CANNES: Below I’ve compiled this year’s list of what Cannes films are most often being mentioned by potential buyers. But already there’s been a bit of action in the marketplace, with Warner Bros acquiring domestic on the Ryan Gosling-directed How To Catch A Monster. Sellers feel a good appetite for deal-making is in the air. “This has been the busiest month we’ve had going into a Cannes Film Festival. The frenetic activity has never been this intense,” said Roeg Sutherland, who runs CAA’s independent film operation with Micah Green. “It’s not that a lot of new companies are jumping in like they did last year. But we’re seeing those companies coming back here with good slates, which is the healthiest thing for everybody.” I can tell you that sellers this year are cautiously optimistic this Cannes market will be closer to 2011’s when sales were made on the basis of sizzle reels. (Harvey Weinstein made a big bet on The Iron Lady after watching seven minutes of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, and John Hillcoat’s Lawless and Rian Johnson’s Looper sold on the basis of preview reels as well.) Not even rain in the forecast for the next couple of days can depress the upbreat attitudes here. After all, at last Cannes, the sellers market on the Croisette belonged to the umbrella salesman getting 40 Euros a pop in a nonstop torrential downpour that put a figurative damper on the entire market. We all known you cannot measure the success of Cannes the way you can Toronto and Sundance. If buyers don’t buy, sellers are in trouble. Here, a chance conversation with a high net worth individual can make the whole Cannes experience worthwhile. This is a festival of intangibles, and players have to make the time to hustle at the Hotel Du Cap where the billionaire investors roam and the movie stars are stashed until they have to come to the Croisette for premieres. That’s as glitzy as it gets here, but sellers and buyers tell me they do most of their business over a drink at the Carlton and Majestic Hotels, and to a lesser degree the Martinez. Agents especially have “how I won the war” Cannes stories of unexpected encounters that turned into game-changing deals.
“Beyond the competition and the exposure that is so good for the careers of your clients, it is an important place to create a moment that leads to films getting financed,” said UTA’s Rich Klubeck. “Two years ago, we met with the guys at Studio Canal who’d said they missed being in business with Joel and Ethan Coen. We had another meeting in New York and they wrote the check for Inside Llewyn Davis, which premieres here. It could not have been a better situation. They have proven to be perfect partners.” That deal allowed the Coens and producer Scott Rudin to shoot the 1960s folk movie without pressure to find early domestic distribution. The picture went to CBS Films after the filmmakers showed the finished product to a crowd of buyers. “We got to take our time, hear the marketing plans offered by each distributor, and pick the perfect situation,” Klubeck told me. “This is a good place where a lot of stuff happens.”
WME Global chief Graham Taylor, who sold Gosling’s directorial debut, said that finding money for the dozens of films his team and other agents are putting together is perhaps the big opportunity of Cannes. “Overall, we see a healthy market going into Cannes, with a lot of middle class buying, and a lot of new money coming in, so there is going to be a lot of tire kicking.” It is possible, he said, to walk away with “soft commitments of tens of millions of dollars to get films made. I can recall talking with [Bold Films principal] Michel Litvak three or four years ago. He asked me, ‘What should I be doing?’ I said, there’s this movie Drive. And we made that deal. Beyond that, we are bringing Tim Burton here for Big Eyes, his next film,” Taylor added.
Even though The Weinstein Company signed on to fully finance and distribute the pic domestically, bringing Burton here is helpful in showing how an inherently American movie has themes that can play internationally. The film is about a husband and wife team that create the first mass marketed prints of cute kids with oversized peepers. While the shy wife generated the work and stayed out of the limelight in San Francisco, her husband (Christoph Waltz) became a regular on the talk show circuit and claimed the work as his own. “The themes of men suppressing women, and the role of artists and suppression, are international themes that every society struggles with,” Taylor noted. Waltz and producer Lynette Howell will be here to explain further.
WME Global also is vamping the James Mangold-directed Three Little Words which stars Reese Witherspoon and Amanda Seyfried. And it’s bringing Martin Scorsese in for meetings on Silence, the adaptation of the Shusako Endo novel about Jesuits in 18th Century Japan that received financing from Emmett/Furla Films. It could use some foreign presales to offset a pricey movie that isn’t as jump-off-the-page commercial as some of Scorsese’s projects. “It is an unbelievable script with an incredible filmmaker, and we will let people know this is a global story, and one that can connect with a global audience,” Taylor told me.
All the agents feel the foreign sales guys take center stage here, and supporting them is a big part of the festival. “Cannes is a major piece of the puzzle,” said CAA’s Green. “Those international territorial sales allow us to get movies greenlit. There hasn’t been a Cannes where we didn’t come away with at least a couple of new equity sources.” Said Sutherland: “We met with Italia, a Middle Eastern distributor, and that led to a deal with Basil Iwanyk’s Thunder Road.” Iwanyk makes studio-caliber big ticket films, and develops them through a territorial deal with Italia and Fundamental Films for China. Thunder Road has two or three movies in the market this year, “and a lot of pictures we put together, whether it’s Guillame Canet’s Blood Ties in competition or others being sold on promos, directly came out of Cannes,” Sutherland noted. Among the pictures CAA will shop domestic alongside Exclusive Media is Passengers, the science fiction film that stars Kean Reeves and Reese Witherspoon with Game Of Thrones‘ Brian Kirk directing. That’s among a number of percolating packages, where the emphasis is on foreign sales, but where a domestic deal could be had as well.
