If there is a recurring theme among buyers and sellers we’ve spoken to in the early moments of the Cannes Film Festival, it is that none can remember the last time there was such a sellers’ market here on the Croisette. The trouble is, nobody seems to really have anything all that compelling to sell, and that is driving the sellers crazy.
The market opened in the grandest possible way, with a record-setting $20M deal as Paramount paid for North America and China rights to the Denis Villeneuve-directed science fiction film Story Of Your Life. Well, the weather has also been grand so far — the deals, not so much. In fact, the next one came as The Weinstein Company finally closed its long-expected deal for Grace Of Monaco, slashing its original $5M commitment almost in half for a film where director Olivier Dahan shot a version that didn’t reflect the original script, before unveiling it as the Cannes opening-night film to terrible reviews.
Since then, nobody has seemed in much of a hurry to gobble up much of anything. No one was saying Paramount spent drunkenly in setting the record with Story Of Your Life. The rationale: $20M for a movie with commercial potential budgeted around $50M, an actress who routinely garners Oscar nominations for her work in Amy Adams, and a director who is fast emerging, is something major Hollywood studios would pay any day. With a major U.S. wide release in place, Glen Basner’s FilmNation’s effort to finish sales around the world has been the equivalent of selling ice cream in the desert. Territories are paying generously, in a textbook example of how the deal-making here is supposed to work.
If only there were more of those films. A package could still fall into place that creates another feeding frenzy, but most sellers are resigned to kicking themselves for not having enough killer product and missing out on an opportunity. Buyers and sellers are moving warily, particularly those who are coming here with other projects that haven’t begun production, or are selling on the basis of a sizzle reel. Some of these movies might just as easily surface as Toronto business as walk away with a big Cannes deal. Then again, there are those that believe the lack of films that have come together with sought-after talent is not a momentary anomaly, but part of a larger trend.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t trying. Yesterday, Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club star Matthew McConaughey came to discuss Sea Of Trees, the Gus Van Sant-directed drama which casts him as a suicidal man who wants to die in the title forest until he gets there, meets a Japanese man who’s lost, and dedicates himself to saving him. Naomi Watts is also starring. And Russell Crowe drew a crowd at the Majestic to give a presentation on his directorial debut, The Water Diviner, hoping to whip the distributors into a froth. We’ll see shortly if the Noah star succeeded.
Don’t think for a moment that no deals will get made. So many distributors have holes in their schedules and so many territories are spending more lavishly than in recent years that we wouldn’t be surprised if there are several splashy sales. Here are the ones that have the most buzz on them so far, or just sound good on paper. Sizzle reels will be shown all through the weekend and we should have a better picture by Monday if this market will be boom or bust, and whether the splashiest deal occurred before most of us got to the Croisette.
NIGHTCRAWLER – Director and writer: Dan Gilroy. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed. A young man stumbles upon the underground world of LA freelance crime journalism. Sales: CAA/WME / Sierra Affinity. There is high wanna see on this one, but we hear the sellers might wait for fall festivals.
SEA OF TREES – Director: Gus Van Sant, Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Noami Watts. A suicidal American befriends a Japanese man lost in a forest near Mt. Fuji and the two search for a way out. CAA, WME Global and Bloom’s Alex Walton are selling this.
DARK PLACES – Director and writer: Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Chlöe Grace Moretz, Christina Hendricks. The sole survivor of a violent home invasion, Libby Day lives with the knowledge that her testimony as a 7-year-old sentenced her brother to life in prison for the horrific crime. Twenty-five years later, crime enthusiasts convince her to re-examine the events. Based on the Gillian Flynn novel, Exclusive and WME are selling with some footage.
QUEEN OF THE DESERT – Director and writer: Werner Herzog, Cast: James Franco, Robert Pattinson, Nicole Kidman, Damian Lewis. Kidman plays Gertrude Bell, the Lawrence of Arabia of female diplomats and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the 20th century. Sales: Sierra/Affinity, CAA, Cassian Elwes.
THE WATER DIVINER – Director: Russell Crowe. Cast: Crowe, Olga Kurylenko. An Australian man travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons. Sales: WME/Mister Smith. Crowe hosted a presentation last night at the Majestic.
ASHBY – Director: Tony McNamara. Cast: Mickey Rourke, Nat Wolff, Emma Roberts, Sarah Silverman. Focuses on the relationship between a high school student (Wolff) and a retired CIA assassin (Rourke) who only has months to live. CAA and UTA rep North America.
KIDNAP – Director: Luis Prieto. Cast: Halle Berry. A mother tries to stop the kidnapping of her child in a thriller that plays out in real time. Sales: CAA.
