EXCLUSIVE: After an old-style all-night auction, Netflix is finalizing an $11 million deal for North American rights to May December, the Todd Haynes-directed drama that stars Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman. It is far and away the big deal of Cannes so far, and a deal of this size ought to send a jolt of optimism that the North American marketplace for Cannes films is still alive and well, after a slow start here.
The deal is being finalized by CAA Media Finance and UTA Independent Film Group, with Rocket Science brokering international deals. The film premiered at Cannes last Saturday evening, and received an eight-minute standing ovation and positive notices. It is most unusual for Netflix to take North American rights, so this is an exceptional situation.
Director Haynes reacted to our scoop almost in real time when we interviewed him this morning in Cannes, saying the deal made the team feel “emboldened”:
May December refers to the nature of a scandalous romance between a married woman and a 13-year-old that was a tabloid staple when it happened 20 years ago. As happened in the May-December romance between teacher Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, Moore’s character served time for seducing an underaged teen, but eventually married the youth, and they moved away to raise a family and live quietly. The film’s trigger is the interaction between the couple (Charles Melton plays the husband) and an actress (Portman) who travels to Maine to study the life of the woman she will play in a film. Sparks fly between the three of them as unresolved issues resurface in a romantic drama that reunites the director with Moore after they made Oscar nominee Far From Heaven together. Script was written by Samy Burch.
As the crowd of buyers and sellers head home from Cannes, this deal livens the potential for more; we’d heard of as many as five suitors before Netflix prevailed on May December. Coming into Cannes, there was a surplus of packages and we’ve now seen a handful of well-reviewed festival films alongside premieres that came with domestic distribution in place such as Apple’s Martin Scorsese-directed Killers of the Flower Moon which premiered out of competition, and A24’s Jonathan Glazer-directed The Zone of Interest, a film drawing much buzz in the Palme d’Or competition. Both are likely to feature in the Oscar race.
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International distributors have reported a strong market, but this, and the deal we told you about for The End We Start From, have been among the only splashy North American pacts to have happened on the ground, where a writers’ strike has hobbled a business which was already seeing a reduction in big acquisitions from the streamers. The thinking coming in is that sellers would see a premium for completed films that can be slotted on slates, and packages that can mobilize quickly post-strike. This deal could help loosen the deal logjam.
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May December is produced by Will Ferrell and Jessica Elbaum of Gloria Sanchez, Killer Films’ Christine Vachon and Pam Koffler, and Portman and Sophie Mas. Grant S. Johnson and Tyler W. Koney also produced and fully financed through their respective companies Project Infinity and Taylor & Dodge.
Haynes is repped by CAA, and Cinetic Media’s John Sloss.
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