Winter is coming. That has been the mantra for some time at the major film markets. So the slew of sizable packages announced for this year’s Cannes film market has left some scratching their heads. If, as has been the conversation, these are the last days of Rome for the independent film business, maybe things aren’t so bad after all.
“It’s up there with the highest volume of packages I can remember,” one financier told us.
“It is surprisingly buoyant,” a studio buyer remarked. “Last year wasn’t bad either with projects like Midway, 355 and Ironbark, but bearing in mind the supposed death of the indie film biz, it seems positive.”
Roland Emmerich is in town with his $150 million sci-fi pic Moonfall, Rocket Science is launching a string of high-profile projects including a female-fronted, big-budget reboot of Cliffhanger, the Russo brothers will be talking to buyers about their Avengers: Endgame follow-up Cherry, FilmNation will be touting Chris Hemsworth-Tiffany Haddish comedy Down Under Cover (produced by the Russos) and emerging player Solstice has a slate including the Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged.
There are also new projects featuring Chris Pine, Mel Gibson, Kristen Stewart, Liam Neeson, Robert De Niro, Olivia Colman, Robin Wright, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alicia Vikander and Andrew Garfield.
The near-uniform whiteness among the lead cast for many of these movies is disappointing, but speaks to a deeper industry problem. There is at least a bevvy of projects featuring female filmmakers and strong female roles. There is also a healthy variety of genres with prestige drama types and appealing comedies (a rarity of late), as well as sci-fi epics and action fare. And there are just as many promos generating buzz as there are new packages.
“I’m happy that it looks like there will be a genuine market here,” said one blue-chip seller. “At a few recent markets there hasn’t been enough solid product to drive the event. I’m already hearing from some of the bigger U.S. buyers about projects they like and promos that are very strong. Independent buyers don’t just need anything, but it feels like there’s a good volume and healthy quality.”
Of course, whether these films actually generate deals is another matter. A fair few movies were announced for Berlin’s European Film Market in February but the EFM never really got going.
What’s the reason behind so many sizable packages being announced? An obvious one is that SVOD platforms continue to surge, and they need content, even if series remain their priority. Another could be that projects aren’t as reliant on foreign sales, so will be pieced together in different ways while it still makes sense for them to be announced at the year’s biggest market. Some speculate the volume could be a result of packagers trying to get projects they’ve worked on for months out the door before legal elements of the WGA-ATA dispute deepen.
Whatever the reason, the indie finance model has certainly changed. One U.S. sales vet put it succinctly, “The material is there, but is the infrastructure there to allow indies not to be cautious?”
Germany is a good example of how consolidation is taking root in the independent space and buyers are steeling themselves for their battle with the SVODs and the box office domination of the mega-blockbusters. New York investment firm KKR recently bought key German distributors TMG and Universum as well as leading film producer Wiedemann & Berg and a local TV label as it looks to build a fortified indie media hub. Consolidation is also underway in Scandinavia among other international markets.
“We’re all living slightly happier than we were three years ago, but this is a crucial time for the indies,” said one seller. “You need to make sure you have the right partners locally. It’s about bringing more TV money back in.”
As for this year’s festival lineup, critics I’ve spoken to aren’t bowled away by the selection (on paper at least). The inclusion of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has been a major boon and on its own has helped ratchet anticipation. There will be gems and there will be deals, but there are few films the professionals I speak with are giddy to see. Atlantics and Les Misérables are two films from the Competition section I’m hearing strong things about, and as ever, Directors’ Fortnight looks promising.
Organizers here will remain under the microscope for the lack of women in competition. The feting of screen icon Alain Delon this year hasn’t helped; Delon is vocally opposed to same sex adoption, has admitted to slapping women in the past, and is known for his right-wing views. Not a great look for a festival trying to change its image.
Meanwhile, releasing the press schedule two days before the festival kickoff doesn’t help win journalists over. Too often of late it seems, Cannes can’t get out of its own way.
