Five Reasons to Expect a Slow Toronto Market: "There’s Not Much Out There"

Spotlight Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

Facing everything from a struggling Chinese economy to a lack of marquee titles, dealmakers are less than optimistic.

After what many say was an overheated and overhyped 2014 TIFF, Toronto this year looks to be a significantly more sober affair.

With few major unsold titles available — Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next serving as the primary exception — and a paucity of big presale packages in the offing, most buyers expect a quiet market.

While deals will be done at TIFF, here’s why we shouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s feeding frenzy.

There’s Slim Pickings
Only a handful of unsold titles are generating pre-festival buzz, including Rebecca Miller’s Maggie’s Plan, which is being sold by CAA, Cinetic and Protagonist, and Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight from Entertainment One, which has already sold to Open Road for the U.S. and has international buyers circling. On the presale side, Voltage and CAA’s Gerard Butler actioner The Headhunter’s Calling is one of the few packages that looks to be an easy sell. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t sensed a lot of anticipation from buyers so far; there doesn’t seem to be much excitement out there,” says Charlotte Boucon, head of international sales at France’s SND Groupe.

The Big Titles Are Already Gone
This week, New Line Cinema snatched worldwide rights to Film Nation’s Will Smith-starrer Collateral Beauty, taking arguably this market’s biggest presale title out of the mix. Sony Pictures Classics did a similar pre-emptive strike of buzzy festival title The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons. “There’s not much out there. It looks like it will be more about trying to find a hidden gem, like Slumdog Millionaire [in 2008],” said Rudiger Boss, acquisitions head for German group ProSiebenSat.1.

The China Syndrome
Worries about slowing economic growth in the world’s second-largest cinema market has rattled sellers who look to China to make up the gap from a still-struggling Europe. A recent scandal alleging box-office fraud hasn’t helped matters. “They’ll be plenty of Chinese buyers at TIFF, but I don’t expect to see many big deals — everyone’s become a little more cautious,” said one European sales exec.

The Relativity Hangover
The collapse of Ryan Kavanaugh’s mini-major just before TIFF — removing a major producer and leading domestic buyer —is certain to cast a pall over things. “The fallout from Relativity is unfortunate, it’s never good when you lose a big buyer,” says Lisa Wilson of The Solution Entertainment Group, though she argued that any drop will be temporary. “Domestic players are very healthy right now,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is concerned this will have a lasting effect.”

More Hype than Hits
Buyers will be wary of falling for this year’s buzzy festival hit after so many of the hot titles at Toronto last year — including Top Five and Can a Song Save Your Life?, both of which set off bidding wars — failed to deliver the box office to justify the hype. Expect smaller checks and less hoopla this year.