On the eve of the European Film Market in Berlin, the record buying spree at Sundance is still the talk of the town. Buyers stumped up more than $120 million on almost 40 movies over in Park City. Amazon alone spent close to $50M on five films, a new high for a buyer.
“I’ve been going to the festival for 20 years and I can’t recall a Sundance with so many deals in the high eight figures,” said one veteran deal-maker. “It was remarkable.” Noted another, “It’s definitely a record, can’t remember anything close.”
The heady business was prompted by a perfect storm of commercially minded zeitgeisty product, a spread of well-capitalized buyers spearheaded by the digital titans and of course an emboldened new management at Amazon. It may have also been down to market recalibration. “Perhaps it was a consequence of industry rolling up their sleeves and thinking ‘what does the market want, what’s working’, and then making them,” explained one leading U.S. deal-maker. “Every festival is usually the culmination of what happens in the year prior.”
Another reason we’re all still thinking about Sundance is because of its proximity to the Berlin Film Festival and EFM this year. The short time between the two has been a headache for the industry. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again,” said one sleep-deprived seller echoing a familiar sentiment.
What does it all mean for Berlin? The hope among those with projects here is that the good vibes from Utah will continue, stimulating brisk deal-making in the German capital. But dynamics are different at the EFM. In Utah, many projects are available for world rights; the films are completed and buyers know what they’re getting into. They can feel a U.S. audience’s reaction to a U.S. movie in real time. In Berlin, the festival is largely made up of international art-house fare. There is a wide variety of projects at different stages of production in the market but many will have already sold in key international territories or will sell internationally first before a U.S. deal.
So, while there will likely be some eye-catching domestic deals and traction in international markets, it would be a big surprise if we saw the mega numbers of Sundance. There’s still hoping. While Netflix, Amazon and Apple continue to steal headlines, there are a number of familiar buyers who haven’t splashed the cash in the last two weeks and could do so in coming days.
“Maybe because of the competition with the streamers at Sundance it will prompt other players who got pushed out to pre-buy early on before projects get caught up in a bidding war,” mused one financier.
What’s clear, looking at the projects on sale here and Sundance, is that certain thematic trends are taking hold in the market. Positively, the number of female-fronted projects, whether they feature strong female lead characters or women directors and writers, is growing at a steady pace. There is a noticeable shift in the makeup and themes of high-profile projects. Ammonite, Call Jane and Promising Young Woman are just a few of the EFM projects which fall into that category.
“There was a strong female voice out of Sundance,” recognizes one agent. “Was that a by-product of what has been going on over the last year or two? I think so. It’s nice to see that adjustment and it’s good to see these films are resonating with not just audiences but with distributors who are listening. Hopefully this is the new normal.”
As ever, a host of new or reconfigured projects have been assembled for the EFM. Among the hottest new arrivals to market are Aaron Sorkin’s starry The Trial Of The Chicago 7, which The Social Network and The West Wing scribe will be discussing with key buyers. Westworld executive producer Lisa Joy will be doing the same for her Hugh Jackman-Rebecca Ferguson sci-fi thriller Reminiscence. Scroll down for a non-exhaustive list of buzzy projects on sale for the first time.
Meanwhile, Rian Johnson’s big canvas detective pic Knives Out starring Daniel Craig will be on sale for the first time for Lionsgate and Olivier Assayas’s Wasp Network With Penelope Cruz is now on sale with growing player Orange Studio. There will be promos for anticipated movies in production such as Benedict Cumberbatch starrer Ironbark and Dev Patel-Tilda Swinton pic The Personal History Of David Copperfield. Among the strong art-house prospects in the market are Hirokazu Kore-eda’s French-language debut The Truth, starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, which should also have a promo.
Another trend on full show in Park City and which will likely continue to blossom in Berlin is the demand for thought-provoking, socially-minded documentaries with breakout potential. Pics such as Leaving Neverland, Cold Case Hammarskjöld, Ask Dr. Ruth, Weinstein doc Untouchable and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez film Knock Down The House were among Sundance’s most-buzzed about titles. The same films will continue to draw deals here as will newcomers such as Studiocanal’s Capital In The 21st Century and Aretha Franklin concert film Amazing Grace.
