Cannes Market Heats Up at the Midpoint

Cannes - IN COMPETITION – FEATURE FILMS - TODOS LO SABEN - Still 2 - Publicity -H 2018
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

One of the most significant developments was Netflix’s muted presence.

All was relatively quiet on the Cannes market front until Saturday, when Universal closed a $20 million deal for U.S. rights to the female-fronted action film 355.

Just two days earlier, the film’s stars Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong'o created the festival’s best photo op during their presentation to U.S. and foreign buyers at the Majestic. The ensuing fanfare did the trick with 355 landing a wide release commitment, still the holy grail for independently financed films.

Hours after the 355 deal was sealed, Donald Tang’s upstart Global Road Entertainment made waves of its own by nabbing North American rights to the Colin Firth star vehicle The Secret Garden, the latest adaption of the classic children’s book.

Whether the twin deals mean the floodgates will swing open remains to be seen. Another major deal is brewing for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, whose rights were recently extricated from The Weinstein Co. Sources say the suitors include major studios (Universal once had big-screen rights to the adaptation of the Tony-winning musical).

But the only other Cannes deal involving a major studio was for the Gary Hart biopic The Front Runner. Sony Pictures acquired worldwide rights to Jason Reitman-helmed drama that stars Hugh Jackman as the disgraced presidential candidate.

At the midway mark, a number of films playing in the festival have found homes like the Mads Mikkelsen starrer Arctic (Bleecker Street), the Swedish horror film Border (Neon), Lebanese helmer Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum (Sony Pictures Classics) and opening night drama Everybody Knows (Focus).

Non-festival finished films landing domestic distribution included Saban Films picking up a pair of finished films: the Gerard Butler starrer Keepers and the Keanu Reeves-led Siberia.

But perhaps the most significant development of the market was Netflix’s muted presence. The streaming giant, which has been locked in a battle with the festival over its films being banned from competition, has closed just one deal, buying the animated pic Next Gen. Though the price tag eclipsed 355’s by $10 million, it generated far less buzz given that the film’s voice cast — headed up by Charlyne Yi and Jason Sudeikis — is lesser known, and the project itself was not considered high profile. Amazon has made even less noise this market, buying nothing to date.

IFC Films/Sundance Selects CEO Jonathan Sehring says the streamers increasingly are moving away from acquisitions.

“I think that’s the case more and more with Netflix and Amazon,” he says. “It’s a transition period for the industry yet again in terms of acquisition versus original production and what’s available. Our whole business seems to be constantly in flux.”

On the international front, fewer films, fewer deals and a lot less buzz made for a more subdued Cannes market, with most buyers packing up shop by Sunday.

“We put in a few bids but there wasn't much to buy,” says one major European buyer. “There wasn't much on offer this year, especially in the commercial space.”

Only a handful of projects — like FilmNation’s 355, AGC Studios' Roland Emmerich epic Midway, Sierra/Affinity’s Guillermo del Toro-produced Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Lionsgate's fantasy pic The Kingkiller Chronicle (which has Miranda attached as a creative producer) — attracted the interest of major international distributors and many were cautious, noting that neither Kingkiller Chronicle nor 355 yet had a script. France's SND picked up 355, the first and only foreign deal for the film to date.

"The pre-sales business as we knew it is pretty much over,” notes Martin Moszkowicz of German mini-major Constantin Film, which picked up Voltage Pictures' After, based on Anna Todd's bestseller, but otherwise had a quiet Cannes. “You can see when a man like Patrick Wachsberger leaves Lionsgate that it’s the end of an era. But the industry will adjust and find new ways to get movies made. There are fewer big commercial projects available, and it's rare now that a studio will only take domestic rights. They usually take big chunks of the rest of the world too."

Adds Phil Hunt, co-managing director of U.K.-based film financing group Head Gear: “The market is only buying small-budget films. It’s either the really big John Wick-style stuff or very small, niche titles.”