Here’s Deadline’s annual Cannes market hot list of titles to watch:
CANNES HOT LIST
CHERRY – Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo; Cast – Tom Holland. The Avengers: Endgame helmers will be on hand to talk up their next project, a drama that sees Holland as a tragic character based on Nico Walker, who authored the source novel about his own infamous exploits. He’s a former Army medic who returned from Iraq with extreme undiagnosed PTSD, fell into opioid addiction and began robbing banks. Joe Russo will be at the Carlton on Thursday while Anthony, and likely Holland, will appear via Skype, along with footage and background material. There will also be an audio message from Walker, who remains behind bars in Kentucky. Endeavor Content will broker world territories on the film.
DOWN UNDER COVER – Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tiffany Haddish. A two-hander buddy-cop action comedy in the spirit of films like 48 Hours, Rush Hour and The Heat. Hemsworth will play a detective who goes undercover to crack a series of baffling casino heists in which the prime suspects are a troupe of Australian male erotic dancers. He’s forced to take the partner no one else will, Haddish’s lone wolf, who does things only one way: hers. CAA on domestic and FilmNation on international will present the project here.
MOONFALL – Director: Roland Emmerich. Big-budget action-sci-fi about an unlikely band of misfits who must save mankind when the moon falls out of orbit and hurtles toward Earth. Previously set up at Universal, the project is now available in the independent market space with AGC Studios and CAA Media Finance on board for world sales.
CLIFFHANGER – Director: Ana Lily Amirpour; Cast: Jason Momoa (cameo). Producer Neil Moritz reboots the 1993 survival actioner, this time with a female lead. Original Film and Rocket Science are producing, with the latter on international sales and CAA Media Finance handling North America and China.
THE KID: AN ANIMATED ADVENTURE – Director: Christian Volckman; Cast: Jacob Tremblay. An animated sci-fi adventure reimagining of Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 classic. In a futuristic New York City that’s split in two, Tremblay is a young boy living with his mother in boring Uptown. He runs away to the mysterious and dangerous Downtown and encounters Chaplin, a robot with a human soul. Rupert Wyatt is exec producing with FilmNation on overseas sales and UTA repping domestic.
THE MINUTEMAN – Director: Robert Lorenz; Cast: Liam Neeson. Production begins in September on the fast-paced story of a retired Vietnam vet — Neeson back in Taken mode — who finds himself responsible for the life of a young boy who is being hunted by a cartel. Voltage is repping international; CAA and UTA Independent Film Group will co-rep U.S.
IMMORTAL – Director: Roger Donaldson. A hot-shot detective and a rookie cop with conflicting morals team to hunt down Jack the Ripper who, some believe, sailed to New York after his London killings suddenly ceased in 1888. XYZ is launching worldwide sales in Cannes.
INSTRUMENTAL – Director: James Marsh; Cast: Andrew Garfield. Lionsgate is launching world sales on this biopic drama based on acclaimed concert pianist James Rhodes’ bestselling memoir, which reveals how music saved his life after he suffered sexual abuse at his all-boys junior school. The prodigy suffered mentally as well as physically, while his abuser died before he could appear in court.
BLACK BEAUTY – Director: Ashley Avis; Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Kate Winslet. A modern update of the classic Anna Sewell novel that will center on the deep and enduring bond between a 17-year-old girl and the beloved wild horse who helps her overcome the trauma of loss following the death of her parents. Mister Smith Entertainment is selling the Bolt Pictures/Constantin project.
OPERATION MINCEMEAT – Director: John Madden; Cast: Colin Firth. The WWII story is set in 1943 when the Allies are determined to launch an all-out assault on “Fortress Europe.” The film will follow two brilliant intelligence officers, Ewen Montagu (Firth) and Charles Cholmondeley, who dream up an inspired and improbable disinformation strategy to help the cause. FilmNation, alongside See-Saw’s in-house sales arm Cross City Films, will launch international sales. CAA Media Finance is co-repping U.S. rights.
UNHINGED – Director: Derrick Borte; Cast: Russell Crowe. Psychological thriller that takes an ordinary, everyday incident to its most terrifying conclusion in the story of a mother who leans on her horn at the wrong time, to the wrong guy. Solstice Studios is producing and selling.