One genre entirely absent among the 20 or so new projects listed below is comedy. Perhaps another lesson from Sundance was that audiences at this angry time are also crying out for some smart, funny escapism. Crowdpleasers such as Late Night, Blinded By The Light and Brittany Runs A Marathon went down a storm in Park City. But in recent years their ilk has been painfully thin on the ground in theaters as superhero pics, elevated genre and ripped-from-the-headlines dramas have dominated. Perhaps that’s the next needed market adjustment.
This year’s Berlin festival lineup looks relatively low-wattage, something noted by industry on the ground here. But many thought the same about Cannes and that festival served up a number of critical gems, so the same could apply here. The hasty withdrawal of a Chinese film in the event’s Generation strand has raised eyebrows in light of the country’s ongoing censorship crackdown, and it has been noted as a sign of the times that after saying the streamer wouldn’t feature in Competition, Dieter Kosslick’s last lineup as festival director includes a Netflix film in its main section: Isabel Coixet’s Elisa and Marcela.
The 2018 box office depression in major European markets such as Italy and Germany is a talking point on the ground here as have been Liam Neeson’s widely criticized comments from the Cold Pursuit junket. Multiple companies with projects set to star the bankable actor have needed to re-route announcements due to the negative heat.
Finally, I’m also starting to hear anxiety from some multinational distributor-financiers about the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on European licensing deals arranged from London. As we get closer to the March 29 cut off, the shape and impact of Brexit remains frustratingly unclear.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7
After pre-production was put on pause in December, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7 heads to market with an all-star cast including Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jonathan Majors and Alex Sharp. Rocket Science has international sales rights and CAA Media Finance will handle U.S. with shoot slated for late summer. Based on Oscar-winner Sorkin’s screenplay, The Social Network scribe will also direct the film which is based on the 1969 trial of seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy. Sorkin is due in Berlin to discuss the project with key buyers.
Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are due to star this fall in sci-fi-thriller Reminiscence, a film that Westworld executive producer Lisa Joy has scripted and will direct. Joy will present to buyers this week. The co-pro between Kilter Films, Michael De Luca Productions and FilmNation is a re-team for Jackman and Ferguson, who worked together on hit musical The Greatest Showman. The script, which made the Black List several years ago, will see the former play a private eye who deals in recapturing cherished memories for clients. Ferguson will play one of those clients (Ferguson).
Mel Gibson and Tye Sheridan are in final negotiations to star in Blacklist screenplay Black Flies by Ryan King, based on the novel by Shannon Burke. The film will be directed by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire, who last helmed well-received A24 title A Prayer Before Dawn. The project tells the story of a young paramedic, Ollie Cross (Sheridan), navigating his first year on the job. He’s partnered with Rutkovsky (Gibson), an experienced medic who thrusts Ollie into the harsh realities of New York’s inner-city streets. Mad River Pictures is financing and producing alongside Christopher Kopp, Lucan Toh and Babak Anvari, and Anthony Katagas. CAA and Endeavor Content are handling U.S. rights; IMR reps international.
As we revealed yesterday, key markets such as France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and U.S. are still available on this anticipated drama set to star Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan. See-Saw’s in-house sales arm will handle the remaining markets and will co-rep U.S. with CAA Media Finance. Shoot begins next month on the romance set in 1840s England. Widows and The King’s Speech producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman produce with Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly (Lady Macbeth). Francis Lee (God’s Own Country) has written and will direct.
Promising Young Woman
Carey Mulligan will play Cassie, a young woman haunted by a tragedy in her past, who begins exacting her own particular brand of revenge on the predatory men unlucky enough to cross her path. Emerald Fennell, show-runner on Killing Eve season two, will write and direct, and also produce alongside LuckyChap Entertainment and FilmNation. The latter will rep international; UTA will rep U.S. Shoot is due to get underway this spring.
