No Movie? No Problem: Presales Dominate Early Dealmaking at TIFF

Nick Wall/Pathé
'Florence Foster Jenkins'

Buyers are ignoring completed projects to get in early on promising titles: "It’s no longer a situation where you go to a festival and only look at finished films."

Entering Toronto, most buyers and agents predicted that presales deals would eclipse those for finished films. So far, that forecast is holding up.

The first major deal of the festival landed
 Sept. 12 when Paramount acquired the Meryl Streep starrer Florence Foster Jenkins. Seven minutes of footage from the film, about a real-
life amateurish opera singer, screened the previous morning for a roomful of buyers, sparking interest from Focus, Broad Green and Fox Searchlight. But Paramount prevailed, paying some $8 million-$10 million for the Stephen Frears-helmed film, which is seen as having awards-season potential (the studio is eying a release for 2016).

"[Paramount] has been keenly tracking the project for many months and matched their enthusiasm with a swift and persuasive negotiation,” said Cameron McCracken, managing director of Pathe U.K., which negotiated the deal with Paramount.

Similarly, the Jessica Chastain package Miss Sloane, about a lobbyist’s efforts to push through tighter federal gun control
laws, sold to EuropaCorp a few hours later. A source pegged the deal in the high-teen millions. EuropaCorp will fully finance the John Madden-helmed film, which is set to begin shooting in March. Ben Browning will produce for FilmNation, which was repped in the deal by UTA.

Like several other projects generating heat, neither Florence Foster Jenkins nor Miss Sloane were officially screening in the program. That’s a trend that’s likely to continue for the rest of the festival, say insiders.

"Film acquisitions have become a 52-week-a-year business," says Focus’ Lia Buman, who nabbed Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals,
a presales title, out of Cannes in May for a whopping $20 million. "It’s no longer a situation where you go to a festival and only look at finished films. Presales give you more control of your slate and your release schedule."

Paramount, seeking to fill its emaciated slate, is said to be on the search for more studio-quality product, as are many other of the bigger buyers, several of whom say privately that the finished film market titles are weak this year.

Among the most promising presales available are the Richard Gere starrer Oppenheimer Strategies. ICM Partners and The Solution showed a promo reel of the film to enthusiastic buyers on Sept. 10. The next day, StudioCanal presented the Ewan McGregor spy thriller Our Kind of Traitor — another project drawing buzz and not screening as part of the official lineup — in its entirety. The CIA thriller Unlocked, with Noomi Rapace and Orlando Bloom and now in postproduction, also has buyers excited at the festival.

Meanwhile, there has been little action on the domestic deals front among such official TIFF titles as Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next and Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan.

That’s a departure from last year. At this same juncture at Toronto 2014, the eventual biggest deal had already been struck when Chris Rock’s Top Five — an official TIFF title — sold for $12.5 million. No finished film available will likely fetch more than Miss Sloane’s high-teen millions figure. So when the dust clears, TIFF 2015 will almost certainly go down as the year of the presales acquisition.