THE SEARCH – Director: Michel Hazanavicius, Cast: Berenice Bejo, Annette Bening. Chechnya-set adaptation of 1948 Oscar winner The Search, which follows an NGO worker who bonds with a small boy who’s been separated from his mother in the war-torn nation. Sales: CAA / Wild Bunch. Film is playing in competition here.
EQUALS – Director: Drake Doremus. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart. Emotion is forbidden in the near future, but two young people begin to fall in love and attempt to escape. Sales: UTA / Mr. Smith
ROOM – Director: Lenny Abrahamson. Cast: Brie Larson. A young mother shelters her 5-year-old son from the truth that the tiny shed they inhabit is in fact the site of their incarceration after she was kidnapped years ago as a teenager. Sales: UTA / FilmNation
UNTITLED LANCE ARMSTRONG CYCLING SCANDAL PROJECT – Director: Stephen Frears. Cast: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Guillaume Canet. Three studios struggled to make a movie about the rise and fall of cyclist Lance Armstrong, and this one crossed the finish line first. Sales: Studiocanal
THE COBBLER – Director and Writer: Thomas McCarthy, Cast: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Melonie Diaz, Ellen Barkin. Fourth generation shoemaker finds a magical sewing machine in his father’s basement that enables him to experience life as other people when he wears their shoes. Sales: WME / Voltage. Pic eyeing a berth at Toronto, so deals might wait until then, though it screened earlier this week.
99 HOMES – Director and Co-Writer: Ramin Bahrani. Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon. A father struggles to get back the home that his family was evicted from by working for the greedy real estate broker who’s the source of his frustration. Sales: CAA / Hyde Park
A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS – Director and Writer: Natalie Portman. Drama based on Amos Oz’s memoir about his mother Fania, who struggles with postwar realities while raising her son in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel. Dealing with a married life of unfulfilled promises and integration in a foreign land, Fania battles depression and can only escape in a world of daydreams. Portman also stars, and who wouldn’t be interested in what this bright young actress has to say as a director. Sales: Voltage and CAA.
A STORM IN THE STARS – Director: Haifaa Almansour. The circumstances that led Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. UTA selling.
I AM LOVE – Director: Luca Guadagnino. Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Shoenaerts and Margot Robbie. Its a sexy thriller a la Ripley, set on an exclusive island in Italy off the coast of Sicily called Pantelleria. Shoots soon and Studio Canal is financing it and shopping territories now.
SUFFRAGETTE – Director: Sarah Gavron. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Ann-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson. Focus is UK suffragette movement in 1912 England, culminating in the notorious Derby Day when Emily Davison died after leaping out in front of the King’s horse. Sales: Pathe. First screening was yesterday.
KNOCK KNOCK – Director and Writer: Eli Roth. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ana de Armas, Lorenza Izzo. Two femme fatales seduce and then wreak havoc on the life of a happily married man left homebound on a weekend. Sales: Voltage, CAA. Screened earlier this week, and is definitely in play here.
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING – Director and Writer: Tom Tykwer. Cast: Tom Hanks, Tom Skerritt. In a rising Saudi Arabian city, far from recession-scarred America, a struggling businessman pursues a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter’s college tuition, and finally do something great. Sales: CAA / Lotus
HANDS OF STONE – Director and Writer: Jonathan Jakubowicz. Cast: Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, Usher Raymond, Ana De Armas. Story of Roberto Duran, the welterweight champ thought unbeatable until he shocked the boxing world by quitting in a rematch against Sugar Ray Leonard. Sales: CAA / Lotus.
GOOD KILL – Director and Writer: Andrew Niccol. Cast: Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz. A fighter pilot-turned-drone pilot, based in Las Vegas, fights the Taliban by remote control for 12 hours a day, then goes home to the suburbs and feuds with his wife and kids for the other 12. But the pilot is starting to question the mission. Is he creating more terrorists than he’s killing? Sales: CAA / Voltage. Screened earlier this week.
THE END OF THE TOUR – Director: James Ponsoldt. Cast: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Joan Cusack. A magazine reporter recounts his travels and conversations with author David Foster Wallace during a promotional book tour. Sales: UTA / WME / CAA / Fortitude International
JOHN WICK – Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, Adrienne Palicki. Former assassin goes after the men responsible for his stolen car and dead dog. Sales: CAA / Lionsgate International. They are showing about 20 minutes of footage here.
KNIGHT OF CUPS – Director and Writer: Terrence Malick. Cast: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Joel Kinnaman, Imogen Poots, Natalie Portman. The story of a man, temptations, celebrity and excess. Sales: FilmNation / CAA. Malick has been hit and miss lately, but it’s Malick, right?
