Happy Friday, Tom Grater here. Here’s a rundown of the key pieces of international news from this week. If you want to subscribe to get this alert in a timely fashion, sign up here.
1. Apple’s Big Bite
Flexing financial muscle: If you thought the film biz was tightening its belt and cautiously waiting out the pandemic, think again. This week, Apple triumphed over Warner Bros in a frenzied Cannes auction by sealing a remarkable $120M deal for Antoine Fuqua’s thriller Emancipation, which is set to star Will Smith as a runaway slave. That’s not just a record for a festival pact, it blows any previous deal out of the water.
Sign of the times: It was telling that a streamer triumphed over a studio (though it sounds like Warner fought hard), and the deal was a reminder that tech giant Apple, the third most valuable company in the world, has deeper pockets than just about anyone. Netflix watch out? Apple has already indicated that it will release Emancipation theatrically, at least for an awards-qualifying run, but cinema owners will be praying it makes a bigger commitment to the big screen. In the not too distant past and in a similar vein, 12 Years A Slave grossed close to $200M in theaters. Mike Fleming had the inside track on this one from day one.
Make it rain: Emancipation wasn’t the only title to seal a big-money commitment this week off the back of Cannes. Paramount won North American rights to The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, Lee Daniels’ biopic of the legendary jazz singer, in an 8-figure pact, and Netflix closed a $50M+ global deal for Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7. Elsewhere, Pablo Larrain’s Princess Diana movie Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart, has sold around the world. Chinese major Sunac Culture also placed a hefty bet on George Miller’s Three Thousand Years Of Longing by snapping up local rights to the romance pic.
2. Europe Is Open, Kind Of
You’re barred: The European Union’s announcement this week that it was lifting travel restrictions on 15 countries, but would maintain the ban for the U.S. due to its ongoing coronavirus struggles, prompted concern that this would impact plans for American film and TV shoots heading back to Europe in the coming months. Those include: Denis Villeneuve’s big-budget sci-fi pic Dune, which is planning to film additional material, Marvel Studio’s The Falcon And The Winter Soldier and series two of Amazon’s Carnival Row.
The full picture: The reality, however, is that the majority of countries look set to make exemptions for film and TV personnel. Deadline spoke to seven local film offices about how they would allow international cast and crew to jet in and get working again. You can read the full piece here, which includes plenty of detail about the policies of individual countries, but the picture is relatively uniform: overseas producers will need to hire a local producing partner (standard practice anyway) who will apply for the exemption with the local film bureau. To comply, the production will need to evidence economic benefit to the local area, and ensure COVID-19 safety measures are implemented on set.
The elephant in the room: Namely, quarantine. Most governments will not be enforcing international visitors to adhere to a period of isolation upon entering the country, but the UK, very much the key international territory for American productions, still has a 14-day term in place. Exemptions are being opened up in the UK for 50 countries, including France and Spain, while Deadline understands industry lobbying against quarantining for U.S. crew on film/TV shoots is progressing positively, and there could be an update soon. Watch this space.
Pushing ahead: Universal is soldiering on with plans to go back into production on Jurassic World: Dominion in the UK on Monday (July 6). The studio has had to swallow the quarantine period and flew in its key personal ahead of time so they could serve it while prepping. Universal is said to be spending $5M on coronavirus measures.
3. Banijay Puts Endemol Deal To Bed
Deal done, finally: Eight months after it was first announced, Banijay Group at long last completed its $2.2BN takeover of Endemol Shine Group this week, creating the biggest independent TV producer in the world.
The new name: The combined group will be simply known as Banijay. It means that the Endemol (hat tip Joop van den Ende and John de Mol) and Shine (hat tip Elisabeth Murdoch) brands are set to be far-less prominent industry forces from here on in, although they may not become extinct. The Banijay branding also ends speculation about the group being named Banijay Endemol.
What next: Expect serious structural change and executive movement. For this deal to make any kind of sense financially for Banijay, it will be on the hunt for significant savings by cutting duplication. Sophie Turner Laing is not the first senior executive to leave Endemol Shine and will not be the last.
Worth revisiting: Deadline pulled together this analysis of the Banijay/Endemol Shine deal last year. Much of it remains relevant today.
4. Winter Is Coming (For Global VFX)
Crisis in the making: There may be cautious optimism in the biz now that cinemas are gradually re-opening and some production is getting back underway, but it would be naive to think the worst is behind us. Jonny Slow, CEO at global VFX company Pixomondo, which made the dragons for Game Of Thrones, spoke exclusively to Deadline this week to issue a stark warning about the health of the post-production sector. Because it works at the final stage of the process, and nothing new is being shot, the post industry needs to prepare for months of little or no work, asserted Slow, and with government support schemes drying up, the near future is not bright.
