After a brutal stretch, a market is finally bringing back the swagger. Despite the Netflix-Cannes snafu which dominated the build-up to the festival, this is the most optimistic mood at the outset of a film mart in years.
The EFM heralded the bounce-back. It was a stabilizing market and the first for some time that indie buyers and sellers re-discovered common ground that had been more of a no-man’s land during a multi-year reconfiguration process needed to work out what constitutes a theatrical movie in today’s digital-first world.
The Marché sees the launch of an array of intriguing prospects even if some remain very much that – prospects. Big canvas movies come in the shape of AGC’s WWII epic Midway, Lionsgate’s franchise-hopeful Kingkiller Chronicle: The Name Of The Wind (director Sam Raimi was in town today to meet buyers with Lionsgate’s Joe Drake and Patrick Wachsberger, pictured) and FilmNation’s starry ensemble 355 which is getting a glam presentation on Thursday. Mel Gibson’s Destroyer has yet to find a sales home, but finance could come together here. Thankfully, comedy is putting its head back above the parapet in the shape of Bloom’s Bill & Ted threequel. Even brawn is making a comeback – Millennium alone will be in town with a sequel to The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Rambo V. How bold is the market feeling? Luc Besson is understood to have at least one significant new movie in town, even after Valerian’s misfire.
At the other end of the spectrum, high-end prestige dramas include Cary Fukunaga’s Leonard Bernstein biopic The American (Sierra/Affinity) with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams, and Julianne Moore-starring remake After The Wedding (Cornerstone) along with Pedro Almodovar’s next film Pain And Glory (FilmNation), starring Penelope Cruz.
Local challenges remain, there’s no doubt. Consolidation, polarization and fragmentation are the watch words in many territories. The UK continues to be “depressing” with acquisitions few and far between. France’s tough VOD laws bring another set of challenges and Spain remains dented by piracy. Plenty for naysayers to complain.
But overall, for the first time in recent memory sellers and buyers alike are enthused. “It’s the first time in a while we’ve seen strong pre-market interest from buyers,” one blue-chip U.S. seller told us. “I think it’s going to be a strong one,” a seasoned Euro buyer told us. “There’s lots of new stuff and a lot of variety. There should be something for everyone if the pricing is right.”
On that subject, we’re aware of some very high price tags already, including multiple projects with eight-figure asks for European territories (wow). But the variety of projects could marry with the diversity of buyers. The U.S. picture is promising, for example, with its string of differentiated acquirers.
“There is bullishness on the side of creatives and financiers,” one Hollywood insider told us. “We’re on an upward curve. There is increasing value for high-end packages which are put together in the right way. But it’s an awful market for those that aren’t. That middle ground is no longer business-sustainable.” That bullishness has led to a number of skeletal projects being revealed pre-market. “The market is hot so announce and hope, but be wary, it’s still brutal out there,” the U.S. exec continued.
China remains an intriguing conundrum, but trends today are largely driven by patterns of consumption rather than the appetites of individual territories. And those patterns continue to have a significant knock-on effect on the market.
Even if they are refocusing toward in-house productions, Netflix and other multi-territory buyers continue to dominate the landscape. Some indie buyers we spoke to pre-Cannes said they almost expect to see the birth of buy-back clauses in sales contracts whereby a seller can unwind distribution deals and offer buyers a premium if they get a bigger worldwide offer from the likes of a Netflix, a studio or a network.
The changes in the eco-system could see more buyers teaming up to incentivize non-global deals. “Buyers need to go fast or buy as a block,” one financier told us. Getting in at a much earlier stage by developing their own material is an oft-refrained suggestion.
The art-house sector remains squeezed. One veteran seller we spoke to pointed out that VOD services like MUBI could become key going forward as screens become harder to lock down amid a glut of superhero movies and sequels. A market where art-house is finding a door opening is China as the Nationwide Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas works to bring in more foreign titles.
Meanwhile, Cannes brings its usual mix of new beginnings and last hurrahs. Market stalwart Stuart Ford arrives with new company AGC Studios, for example, while Lionsgate will be throwing a party at the Du Cap for exiting sales vet Patrick Wachsberger (who surely won’t be company-less for long).
Global Road will be one to watch as it announced during Berlin plans to spend in the range of $1B on production over the next three years. It should be getting ready to deploy some capital. TWC bidders Lantern Capital are expected in town while there have been rumors of new entities in the works for Ron Burkle and Ryan Kavanagh. Meanwhile, a growing appetite for local language remakes is being smartly exploited by the likes of Globalgate, CJ and Ivanhoe Pictures – watch this space. Column inches will also naturally be given over to the festival’s harassment initiatives and on-going diversity challenge.
So yes, some market staples are struggling, but others are emerging or re-emerging. Yes, the festival lineup lacks familiar faces, but it’s probably time to embrace the next generation. Yes, there will be fewer stunts and opulent parties, but business can still be smart. Of course there are too many sellers, but there’s also a reason for their vast number: content remains in demand.
We won’t know for a couple of weeks whether this market’s ambition was misguided or justified but a renewed ambition is in the air and that’s something.