Cannes: Fewer Star-Fueled Projects Are Coming to a Lean Market

5:00 AM PST 05/09/2014 by Pamela McClintock
"The Better Angels"

With A-list stars more in-demand than ever — thanks in part to television — foreign sales agents are finding it harder and harder to package projects.

A version of this story first appeared in the May 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

If many in the independent film business aren't thrilled about this year's Cannes Film Market, it is understandable. For months, foreign sales agents predicted Cannes would see a resurgence of high-profile, commercially viable, star-populated projects, the types of titles for which international distributors are willing to plunk down big money at the script stage.

Not only has the surge not happened, though, but also the state of affairs does not seem a fluke. "It's not a blip," says FilmNation CEO Glen Basner, who is bringing one of the bigger stars with a project at the market: Amy Adams in Story of Your Life. "There are fewer interesting packages, in part because directors and actors are working in so many different mediums," from television to the web.

Says Roeg Sutherland, co-head of CAA's Film Finance and Sales Group: "The leading financiers are quite savvy. They are focused on projects which have established or emerging directors that are matched with proven stars."

There are exceptions, including The Last Face, directed by Sean Penn and starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem, and a Mel Gibson project, Blood Father.

Sierra/Affinity CEO Nick Meyer is circumspect about the perceived downturn: "I wish you could orchestrate a world in which the artists' availability was perfectly timed to the markets, but you can't."

Another challenge: There have been a series of big misses in the independent space, including Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Vampire Academy, leaving many foreign buyers nervous about plunking down major money. And Ron Howard's Rush played a part in the demise of Exclusive Media, once one of the biggest players in the space.

As a result, budgets are shrinking. Says Rena Ronson, head of UTA Independent Film Group, "There's a scarcity of star-driven projects in the $15 million to $30 million range."

Some projects that are getting a major sales push at this year's market are already filming, or are in post, including A Hologram for the King, starring Tom Hanks. (If footage looks good, expect it to be a big draw.)

As of press time, here are 15 of the buzzier titles heading to the Croisette (many are smaller propositions). Bigger projects still could be announced … but the clock is ticking.

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Anti-Claus

 

Director: Kevin Smith

Starring: Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Michael Parks

Foreign Sales Company: XYZ Films

Smith will shoot the yuletide horror film before he begins production on Clerks III.

 

Autobahn

Director: Eran Creevy

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley

Foreign Sales Company: IM Global

Hoult and Jones play a young couple pursued through Germany by two ruthless criminals.

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The Better Angels

Director: A.J. Edwards

Starring: Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Brit Marling

Foreign Sales Company: Electric

Terrence Malick is a producer on the historical drama about Abraham Lincoln's youth. Clarke plays Abe's father, Tom Lincoln.

 

The Driftless Area

Director: Zachary Sluser

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Zooey Deschanel, John Hawkes

Foreign Sales Company: Radiant

The unconventional romance is based on Tom Drury's novel of the same name.

 

Equals

Director: Drake Doremus

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart

Foreign Sales Company: Mister Smith

Hoult and Stewart play a young couple who rebel against society in this futuristic love story.

 

Eye in the Sky

Director: Gavin Hood

Starring: Colin Firth (attached)

Foreign Sales Company: eOne

Firth is producing the contemporary thriller alongside his partner Ged Doherty and eOne's Xavier Marchand, and he might star.

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Janis: Little Girl Blue

Director: Amy Berg

Foreign Sales Company: Content

Berg's documentary traces the life and career of iconic musician Janis Joplin.

 

Knock Knock

Director: Eli Roth

Starring: Keanu Reeves

Foreign Sales Company: Voltage

The psycho-thriller, starring Reeves as a married man visited by two mysterious beauties, is considered one of this year's most commercial Cannes market titles thanks to Roth's street cred and despite Reeves' box-office flop 47 Ronin. On a $5 million budget, the film's risks are minimal.

 

The Last Face

Director: Sean Penn

Starring: Javier Bardem, Charlize Theron

Foreign Sales Company: Lionsgate Intl.

The romance is set against the backdrop of war-torn Africa.

 

The Little Prince

Director: Mark Osborne

Starring: James Franco, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Jeff Bridges, Benicio Del Toro

Foreign Sales Company: Wild Bunch

Footage of the $80 million adaptation of the French children's book should spark interest among buyers.

 

Remember

Director: Atom Egoyan

Starring: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Dean Norris, Bruno Ganz

Foreign Sales Company: IM Global

The thriller is described as "the darkest chapter of modern history colliding with a contemporary mission of revenge." Egoyan also has his thriller The Captive playing in competition at Cannes.

 

Story of Your Life

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Amy Adams

Foreign Sales Company: FilmNation

The project should spark interest. Produced by Shawn Levy's 21 Laps, Lava Bear and FilmNation, the sci-fi thriller stars Adams as an expert linguist who is asked to investigate when an alien spacecraft crash-lands on Earth.

 

The Sound and the Fury

Director: James Franco

Starring: Seth Rogen, Danny McBride

Foreign Sales Company: New Films International

The project is Franco's second stab at adapting William Faulkner's work. The director, who helmed 2013's As I Lay Dying, also stars in The Sound and the Fury, which centers on a wealthy family in the South in the early 20th century.

 

Trumbo

Director: Jay Roach

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren

Foreign Sales Company: eOne International

The film recounts the story of legendary black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Mirren plays Trumbo's nemesis, Hedda Hopper.

 

Untitled Patricia Highsmith Project

Director: Andy Goddard

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Jessica Biel, Imogen Poots, Toby Jones

Foreign Sales Company: Sierra/Affinity

Sierra Pictures is financing the big-screen adaptation of Highsmith's novel The Blunderer, published in 1954, about an architect living in 1960s New York who gets drawn into an unsolved murder.

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