THE LONG NIGHT – Director: Matt Eskandari; Cast: Bruce Willis. Penned by Doug Wolfe, the pic sees two ruthless criminals break into a disgraced doctor’s home to be given medical attention after one of them is shot during a robbery gone wrong. Highland Film Group is selling the Emmett/Furla/Oasis project that has a June 3 start date.
FORCE OF NATURE – Director: Michael Polish; Cast: Mel Gibson, Kate Bosworth. Gibson is a cop who must protect the remaining residents of a building in the midst of a hurricane evacuation while violent criminals attempt to pull off a mysterious heist within the building. Bluebox International is selling foreign.
WILD MOUNTAIN THYME – Director: John Patrick Shanley; Cast: Jamie Dornan, Holliday Grainger. Shanley is adapting his own stage play Outside Mullingar. Set against the landscapes of rural Ireland, story focuses on obstinate star-crossed lovers whose families are caught up in a feud over a hotly contested patch of land. HanWay has offshore sales, with CAA Media Finance handling North America.
FRENCH EXIT – Director: Azazel Jacobs; Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts. A surrealist comedy based on Patrick deWitt’s bestseller, it follows penniless Manhattan socialite Frances Price (Pfeiffer), who cashes in the last of her possessions and resolves to live out her twilight days in Paris, accompanied by her directionless son (Hedges) and the family cat (Letts). Rocket Science and Wild Bunch are handling international sales; CAA Media Finance reps U.S.
VIOLENCE OF ACTION – Director: Tarik Saleh; Cast: Chris Pine. After being involuntarily discharged from the Marines, James Reed (Pine) joins a paramilitary organization to support his family. On a black ops mission to investigate a mysterious threat, he finds himself alone and hunted in Eastern Europe. STXinternational is handling foreign; CAA Media Finance and 30WEST are co-repping U.S. rights.
UNTITLED WILLIAM BURROUGHS MOVIE – Director: Ben Foster; Cast: Kristen Stewart, Foster, Tom Glynn-Carney. Foster makes his directorial debut on the project inspired by the early works and letters of iconic writer Burroughs and an unusual love triangle. Celluloid Dreams is on international with UTA Independent on North America.
DYNAMITE ROOM – Director: Olly Blackburn; Cast: Jamie Bell. WWII thriller based on the novel by Jason Hewitt. Young evacuee Lydia finds her home in rural England empty and her family gone. Bell plays a soldier who arrives at the house telling the girl he won’t kill her, but she cannot leave. Is he telling the truth? What is he looking for? Why is he so familiar? And how does he already know Lydia’s name? Altitude is launching sales in Cannes.
THE COMEBACK TRAIL – Director: George Gallo; Cast: Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman. De Niro is Max Barber, a man in debt to a mob boss (Freeman), who creates an insurance fraud by casting washed-up, suicidal cowboy/movie star Duke Montana (Jones) in a poorly written Western with the intention of killing him during the first days of filming. Storyboard Media will launch sales.
THE FATHER – Director: Florian Zeller; Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman. Hopkins stars as a mischievous and highly independent man who refuses all assistance from his daughter (Colman). When she decides to move to Paris, he must try to make sense of his changing circumstances, beginning to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and his reality. International sales are with Embankment; UTA Independent Film Group and CAA are repping domestic.
TURN OF MIND – Director: Gideon Raff; Cast: Annette Bening, Michelle Pfeiffer. A feature adaptation of the Alice LaPlante novel, the psychological thriller centers on a retired orthopedic doctor (Bening) suffering from Alzheimer’s who is trying to figure out if she killed the person the police claim she had, or if she’s being deceived. Rocket Science is launching offshore sales with CAA Media Finance on domestic.
GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE – Director: Navot Papushado; Cast: Karen Gillan, Angela Bassett, Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh, Paul Giamatti. A female-driven high-concept assassin story that has a rich mythology and spans multiple generations. It will be released by Studiocanal in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and France. The company is selling the rest of world at Cannes and is co-repping U.S. rights with UTA.
INTO THE LABYRINTH – Director: Donato Carrisi; Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Tony Servillo. The under-the-radar, Italian/English-language pic is already wrapped and tells the tale of a woman who, with the help of a doctor and special investigator, tries to recall the circumstances of her abduction and imprisonment. TFI Studio will be proffering.