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ralph Fiennes will star in the true story of Farnsworth House. Set in late 1940s Chicago, Gyllenhaal plays Dr. Edith Farnsworth, whose ambitious project with the revolutionary Bauhaus architect Mies Van Der Rohe, played by Fiennes, to build the first glass house led them into a passionate but tempestuous love affair. Richard Press (Bill Cunningham New York), wrote the screenplay and will direct. HanWay Films will oversee international sales. ICM Partners handles U.S. Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa (Nebraska) will produce with Matt Flanders (Goldbricks in Bloom), and Gyllenhaal. Pic is currently in pre-production.
Jason Clarke and Nick Robinson are due to star in this crime-drama directed and written by Tiller Russell (Operation Odessa). Based on the Rolling Stone article Dead End On Silk Road by David Kushner, the film charts the story of Ross Ulbricht, the American darknet operator and drugs trafficker, best known for creating and running the Silk Road website. Producers are Duncan Montgomery and Jack Selby, Alex Orlovsky and Elika Portnoy, and David Hyman and Stephen Gans. Sierra/Affinity is handling international; Endeavor Content reps North America.
Elisabeth Moss and Susan Sarandon will star in women’s rights drama Call Jane for Tallulah director Sian Heder and producer Robbie Brenner (Dallas Buyers Club). The Blacklist script, currently in pre-production, comes from Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi with Moss also set to produce. Protagonist handles international sales on the project about Joy (Moss), a traditional ’60s American housewife, who is desperate for a child. When she receives news of her pregnancy, complications mean that what should have been a joyous moment is instead an imminent threat to her life. She has nowhere to turn until she stumbles upon the Janes, an underground abortion movement led by Virginia (Sarandon). Endeavor Content and ICM Partners will handle North America.
Scott Free and Black Bear have set Jason Segel, Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck to star in The Friend, a fact-based drama that STX International will launch for offshore sales. Directing is Gabriela Cowperthwaite, whose Blackfish was a BAFTA nominee for Best Documentary. Script comes from Brad Ingelsby. The Friend tells the true story of Nicole (Johnson) and Matthew Teague (Affleck) who, after learning that Nicole has just six months to live, receive the unexpected support of the couple’s best friend (Segel) who moves into their family home and puts his own life on hold.
AGC Studios is behind this young adult sci-fi thriller, the next feature from The Upside and Divergent director Neil Burger, who will direct from his own original screenplay which will be produced by Basil Iwanyk’s Thunder Road Films and Burger’s Nota Bene Productions banner. Currently casting up, the project focuses on 30 children sent into space on a multi-generational mission to reach and populate a newly discovered planet.
The Night House
Rebecca Hall is due to star in horror-thriller The Night House, which will be directed by David Bruckner (The Ritual) and is based on a script written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski (Stephanie). Pic follows a widow who begins to uncover her recently deceased husband’s disturbing secrets. David S. Goyer and Keith Levine are producing. Anton is fully financing, executive producing and handling worldwide sales. Endeavor Content is co-repping U.S.
Shadow In The Cloud
Chloë Grace Moretz is set to star in director Roseanne Liang’s action-horror about a captain carrying top secret documents aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress who must contend with an evil presence, an oncoming Japanese ambush and a leery, all-male crew. Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Sinister) and Fred Berger (La La Land) from Automatik, Kelly McCormick (Atomic Blonde) and Tom Hern (The Dark Horse) of Four Knights Film are producing. Screenplay is from Bright and Chronicle scribe Max Landis. Endeavor Content is handling world sales.
Color Out Of Space
XYZ Films reps world sales on Richard Stanley’s (Hardware) horror-thriller, starring Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson and based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella. Currently in production, and re-teaming Cage with Mandy producers SpectreVision and XYZ, the project tells the story of the Gardners, a family which moves to a remote farmstead in rural New England to escape the hustle of the 21st century. They are busy adapting to their new life when a meteorite crashes into their front yard. The mysterious aerolite seems to melt into the earth, infecting both the land and the properties of space-time with a strange, otherworldly color. To their horror, the Gardner family discover that this alien force is gradually mutating every life form that it touches…including them.
