The rise of streamer content has created anxiety for talent and their reps, because of models that require ownership of a project in perpetuity. Because product starts on a streaming site and then never leaves, there is no chance of backend windfalls. Just look at the creators and cast of Squid Game to see what that can mean: a billion-dollar property for Netflix, embarrassingly tiny paydays for the artists who made it, and little hope of making up the shortfall in subsequent seasons.
While some of Hollywood’s top dealmakers and lawyers are trying to create fair compensation formulas, one growing way to turn shifting sands into an upside is a trend of artists and their agents gambling on themselves and coming to the market with fully fleshed-out projects, packaged with script, director and star. The result has been auctions that bring greenlights and sometimes career-best paydays.
The biggest recent example was the sale of two Knives Out sequels from Rian Johnson. The CAA-brokered auction ended with Netflix paying around $450 million for two films, and the paydays to Johnson and star Daniel Craig are rumored to be in the $100 million range. It was one of the largest Hollywood deals for a picture property, ever.
Similar deals with large paydays were realized on the Antoine Fuqua-directed Will Smith starrer Emancipation, Killers of the Flower Moon—directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro—and a Formula One race movie to star Brad Pitt, with Top Gun: Maverick’s Joseph Kosinski directing. There are many examples of varying degrees. And studios and streamers alike don’t resent the premium price, they look at it as an acceptable cost to add quality, star-driven projects to their slates that they don’t have to develop from the ground up.
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CAA Media Finance sells an inordinate amount of these, and Roeg Sutherland and Benjamin Kramer say it has become a viable way to get movies made, with the participants gaining more creative control and a better stake in the future of these properties. They and their team have been in the middle of an inordinate number of Cannes Market offerings of packages and finished films, from the sequel to This is Spinal Tap to The Hood, a period peasant revolt drama that Paul Greengrass will direct with Benedict Cumberbatch starring. There are nearly three dozen others they are selling here. The first two major deals came from streamers, with Netflix acquiring Pain Hustlers, the David Yates-directed drama with Emily Blunt, and Apple Original Films buying the Christos Nikou-directed Fingernails, with Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed starring. Their efforts have made for a lively Cannes marketplace, with theatrical deals to come as the business regains its footing post-pandemic. The CAA Media Finance co-heads are understandably bullish.
“Never has there been more money in the marketplace, ever,” Sutherland says. “People understand the benefits and risks that come with creating content. There are so many buyers out there that, after it’s finished—and it’s good—you’re going to find a home for it at more favorable terms and with more upside.”
Says Kramer: “Making a film independently and then licensing it is a way to get out of a cycle of being reliant on studios’ whims and timetables. Filmmakers and producers who are entrepreneurial see the value of holding on to control. On the right projects—those that start franchises—that value is exponential.
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