SWING – Director: Howard Deutch; Cast: Michael Shannon. A romantic coming-of-age drama set in the world of elite varsity rowing in 1999. Shannon plays a Vietnam vet who takes over coaching a dysfunctional team of oarsmen. Fortitude International is introducing the project.
UNTITLED LED ZEPPELIN DOCUMENTARY – Director: Bernard MacMahon. CAA has domestic sales and Altitude is handling international on the docu about the legendary band that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. It will trace the journeys of the four members through the music scene of the ’60s and their meeting in the summer of 1968, culminating in 1970 when “Whole Lotta Love” knocked The Beatles off the top of the charts.
INCIDENT ON 459 – Director: Kevin Greutert; Cast: Maggie Grace. Billed as a sort of Exorcist-on-a-plane, pic centers on the discovery of a demon-possessed passenger on a transatlantic flight, which forces the others to figure out how to survive before crashing or being blown up by the Air Force. IMR has international with UTA Independent Film Group on domestic.
EL TONTO – Director: Charlie Day. Cast: Day, Kate Beckinsale, Adrien Brody, Ken Jeong, Jason Sudeikis, Ray Liotta, Common, Edie Falco, Jillian Bell, John Malkovich. Sierra/Affinity is selling foreign on Day’s directorial debut. In the comedy, he plays an outcast mute who arrives in Los Angeles by bus and becomes catapulted into becoming a celebrity, only to lose it all.
LONG GONE HEROES – Director: Santiago Manes Moreno; Cast: Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce. A special forces thriller about a soldier for hire who’s given up country, religion and hope, but must return to the field of battle to track down a female reporter entangled in a huge political scandal while being hunted by the same mercenaries’ former comrades. Double Dutch International launching.
QUEENPINS – Directors: Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly; Cast: Leslie Jones, Kristen Bell. Inspired by the true story of the largest counterfeit coupon caper in history, pic centers on two Phoenix pals who find themselves running a $40 million scam. Rocket Science has offshore, CAA Media Finance is handling domestic.
I CARE A LOT – Director: J Blakeson; Cast: Rosamund Pike. STXinternational recently boarded the story of a successful legal guardian with a knack for using the law to her benefit and her elderly clients’ detriment. But when her seemingly innocent next victim turns out to have dangerous secrets, she must use every ounce of her wit and cunning to stay alive. CAA Media Finance reps U.S.
LAND – Director: Robin Wright; Cast: Wright. Making her feature helming debut, Wright will also star as a cosmopolitan lawyer consumed by grief who resolves to remove herself completely from life as she has known it, and disappear into the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming. There, she must learn to hunt, fish and grow her food as she faces brutal winters, a challenging landscape and local wildlife that could kill her at any moment. She also meets Joseph, a First Nations local, and begins to confront her demons. HanWay has international sales; Cinetic Media and CAA Media Finance are on North America.
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS – Director: Bjorn Runge; Cast: Emilia Clarke. Game of Thrones’ Clarke will play Elizabeth Barrett in the story of the poet’s love affair with Robert Browning. Bankside is selling international. CAA Media Finance reps U.S.
ONE THOUSAND PAPER CRANES – Director: Richard Raymond; Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Shinobu Terajima. Based on the novel Sadako And The Thousand Paper Cranes, story centers on Hiroshima survivor Sadako Sasaki and author Eleanor Coerr, two women who unwittingly worked together across oceans and decades to create a powerful symbol of peace. CAA Media Finance is selling North America with Independent on foreign.
BIG GOLD BRICK – Director: Brian Petsos; Cast: Andy Garcia, Megan Fox, Emory Cohen. Oscar Isaac is exec producing the genre-bending dark comedy about fledgling writer Samuel Liston (Cohen) and his experiences with Floyd Deveraux (Garcia), the enigmatic, middle-aged father of two who enlists Samuel to write his biography. Motion Picture Exchange has world sales.
HAPPY LIFE – Director: David Stassen; Cast: Evangeline Lilly, Ike Barinholtz. New mom Allison Beck (Lilly) suspects her workaholic husband Eli (Barinholtz) of having an affair with an Instagram star. One mistake after another leads her into the arms of a younger man as she struggles to come to terms with her decisions and to be the mother she aspires to be. Highland Film Group is introducing to international buyers. UTA Independent Film Group is handling the U.S. sale.