Cornerstone Films has boarded international rights to director Josephine Decker’s (Madeline’s Madeline) completed psychological drama Shirley starring Elisabeth Moss as horror author Shirley Jackson with Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name) as her Bennington College professor husband Stanley Hyman. Logan Lerman (Indignation) and Odessa Young (Assassination Nation) play the young couple that move in with the older couple in the hope of starting a new life but instead find themselves fodder for a psycho-drama that inspires Jackson’s next novel. Paradigm and UTA are overseeing North American sales.
Allison Williams and Alexander Dreymon are set to star in Mikael Marcimain’s survival thriller Horizon Line for STXfilms and Nordic major SF Studios. Written by 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken, pic follows former lovers Sara and Jackson who find themselves reunited ahead of their friend’s tropical island wedding. As the only passengers on a single-engine Cessna plane making its way over the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, a spark soon rekindles. However, when their pilot suddenly suffers a heart attack, the couple must fight for their lives to stay airborne and find their way back to land. Filming starts on February 11 in Mauritius before moving to Dublin and then Pinewood in London. STXinternational will be shopping in Berlin.
The Power Of Love
French actress and director Valérie Lemercier (Avenue Montaigne) is set to star in this ambitious European feature, a fictionalized story inspired by the life of Céline Dion. According to producers, the big-budget (around €23M) French-language project has buy in from Canadian star Dion and will feature her songs. Two-time César winner Lemercier will star as the character based on Dion, she will also direct the project, which is based on her script. Shoot is due to get underway in France this spring. Gaumont reps sales.
Voltage Pictures is handling international on Tim Sutton’s upcoming thriller The Chain, which reunites the filmmaker with his Donnybrook stars Jamie Bell and Margaret Qualley. Both stars are in talks to join in addition to Colette‘s Denise Gough and Captain America: Civil War‘s Sebastian Stan. Sutton adapted from Tobias Wolff’s award-winning short story of the same name, about a man’s daughter who is viciously attacked by a dog, setting off a chain of events that ends in unspeakable tragedy.
STXInternational is introducing Jennifer Lopez–Constance Wu pic Hustlers. Based on the New York magazine article The Hustlers at Scores by Jessica Pressler, it follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. Lorene Scafaria adapted and is directing for a March shoot in NYC. STXfilms will distribute in the U.S.
Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly and Veronica Ferres are set to star in this thriller about the international opioid crisis from writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (Arbitrage). Principal photography is underway in Montreal and Detroit. Lisa Wilson of Solution Entertainment Group is repping international sales. Endeavor Content represents U.S. rights with LGNA Legal.
SAS: Red Notice
Magnus Martens’ (Jackpot) action-thriller stars Outlander‘s Sam Heughan, Ruby Rose, Andy Serkis, Tom Wilkinson and Hannah John-Kamen. Based on the book by former UK soldier turned popular author Andy McNab, Heughan plays Tom Buckingham, whose marriage plans are upended by the hijacking of a train and a plan to blow up the Channel Tunnel. Script comes from Laurence Malkin and Chad Thumann. Malkin (Death At A Funeral) and Claudia Bluemhuber (Eye in the Sky) are producing. Altitude Film Sales is selling at the EFM.
Film Constellation handles world sales on this project about a young David Bowie during his first visit to America in 1971, a trip that inspired the invention of his iconic alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Actor-musician Johnny Flynn (Beast) will play the young Bowie. Jena Malone (The Hunger Games) is attached to play Bowie’s first wife, Angie, and Marc Maron (GLOW) will play his record company publicist. Principal photography is slated for June 2019. Gabriel Range (I Am Slave) will direct. McQueen producer Salon Pictures is producing; Christopher Figg of Piccadilly Pictures is co-financing.