With fewer hot projects available, insiders predict a subdued market, but less competition could benefit smaller indies looking for that coveted theatrical release: "We need buyers to be successful."
As Cannes kicks off another edition, the independent film business finds itself in a tight spot, squeezed between the majors' ever-expanding market share (led by the new post-merger Disney-Fox behemoth) and the ever-shrinking number of international buyers willing — or able — to put up real cash for movies. Germany lost two big buyers this year when former giants Tele Munchen Group and Universum Film were gobbled up by a private equity investor, and the once-booming Chinese market has tightened. With demand down, supply also has shrunk. Where once Cannes was a flood of new titles, this year there is a trickle.
"Unless a movie is theatrical today, the value of it is nominal," says Jeffrey Greenstein, president of Millennium Media, explaining why he is bringing just one new title to market: the Kate Beckinsale actioner Jolt, described as a "female version of Crank."
But for a handful of cinema-worthy features, less competition could mean better business. And for the independent distributors left standing, Cannes 2019 will be a buyers' market. "Last year we got Border out of the festival and Apollo 11 from the market, which both did great for us," says Jeff Deutchman, vp content at U.S. indie distributor Neon. "So I'm going into Cannes this year pretty excited."
Deutchman notes that, compared to past Cannes festivals, the 2019 lineup boasts a healthy crop of English-language titles in the sidebars, including Michael Covino's The Climb and Danielle Lessovitz's Port Authority in Un Certain Regard and Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse and Robert Rodriguez's Red 11 in Directors' Fortnight.
"The independent market has always thrived on material that challenges and provokes," adds Alex Walton of sales and production group Endeavor Content. "But we obviously need buyers to be successful or things aren't healthy. The indie business needs titles to keep cutting through and playing well on the international market."
SALES Mister Smith
DIRECTOR Ashley Avis
STARS Mackenzie Foy, Kate Winslet
BUZZ The equine classic gets a contemporary reimagining with Twilight's Foy in the saddle (Winslet provides the voice of the titular horse). Based on Anna Sewell's enduring novel, the drama revolves around the bond between a 17-year-old girl and the beloved wild horse who helps her overcome the death of her parents.
SALES FilmNation, CAA, UTA
STARS Chris Hemsworth, Tiffany Haddish
BUZZ Avengers: Endgame star Chris Hemsworth and Girl's Trip actress Tiffany Haddish team up for this buddy cop comedy penned by Peter Hoare (Killing Hasselhoff). Hemsworth plays a cop who goes undercover to solve a string of casino heists where a troupe of Australian male erotic dancers are suspected as culprits. Haddish plays a lone wolf detective, also investigating the case, who clashes with her crime-solving partner.
SALES Embankment, CAA, UTA
DIRECTOR Florian Zeller
STARS Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman
BUZZ Hot off her best actress Oscar win for The Favourite, Colman will join fellow Academy Award winner Hopkins for a film adaptation of Zeller's global stage hit. The father-daughter drama begins shooting in May in the U.K.
SALES Fortitude, CAA
DIRECTOR Ian and Eshom Nelms
STARS Mel Gibson
BUZZ Mel Gibson suits up as a less-than-jolly Kris Kringle in this action comedy about a neglected boy who hires a hitman to kill Santa. Small Town Crime helmers Ian and Eshom Nelms will direct, based on their original script. Shooting is set in Canada start early 2020.
SALES Rocket Science, Wild Bunch
DIRECTOR Azazel Jacobs
STARS Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts
BUZZ Pfeiffer, Hedges and Letts — all better known for their dramatic chops — will star in this surrealist comedy from director Jacobs (Terri). In fact, the film marks a reteaming of Jacobs and Letts, who collaborated on 2017's acclaimed drama The Lovers. Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers) adapted the screenplay from his international best-selling book.
SALES Endeavor Content
DIRECTOR Barry Levinson
STARS Ben Foster, Danny DeVito, Billy Magnussen
BUZZ Currently in production, the film follows the story of the real-life Harry Haft (Foster), who survived the horrors of the German concentration camps, where an SS officer (Magnussen) forced him to fight to the death against fellow prisoners in gruesome gladiatorial boxing matches. Haft eventually escaped and made it to New York, where he began fighting boxing legends like Rocky Marciano.