MONSOON – Director: Hong Khaou; Cast: Henry Golding, Parker Sawyers, Molly Harris, David Tran. Kit, a British Vietnamese man, returns to his birth country for the first time in over 30 years in search of a place to scatter his parents’ ashes, meeting a varied cast of characters along the way. Protagonist has international; Paradigm co-reps U.S.
UNPLUGGING – Director: Debra Neil-Fisher; Cast: Matt Walsh, Isla Fisher. Taking a break from their mobile devices for a digital detox weekend in a remote mountain town turns disastrous for Dan and Jeanine Dewerson, with unearthly encounters, strong edibles, cranky locals and a pesky one-eyed dog. Can the couple reconnect with each other? Radiant Films International has foreign sales, and Gersh and UTA Independent co-rep domestic.
BECKY – Directors: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion; Cast: Simon Pegg, Lulu Wilson. A rebellious 13-year-old is brought to a weekend getaway at a lake house by her father in an effort to reconnect after her mother’s death. The trip takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts on the run, led by the merciless Dominick (Pegg), invades the lake house. Becky decides to take matters into her own hands. Highland Film Group is on international; UTA Independent Film Group is handling the U.S. sale.
FATMAN – Directors: Ian and Eshom Nelms; Cast: Mel Gibson. Gibson is suiting up as Santa Claus in this dark action comedy about a rowdy, unorthodox St Nick who is fighting his business decline. Meanwhile, a neglected and precocious 12-year-old hires a hit man to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal in his stocking. Fortitude is handling international sales and CAA and ICM Partners are repping U.S. sales.
ROTHCHILD – Director: Jon S. Baird. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Mel Gibson. Pic charts how charismatic outcast Becket Rothchild (LaBeouf) plots his way back into his family’s riches, setting himself on a collision course with patriarch Whitelaw Rothchild (Gibson). HanWay handles international sales. CAA reps U.S.
BORN TO BE MURDERED – Director: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino. Cast: John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Boyd Holbrook, Vicky Krieps. A couple vacationing in Greece falls trap to a violent conspiracy with tragic consequences. Sales are handled by Endeavor Content.
THE BROKEN HEART GALLERY – Director: Natalie Krinsky. Cast: Geraldine Viswanathan, Dacre Montgomery. After suffering a bad breakup with her boyfriend and boss at the Whitney Museum, a collector curates The Broken Heart Gallery in the lobby of a kind stranger’s hotel. Endeavor Content handles sales.
MISANTHROPE – Director: Damian Szifron. Cast: Shailene Woodley. A young criminal investigator finds herself part of a nationwide manhunt for a new and terrifying mass murderer, and may be the only person able to understand the mind of the killer and bring him to justice. FilmNation and CAA handle sales.
THE POWER OF THE DOG – Director Jane Campion. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elisabeth Moss. Wealthy brothers Phil and George are joint owners of the biggest ranch in their Montana valley. When the gentle George secretly marries a local widow, the cruel Phil wages a relentless war to destroy her by using her son Peter as a pawn. Sales are overseen by Cross City Films.
HARRY HAFT – Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Ben Foster, Billy Magnussen, Peter Sarsgaard. The true story of boxer Harry Haft, who fought fellow prisoners in concentration camps to survive. Haunted by the memories and his guilt, he attempts to use high-profile fights as a way to find his first love again. Sales are with Endeavor Content.
AROUND THE WORLD – Director: Samuel Tourneux. Despicable Me outfit Mac Guff is handling the animation on this update of the Jules Verne classic Around The World in Eighty Days, this time featuring a marmoset and a con man frog who set off to achieve a record-breaking journey. Studiocanal is handling sales.
GOODRICH – Director: Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Cast: Michael Keaton. Pic centers on a man named Andy Goodrich (Keaton) who seeks the help of his adult daughter to raise his young twins after his second wife leaves him. Rocket Science handles international. CAA Media Finance and ICM rep U.S.