Several buyers told me they are in no hurry to fill slates this time. Distributors have plenty of pictures scheduled for later this year, so nobody is hard up. There would have been a stampede for the David Ayer-directed Brad Pitt-in-a-WWII-tank film Fury, but QED’s Bill Block made a deal for most of the world with Sony. “Good for them,” said one major sales agent. “That movie would have sucked all the oxygen out of the market for the rest of us. It would have been such a distraction for the distributors we are selling our films to.” Compared to Fury, there is a decided drop-off in the level of must-have movies that will be hawked through sizzle reels and scripts that distributors will weigh starting Wednesday. A lot of the product is familiar because footage was shown in Berlin. Also pictures like Diana, which stars Naomi Watts as Lady Di, have been screened in promo reels in Los Angeles this week in hopes of kickstarting a deal that might close here in Cannes.
Buyers said that making deals based on preview reels is tricky business. Everybody has been burned enough to be wary. For every Looper and Iron Lady, there is the Madonna-directed film W.E. and The Host, the Andrew Niccol-directed adaptation of the novel by Twilight Saga’s Stephenie Meyer that flopped. “Chances are, the problems you see in the footage or the script will be in the movie that is delivered to you. So if there is even a doubt, it’s better to pass,” said one distributor.
What films are most often being mentioned by potential buyers?
As I Lay Dying - The James Franco-directed adaptation of the William Faulkner novel stars Franco, Logan Marshall Green, Tim Blake Nelson and Danny McBride. It follows a family through a turmoil filled journey to bring their dead mother to her gravesite. Nu Image is selling
Blood Ties - The Guillaume Canet-directed film was scripted by James Gray and stars Clive Owen, Marion Cotillard, Billy Crudup, Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis. It takes place in 1970s NYC, with brothers on opposite sides of the law squaring off. It’s screening out of competition at the festival. CAA and Wild Bunch are selling.
The Congress - The Ari Folman-directed film stars Paul Giamatti, Danny Huston and Robin Wright. Screening in Director’s Fortnight, the drama focuses on an out of work actress who accepts a final job and watches it have unforeseen consequences. Match Factory is selling.
Deep Sea Challenge - It’s a documentary, but who’d bet against the director James Cameron in a 3D film in which he chronicles his past diving expeditions in his Deepsea Challenger sub. CAA selling.
Diana - The Oliver Hirschbiegel-directed drama stars Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews and focuses on Princess Diana’s romance with a Pakistani surgeon shortly before her death. Embankment Films is selling.
Electric City - Tom Hanks directed this animated film about a power grid operator with a secret life as a hitman, and how he operates in a dystopian metropolis where the lights really go out at night. IM Global is selling.
How I Live Now - The Kevin Macdonald-scripted drama about a New York teen sent to England to summer with cousins she has never met. Saoirse Ronan stars. Protagonist is selling.
Last Days On Mars - The Ruari Robinson-directed drama stars Liev Schreiber in a drama about astronauts who begin dropping one by one as they collect specimens on the red planet. Focus International is selling.
Only Lovers Left Alive - The Jim Jarmusch-directed love story that stars Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston as starcrossed vampires who love each other for centuries, but something always gets in the way. Hanway and ICM Partners are selling.
Venus In Fur – The Roman Polanski-directed adaptation of the stage play stars Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric in a drama about an actress’ attempt to show a director she is perfect for the role. Resolution is selling.
Jimmy P – The Arnaud Desplechin-directed drama stars Benicio Del Toro in the story of an American Blackfoot who fought in WWII in France, and returns suffering excruciating migraines. This is the attempt to fix him. CAA, Wild Bunch and Worldview are selling.
Seduced And Abandoned – The James Toback-directed cinema verite documentary shot least Cannes with Alec Baldwin trying to finance a project called The List. ICM Partners and Hanway are selling.
Angriest Man In Brooklyn – The Phil Alden Robinson-directed film will be hawked in a promo reel, with Robin Williams starring in a drama about a man with one hour to live who attempts to right his wrongs, while the doctor who diagnosed him tries to find him. WME Global and Cargo are selling.
Dom Hemingway – The Richard Shepard-directed drama that stars Jude Law, about a ill-tempered gangster sprung from prison after 12 years looks to collect what’s owed him for keeping quiet. Hanway is selling.
The Double – The Richard Ayoade-directed contemporary adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel stars Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, about the struggles of a young man when a lookalike shows up at his doorstep. Protagonist is selling.
The Railway Man – The Jonathan Teplitzky-directed drama stars Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, and is an epic true story of a war hero and the woman who matched his courage in reclaiming him. CAA and Lionsgate are selling.
Tracks – The John Curran-directed drama stars Mia Wasikowska in the true story of Robyn Davidson’s solo camel trek through the harsh climates of Australia. Hanway is selling, on footage it showed in Berlin.
The Two Faces Of January – The Hossein Amini-directed drama stars Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac and Kirsten Dunst and is about a mysterious couple that draws an unsuspecting young man into their web of deception. StudioCanal is selling.
Marvin Gaye Biopic – Julien Temple directs and Jesse L. Martin and Brendan Gleeson star in the story of the singer’s attempt to rediscover his gifts when he meets his next manager in a Belgian fishing village. Focus International is selling.
Welcome To New York – The Abel Ferrara-directed film stars Gerard Depiardieu in a drama inspired by the downfall of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Wild Bunch is selling.
The Zero Theorem – Terry Gilliam-directed film stars Christoph Waltz as a computer programmer being manipulated by a powerful organization as he works on a theory to solve the mystery of life. CAA and Voltage are selling.
There will be a few surprises at the festival, buyers tell me. That might include footage from The Gunman, the Sean Penn-starrer, and the Jon Favreau-directed The Chef, which reportedly has Robert Downey Jr. in that one. There will also likely be action on Jane Got A Gun, the Western that has been through all kinds of hell, but has Gavin O’Connor directing Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich and Ewan McGregor. That film could certainly use a domestic deal as the financiers continue to pay the bills.