, the asking price will be a criteria.” Another important element, Thompson says, is presenting a defined picture that shows who the audience is and that a project is being made for the right price. “Distributors are more willing to pre-buy these kinds of movies because they have a clear idea of how to market them.”
Focus had a good Cannes with Black Sea, the Jude Law-starrer that Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions took in multiple territories. Asif Kapadia’s upcoming Amy Winehouse doc also provoked bidding wars. FilmNation sold out on Ryan Reynolds-starrer self/less. The Heat remake and How To Catch A Monster sold by Sierra/Affinity, each closed at least 20 territories. Belgian group Corsan is in 23 territories with Paul Haggis’ Third Person. TrustNordisk did well with its Pioneer and I hear The Lunchbox, an Indian title in Critics’ Week, has been flying off the shelf for Match Factory.
On the domestic side, some of the bigger deals were Lionsgate’s $2M+ pick-up of Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties which was an official out of competition selection. That, along with The Quiet Ones pick-up, the Catching Fire event and a record-breaking $250M+ in overseas sales gave the studio a busy two weeks.
TWC was busy as ever with the acquisition of three projects, the Stephen Frears-directed Philomena with Judi Dench; Suite Française with Michelle Williams; and sci-fi romance Passengers with Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon. Radius-TWC took Reeves’ directing debut Man Of Tai Chi and Fortnight title Blue Ruin.
In domestic deals on the competition titles, Sony Pictures Classics acquired Asghar Farhadi’s The Past; Music Box took Michael Kohlhaas; Kino Lorber acquired A Touch Of Sin and Sundance Selects took François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful starring breakout ingenue Marine Vacht. Sundance Selects also picked up the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night which is shooting this summer with Marion Cotillard.