The context: This week, France-based VFX giant Technicolor filed for bankruptcy in a U.S. court as it looked to restructure some of its $1.58BN debt. The company has long faced financial trouble but it pointed to COVID disruption as a severe issue. The post sector is full of heavily-staffed, debt-laden companies that have been aggressively expanding in recent years but are now encountering a serious roadblock. Slow’s own company, which is relatively small in the overall picture, has had cut working hours and headcount among a third of its staff.
A helping hand: Slow says that the industry needs to recognize the importance of its post sector and offer support however it can, including by agreeing to earlier-stage payments for any work that does come in. Virtual Production, which was used to great effect on The Mandalorian, could also be a boost. If more VFX companies do enter financial difficulty, the Pixomondo CEO’s words will have served as a timely warning. On the other hand, if he’s wrong, perhaps we’ll all be saying, “You know nothing, Johnny Slow”.
5. Best Of The Rest
Signs of life: Nancy Tartaglione has the latest on what’s going on in China’s cinema business. Re-opening plans for the Middle Kingdom’s venues have stuttered, and even though Shanghai Film Festival is looking to host screenings in late July, it looks like August is the earliest we might see openings ramp up in the rest of the country — and that’s going to take a lot of work. Korea, on the other hand, is one of the first major international box office markets to show real signs of life. Local release #Alive, a zombie horror-thriller, grossed $7M last weekend. France is also cautiously getting back to box office business.
The royal seal of approval: Sony finally completed its takeover of Sex Education producer Eleven on Wednesday. Speaking to Deadline about the deal, Sony’s international production chief Wayne Garvie said he enlisted the help of The Crown showrunners Peter Morgan and Andy Harries to convince Eleven that Sony was the right partner. “We’ve got a dream team,” Garvie reflected, adding the acquisition marks the end of a UK spending spree. Go deeper.
Action not words: The UK’s BAME TV Task Force has already had meetings with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and is preparing for meetings with Netflix and Amazon, shortly after publishing an open letter demanding action on racial equality. Let’s see what comes out of those discussions.
Multi-lingual: As the international film and TV biz continues to accept that subtitles are not the audience appetite killer that they were once thought to be (thanks Parasite), an intriguing prospect has arisen: will we begin to see more shows produced in multiple languages? Last week, we had the scoop that historical epic bestseller The Anarchy was set to be adapted for series in several Indian languages as well as English, and this week we followed that up by revealing that Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Film and rising Indian producer Applause Entertainment, which is behind The Office India remake, are setting a multi-national writers room for their project Seeker. Watch this space.
6. Ones To Watch
Back to the cinema: In the UK, a small number of cinemas re-open tomorrow. For die-hard cinephiles, that’s welcome news, though it remains to be seen how people will find the experience of the various coronavirus measures. Films showing include 1917, Dunkirk, Deadpool and Emma. Crocodile horror Black Water: Abyss is set to be one of the only new releases on offer and while I’m sure it will have its fans, it’s not going to make me venture out of the house.
So once again, many of us will be scrolling through our various streaming platforms for something new to watch. If you’re in the mood for a curiosity, let me suggest Werner Herzog’s strange but intriguing Family Romance, which is released today via a combo of streamer MUBI and UK distributor Modern Films. The movie is set in Japan and stars non-actor Yuichi Ishii in a fictionalized tale based on his actual career – impersonating relatives and friends, on a rental basis, to help people who have something missing in their lives. This is a real thing, and is apparently pretty successful in a famously reserved and repressed Japanese society. For some reason, Herzog shot the film on video, which you could generously say lends it a documentary feel, or alternatively makes it look flat and cheap. But there’s something compelling about watching a man play himself, exploring the emotions that come with intense introspection (in a more morbid example, think The Act Of Killing). MUBI is actually showing the film for free for 24-hours in 150 countries today (July 3).
A final tip: Also new to streaming this weekend is A White, White Day, which was Iceland’s Oscar entry last season and caused a bit of a stir at international fests last year – you can watch that film’s trailer here.
7. And finally…
Farewell then to James Baker, who is stepping down as the CEO of Red Arrow Studios later this year after a decade with the Love Is Blind production group. Baker is going to enjoy a well-earned break before returning to media investment, but is not strictly putting his feet up. No, the sweet-toothed TV titan is heading for the Swiss mountains, where he’s going to be making chocolate for a couple of months. His venture is named Jungcow after the Jungfrau mountain, and International Insider hears he’s promising to send samples to TV chums. James, you can find us at 11 Golden Square!