LOVE & MERCY – Director: Bill Pohlad. Cast: Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, John Cusack. A look at the life of troubled musical genius Brian Wilson, the heart and soul of The Beach Boys. CAA / Lionsgate International. This one will probably sell after the festival, when the film will be shown to buyers.
LIFE – Director: Anton Corbijn. Cast: Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton. A photographer for Life Magazine is assigned to shoot pictures of James Dean. Sales: CAA / WME / FilmNation. Based on 15 minutes of footage, this one’s in play and is gonna sell.
PAWN SACRIFICE – Director: Ed Zwick. Cast: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Lily Rabe, Peter Sarsgaard. Enigmatic American chess champion Bobby Fischer prepares for a legendary match against Russian Boris Spassky. Sales: CAA/WME Global / Lionsgate International. Expected to play at Toronto, and might not be sold till then.
SLOW WEST – Director: John Maclean. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn, Kodi Smit-McPhee. A love-struck teenager from an aristocratic Scottish family journeys to the American wilderness in 1870 to find his heart’s desire, a farmer’s daughter on the run from the law with a large bounty on her head. Sales: Hanway
MISSISSIPPI GRIND – Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller. Gambler in debt sets off on a road trip through the Southern U.S. with a young gambling addict in an attempt to change his luck. Sales: WME / Panorama
Z FOR ZACHARIAH – Director: Craig Zobel. Cast: Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor. After surviving a nuclear war in a small American town, a 16 year old encounters two other survivors. Sales: CAA / WME.
JIMI – Director: Ol Parker. Cast: Anthony Mackie, Thandie Newton, possibly Noomi Rapace. Mackie plays Hendrix in the last nine days of the guitar great’s life. Sales: UTA
TRUMBO – Director: Jay Roach. Cast: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren. Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo sees a great career end when he’s blacklisted in the 1940s for being a Communist. Sales: eOne
A SLIGHT TRICK OF THE MIND – Director: Bill Condon. Cast: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney. An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. Sales: FilmNation, WME Global
MONEY MONSTER – Director: Jodie Foster. Cast: George Clooney. Lee Gates is a television personality whose insider-trading tips make him the guru of Wall Street. That is, until he’s held hostage on air by a man who has lost all of his family’s money because of a bad tip. Ratings soar as the entire country tunes in to find out just how much a man’s life is worth. Sales: CAA and UTA
IN HER EYES – Director: Billy Ray. Cast: Chewitel Ejifor, Gwyneth Paltrow. Remake of the Oscar-winning Argentinian thriller The Secret In Their Eyes. Sales: CAA / IM Global
ALONE IN BERLIN – Director: Vincent Perez. Cast: Emma Thompson, Daniel Bruhl, Mark Rylance. True story of a German couple whose son was killed at the front in WWII. They began a quiet rebellion by dropping anonymous postcards in mailboxes around Berlin that decried the actions of Adolf Hitler. Sales: Sunray Films
LARRY’S KIDNEY – Director: Richard Linklater. Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis. True story of how Daniel Asa Rose found himself in China with his black-sheep cousin and his mail-order bride, skirting the law to get him a transplant … and save his life. Sales: CAA/WME Global.
THE LAST FACE – Director: Sean Penn. Cast: Javier Bardem, Charlize Theron, Adele Exarchopoulos. A talented and charismatic doctor is forced to choose between his love for an American relief worker or his dedication to saving lives in war-torn African nations. Sales: CAA. Movie to shoot this summer.
ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING – Director: Terry Jones. Cast: Simon Pegg, Gemma Arterton, John Cleese, Michael Palin. Chaos ensues when hapless teacher Neil Clarke is given God-like power for 10 days. Little does he know that the planet is being tested by a council of supremely odd ‘world destroying’ aliens and his actions will determine the fate of Earth. Sales: GFM
THE DIG – Director: Susanne Bier. Cast: Cate Blanchett. Set in a riverside village in Suffolk on the eve of WWII, a widowed farmer has her hunch proved correct that the strange mounds on her land hold buried treasure.
AUTOBAHN – Director: Eran Creevy. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley. An American backpacker becomes a pick-up driver for a pan-European drug cartel. Involved in a rival gang’s scam that goes wrong, he is forced to flee at breakneck speed down Germany’s high-speed freeways while preventing his girlfriend from being taken hostage. Sales: CAA / IM Global.
BEASTS OF NO NATION – Director: Cary Fukunaga. Cast: Idris Elba. A young child in an unnamed African country learns to become a soldier under the tutelage of a Commandant. Sales: WME / IM Global. Fukunaga coming off True Detective, Elba Mandela: The Long Walk To Freedom. The film is expected to play Toronto or possibly Sundance, and deal might not happen until then.