SALES Mister Smith
DIRECTOR Terrence Malick
STAR Matthias Schoenaerts
BUZZ Like Hacksaw Ridge before it, Malick's latest — which is in Cannes' competition lineup — tackles the story of a conscientious objector, Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II. The drama is for sale in all territories (including the U.S.) with the exception of France and Germany.
DIRECTOR Tanya Wexler
STAR Kate Beckinsale
BUZZ Hell hath no fury like a woman whose rage disorder is so profound that she wears a vest lined with electrodes to zap herself whenever she feels homicidal. But when the man she falls for is murdered, she goes on a revenge-fueled rampage of biblical proportions.
SALES HanWay Films, CAA, Cinetic
DIRECTOR Robin Wright
STAR Robin Wright
BUZZ Given that Wright directed some of the best House of Cards episodes, it's only fitting that she would graduate to feature film helming. Here she also stars as Edee Mathis, a woman consumed by grief who removes herself from the grid and disappears into a wild landscape for the span of four seasons (the film will shoot in British Columbia).
DIRECTOR Damián Szifron
STAR Shailene Woodley
BUZZ Playing a troubled detective, Woodley tangos with an elusive serial killer in this thriller from Argentinean helmer Szifron, who directed 2014's Wild Tales, which was nominated for a foreign-language Oscar. FilmNation is selling worldwide rights and will host a presentation to buyers with Woodley and Szifron on hand.
SALES AGC Studios, CAA
DIRECTOR Roland Emmerich
BUZZ Roland Emmerich is heading back into space for Moonfall, a sci-fi epic the Independence Day helmer will direct from a script he co-wrote with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen. Budgeted at $150 million, the project sees Emmerich back in world-saving mode, with a plot involving a ragtag team sent on a last-ditch mission to the moon, which has been knocked from its orbit and is on a collision course with Earth. Production is set to start next year.
SALES FilmNation, CAA Media Finance, Cross City Films
DIRECTOR John Madden
STARS Colin Firth
BUZZ Oscar winner Colin Firth teams up with Shakespeare in Love director John Madden on this "stranger than fiction" true story set across Europe during World War II. Firth plays Ewen Montagu, a British intelligence officer who dreams up an inspired and improbable disinformation strategy centered on the most unlikely of secret agents: a dead man. Emmy nominee Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex) wrote the screenplay, adapting Ben Macintyre's bestselling book.
SALES Cross City Films
DIRECTOR Jane Campion
STARS Benedict Cumberbatch, Elisabeth Moss
BUZZ Based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog represents the first time Campion will work with a male lead. Cumberbatch plays a wealthy, ruthless Montana businessman who is shocked when his brother marries a local widow (Moss). He takes out his frustration by attempting to destroy the lives of the new bride and her son.
SALES Solstice Studios
DIRECTOR Derrick Borte
STARS Russell Crowe
BUZZ Oscar winner Crowe goes full-on villain in the psychological thriller, which marks the first film to go into production from Mark Gill's Solstice Studios. The film kicks off with an everyday traffic incident — a mother who leans on her horn — and winds up sparking the wrath of the wrong guy (Crowe). "Road rage" doesn't begin to describe what he will do to her and everyone she knows.
SALES STXinternational, CAA Media Finance, 30WEST
DIRECTOR Tarik Saleh
STARS Chris Pine
BUZZ The Star Trek star is ready to enlist as a former Marine who joins a paramilitary organization in order to support his family. He travels to Poland with his elite team on a black ops mission to investigate a mysterious threat and quickly finds himself alone and hunted. The film will shoot in the fall.
DIRECTOR John Patrick Shanley
STARS Jamie Dornan, Holliday Grainger
BUZZ Shanley, whose Broadway play Doubt was adapted into an awards-season powerhouse, has enlisted Fifty Shades of Grey star Dornan and up-and-coming Brit actress Grainger (Strike) for the so-called “lyrical romance” pic, which will shoot this summer in Ireland and New York. The film will feature the iconic, eponymous song that has been covered by everyone from Rod Stewart to Ed Sheeran.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.