Cannes Market: U.S. Prebuys Soar While International Sales Stall

8:29 AM PST 05/21/2014 by Pamela McClintock, Stuart Kemp
AP Photo/Thibault Camus

Cannes dealmakers expressed frustration over the lack of high-profile projects, while Germany and France stayed on the sidelines.

CANNES – Buyers and sellers descending on the Croisette this year faced a contracting market as the independent film business continues to be bu”ffeted by the winds of change.

Foreign-sales agents, who are finding it harder and harder to close talent deals, brought fewer high-pro’file projects with them to the Cannes Film Market, while formerly hearty markets like Germany and France su”ffer as once-robust TV stations become ever more hesitant to buy movie rights. (Three of Germany’s biggest distributors, Constantin, Senator and Universum, didn’t buy any projects this year.)

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“There are de’finitely challenges in the marketplace. The indie business has trouble competing on a value basis,” says Glen Basner, CEO of FilmNation.

One trend that doesn’t appear to be going away: U.S. distributors using Cannes to announce major deals for projects in order to maximize headlines. Basner and producer David Linde, with assistance from WME Global, kicked off” the festival by announcing a $20 million deal with Paramount for North American and Chinese rights to Denis Villeneuve’s $50 million science-’fiction epic Story of Your Life, starring Amy Adams. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions picked up most of the rest of the world a few days ažfter Cannes got underway.

The Weinstein Co. meanwhile announced a $12 million deal for most worldwide rights to Lion, from The King’s Speech producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman.

Patrick Wachsberger, co-chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, says that while U.S. distributors prebuying projects is not a new trend at Cannes, it is the prices being paid that raise eyebrows. “What is unique at this particular market is the $20 million price tag paid by Paramount for Story of Your Life,” says Wachsberger, “which is the highest amount I can remember paid for a movie for North America for a nonsequel.”

One top sales agent agrees with Wachsberger, noting that foreign sales still are the heart of Cannes, and that there was solid business to be had this year, even with the downturn in key European markets and the slow-down in projects.

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Wachsberger can lay claim to one of the hottest new titles shopped to foreign buyers, A Monster Calls, J.A. Bayona’s follow-up to The Impossible. Monster stars Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones.

Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees, starring Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts, also sold in numerous territories, although the film's $28 million budget could pose a challenge for some buyers.

Sea of Trees is the debut sales title from Bloom, the new venture launched at Cannes by former Exclusive Media international president Alex Walton and Ken Kao, heir to the Garmin GPS fortune. Kao entered the film financing and production scene several years ago, forging a close relationship with Terrence Malick. Kao is financing and producing Sea of Trees through his Waypoint Entertainment.

In a splashy marketing play, Kao and Walton †flew in Van Sant and McConaughey to meet with foreign buyers at Cannes. “It’s the perfect combination of filmmaker and star,” says Walton, “and immediately elevates the project.”

Walton’s new digs in Cannes are a sign of the changing times. Exclusive used to occupy prime real state on the Croisette, where most of the top-tier sales agents have their suites, all of which o’ffer a pristine view of the water. But Exclusive’s o“ffices are dark this year, and Walton set up Bloom’s offi“ce in an apartment one block up on the rue d’Antibes. The more modest address didn’t see any buyers get lost on the way there, however.

One frequent complaint among buyers: Too many depressing storylines. As a result, more modest projects like Wild Oats, a road-trip comedy starring Shirley Maclaine, Jessica Lange, Sarah Jessica Parker and Alan Arkin drew plenty of interest. Brian O’Shea’s The Exchange is handling Wild Oats internationally.

“People want to be entertained at the end of the day,” says O’Shea.

Other presale titles doing decent international business included Pathe International’s Youth, the follow-up to Oscar-winning The Great Beauty from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, which Wild Bunch took for Germany and Spain and StudioCanal grabbed for the U.K.; Ben Wheatley’s upcoming J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise, which HanWay closed for France and the U.K.; and Adam Smith’s directorial debut, Trespass Against Us, which stars Michael Fassbender, and which Lionsgate U.K. has acquired.

Numerous competition found their stride, with Le Pacte’s Timbuktu, Pyramide International’s Russian entry Leviathan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep from sales group MFI and Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales from Film Factory Entertainment selling to multiple territories. Wild Tales was nabbed by Warner Bros. Pictures International for France, Spain and Latin America.

Some used Cannes to announce new ventures.— Luc Besson’s French studio EuropaCorp announced a million credit facility ear-marked for international productions, while Adrien Brody got $50 million in backing from Nigerian energy magnate Kola Aluko and Chinese sources to bankroll his new shingle, Fable House.

Scott Roxborough contributed to this report.

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