Cannes Market Preview: Go Big, Go Weird or Go Home

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Dealmakers predict the most robust market in years (despite a weak euro) but warn that sales will fall into two categories: "You either want a big name or something that will raise eyebrows."

After a couple of lean years, 2015 should see dealmaking pick up on the Croisette as an eclectic slate of market projects has revived buyer interest.

They range from big genre titles like spy thriller The Coldest City, from John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski and starring Charlize Theron, to smaller, quirkier fare such as Woodshock, the directorial debut of Los Angeles fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy.

No one expects the money changing hands in Cannes this year to reach the dizzying heights of several years ago. Troubles in several territories (Russia in particular), a worryingly weak Euro and the fierce battle for top stars and directors will continue to temper foreign presales. But the outlook for Cannes 2015 — much like the clement weather — is sunnier than it has been for a while.

Focus Features prebought U.S. rights to Coldest City on the eve of Cannes, adding a domestic deal sweetener to Sierra/Affinity’s foreign sales pitch for the title (international players like knowing a U.S. release is guaranteed before they commit). Also ahead of Cannes, Paramount Pictures nabbed domestic rights to an untitled femme-focused comedy from Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, which stars Leslie Mann and is being producing by Judd Apatow. And A24 nabbed U.S. rights for the Mulleavy sisters’ Woodshock, which stars Kirsten Dunst, before the 68th festival kicked off.

More U.S. prebuys should come fast and furious in Cannes, both for new projects and movies finished or in production, including the Liam Neeson vehicle A Willing Patriot; FilmNation’s Genius, the biopic of legendary literary editor Max Perkins starring Colin Firth; and director Tom Ford’s newly announced Nocturnal Animals, starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal.

“I think you’re seeing so many more prebuys because the pricing for finished films has become much more significant,” said FilmNation CEO Glen Basner, who is shopping Genius to foreign buyers, while CAA is handling domestic duties.

“It’s not the hottest Cannes market I’ve ever seen. There are few must-haves, but there are several titles that could be interesting for us,” said Martin Moskowicz of German indie giant Constantin Film.

Also holding down bidding prices will be the U.S. dollar, which has gained strongly on several currencies, including the euro, British pound, Brazilian real and Russian ruble. Since foreign acquisitions typically are done in dollars, a strong greenback can make buyers hesitant to commit.

 “You have to have projects priced for the market, but people will come on board if you have projects that work theatrically.” said Mimi Steinbauer of Radiant Films International, who is introducing literary adaptation Carrie Pilby, starring Hailee Steinfeld and Tom Wilkinson, to Cannes buyers.

What works theatrically these days, said Steinbauer, is either films with “broad commercial appeal or ones that are extremely unique. They have to fall into one of those two camps.”

“You either want a big name or something that will raise eyebrows,” added Edward Fletcher of U.K. distributor Soda Pictures, like [Damian Szifron’s] Wild Tales from last year, which was really strange but stood out and ended up being a very successful release.”

The promise going into Cannes this year is that the right mix of big and new will result in a long-overdue market bounce-back.