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Cannes 2012: New Investors, Foreign Sales Players Get in on the Game This Year

Lawless
"Lawless"

Business was as steady as the rain at this year's Cannes Film Festival. But was the boom too much of a good thing?

This story first appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Business was as steady as the rain at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The fact that studios have cut back on midrange movies opened the gates to a flood of new financiers and sales outfits, rushing in to fill the void. That made for a relatively sunny mood even if a few Cassandras warned of possible storm clouds in the future if all the frenetic activity at this year's market leads to a glut of finished -- or, even worse, unfinished -- movies that the market can't absorb down the road.

NEW INVESTORS

Insiders were struck by the sheer number of financiers from around the globe hunting for projects. Teddy Schwarzman, son of Blackstone Group billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, who formed New York-based Black Bear Pictures last year, was among them. Black Bear backed Broken City, which stars Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones and sold out territories in September. But while seeing opportunity, Schwarzman warned that all the competition to board projects is driving up prices. "There's one project that has at least four bids," he lamented. One project drawing heated interest at Cannes was  Western Jane Got a Gun, which Natalie Portman will star in and produce for director Lynne Ramsay. CAA is shopping Jane, seeking a mix of equity, foreign presales and a domestic distributor to finance the film -- a popular recipe now that studios are cutting back on their slates.

Brian Oliver's Cross Creek Pictures, which backed 2010's Black Swan, is another of the new financiers. On the eve of Cannes, Cross Creek and Exclusive Media -- which are working together on Ron Howard's Rush -- struck a three-year co-financing and co-producing deal, beginning with A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson. With Universal having bought domestic rights, Exclusive sold Tombstones to other territories at Cannes.

NEW FOREIGN SALES PLAYERS

Partnering with financiers has been a boon for foreign sales companies. Some, such as Sierra/Affinity, IM Global and Exclusive, have access to equity as well.

Making waves were year-old Red Granite -- backed by Malaysian money, it is financing Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio's The Wolf of Wall Street -- and a ramped-up eOne International. The U.K.'s Embankment Films, Tim Haslam and Hugo Grumbar's new international sales and distribution company, also turned heads with Mission: Black List, a Navy SEALs project starring Robert Pattinson.

Two new sales outfits were born out of the recent Lionsgate-Summit merger: Mister Smith Entertainment, formed by Summit veteran David Garrett and German production company Constantin Film, and Good Universe, launched by Lionsgate/Mandate alumni Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane. Mister Smith sold out its first projects -- The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and the kidnapping tale 3096 Days. To fill up its international pipeline now that it is making fewer movies itself, Universal took a slew of foreign territories on two Good Universe titles: Spike Lee's Oldboy, starring Josh Brolin, and Jon Turteltaub's Last Vegas, starring Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman.

Megan Ellison -- daughter of Oracle's Larry Ellison -- is bridging finance and sales: She first formed Annapurna Pictures, financing movies such as John Hillcoat's Lawless and Kathryn Bigelow's upcoming Navy SEALs drama Zero Dark Thirty. She then launched the sales company Panorama, which hit Cannes with American Bullshit, about a '70s FBI sting operation that will star Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper for director David O. Russell, and it sold out around the globe.