The Louis C.K. Effect on Dealmaking: "There's a Heightened Sense of Caution"

Courtesy of TIFF
Louis C.K.

Dealmakers at the Toronto Film Festival are adding morality clauses to contracts after the comic's #MeToo meltdown scuttled the release of his movie 'I Love You, Daddy.' As one acquisitions exec puts it: "We simply have no other choice."

Louis C.K. is back in Hollywood's collective consciousness. And no, it's not just because of his surprise stand-up routine at New York's Comedy Cellar on Aug. 26 that launched an outrage tsunami.

Film distributors are thinking about C.K. as they prepare for the upcoming Toronto market. After all, it was one year ago that his I Love You, Daddy marked the biggest sale of the fest ($5 million for worldwide rights), only to become radioactive two months later, after a New York Times #MeToo takedown of the comedian. The Orchard, which bought I Love You, Daddy, canceled the film's release and dodged an expensive bullet by returning the rights to C.K.

Now, buyers say they will insert morality clauses in their contracts when negotiating a festival acquisition. That's an escalation from even six months ago, when indie distributors told THR that their ancillary partners, including cable providers and pay TV networks, had begun adding morality clauses to contracts.

"People across the board are updating their longform agreements to include language of the sort," says The Orchard's Paul Davidson, adding that his company is one of them.

Another acquisitions executive says her company is doing the same, noting that even one #MeToo-stained film could bankrupt a small company. "We simply have no other choice," she says.

But an executive with one of the biggest specialty labels scoffs at the idea of inserting morality clauses or altering dealmaking after the I Love You, Daddy debacle (which came one year after Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation became tainted by an old rape charge against the director). "It's retrospective pearl-clutching," says the executive.

Either way, there's no denying some pre-market "buyer beware" anxiety.

"There's a heightened sense of caution among buyers about who we're getting into business with," says another active buyer at the market. "Not just the talent, but the producers involved. There's certainly a much deeper analysis [taking place now]."

An agent who worked with a since-disgraced filmmaker notes that big-ticket buyers are at an added disadvantage because #MeToo stories tend to surface only after a splashy deal.

"If you're someone like Louis C.K. and you're getting that much attention after a big sale, I think that's when things come out because you have so much attention on you," says the agent. "The story eventually comes out because there's that one person who feels like, 'This is completely unfair, and no one knows the other side of the story.' "

The question now is whether provocative film fare, in general, will take a hit. (I Love You, Daddy certainly falls into that category, with its depiction of a teen-senior romance and use of taboo words.)

"I don't think so," says Davidson. "It's more the concern of who's in your movie — is that person somebody who's been part of dialogue or rumors that they could be one accused of something? That's more the concern."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.