Toronto 2011: Buyers and Sellers Prepare for Battle

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Ryan Gosling, left, and Bradley Cooper

As the festival becomes a full-fledged market for presales and films in production, a number of projects will be shopped this year, featuring stars including Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Sean Penn and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

TORONTO -- The Toronto Film Festival has become all things to the worldwide movie business, much as Cannes: a launching pad for awards titles, a place to buy finished films, meeting mecca for producers and financiers and, in the latest twist, an unofficial sales market.

No one's arguing that Toronto is robust as Cannes or AFM, but its clout is growing.

“When it comes to presales, Toronto has really become the prime U.S. market for us, even more important than AFM,” said Markus Zimmer of Germany’s Concorde. “All of the big sellers are represented, and the atmosphere is ideal for talking about new projects.”

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Last year, Stuart Ford's IM Global blazed the way when closing a massive $30 million in presales for Pete Travis’ Dredd, the big-budget 3D comic book adaptation from DNA. Ford took the unprecedented step of setting up an official sales suite at the Hyatt Regency, where he is again this year wrapping up sales for Madonna’s period romance drama W.E., and making the first major push for Inbetweeners, which is doing blockbuster business in the U.K.

This year, sales suites are sprinkled throughout key downtown hotels, including the Soho Metropolitan, where Sierra/Affinity and FilmNation both have offices. No one is expecting a year as big as 2010 -- it would be hard to match the business Dredd drummed up -- but deals are sure to happen.

Toronto has long been a favorite place for U.S. distributors to acquire finished films, and there is a lengthy list of festival titles with the potential to pop this year. But one independent agent said “the real business is in chasing films that are currently being financed or that can be pre-bought, as those are the titles with much more commercial prospects."

“Most of the films that have not already pre-sold are smaller movies with limited box office potential, and sure, if they play well they will sell, but it will be a hype-fueled process. Anything that makes it to a finished film without a domestic deal in place has many cards stacked against it,” the agent continued.

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While there aren’t as many projects at script stage being offered to buyers this year at Toronto, a slew of sellers are showing footage and art from potentially high-profile films.

That’s not to say there won’t be any new projects; Inferno Entertainment will launch sales for Mark Wahlberg-Russell Crowe starrer Broken City, the $60 million film from producers Steve Levinson, Randall Emmett and George Furla (Wahlberg also is producing). Inferno, which is co-financing the pic with Emmett Furla Films and 1984 Films, sent out the script over Labor Day.

And on the eve of the festival, Lionsgate International said it is introducing Michael Keaton-Michelle Monaghan thriller Penthouse North, from director Joseph Ruben, to buyers here. Other project announcements are expected as Toronto gets underway in earnest on Friday.

Another presales title being offered at Toronto: Lars von Trier’s next film Nymphomaniac, an exploration of female sexuality that the Danish director is expected to deliver in both soft and hard-core versions. TrustNordisk has already sold the film in Russia.

“No one wants Toronto to become a huge market, but it’s a great place to do all kinds of business. Everyone that’s drawn to Toronto loves movies, which is what makes it so vibrant,” said Sierra’s Nick Meyer, who will be plugging the James McAvoy dark comedy-drama Filth, directed and written by Jon S. Baird, to foreign buyers, among other projects.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Toronto Film Festival 2011

FilmNation CEO Glen Basner agrees, adding that Toronto now draws distributors from around the world because of the strong lineup of films playing in the festival itself. This has provided agents with a new opportunity to tout their sales slates between Cannes and the American Film Market in November.

“Toronto can be a bit like Berlin -- there isn’t as much competition for big titles, so you can announce a big one there and it’s a good runway for AFM,” said Alex Walton, president of international sales and distribution for Exclusive Film International, which is expected to bring several new titles to Toronto.

Walton, Basner and Meyer are among the sales agents planning to show footage from key projects -- including to U.S. buyers.

On Friday, FilmNation and New Pictures Film Co. will show the first footage from the big-budget Chinese film Heroes of Nanking, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Christian Bale. The filmmakers are looking for a U.S. distributor to release the $90 million historical epic in December (following its premiere in China) in times for an awards run.

This weekend, Sierra/Affinity will screen the first footage from Derek Cianfrance’s Ryan Gosling-Bradley Cooper starrer The Place Beyond the Pines. The generational thriller made waves when introduced in script form at the Cannes Film Market in May, securing its first round of key territory deals, including the U.K. and France. (WME and CAA are co-repping domestic rights, which are still available).

Other footage being shown in Toronto includes Stephen Frears’ Lay the Favorite, starring Bruce WillisCatherine Zeta-Jones and Vince Vaughn  (Wild Bunch); Predisposed, starring Melissa LeoJesse Eisenberg and Tracy Morgan (ICM/Inferno); The Courier, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan (ICM/ArcLight Films); A Royal Affair, from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo screenwriter Nikolaj Arcel (Trust); Susanne Bier’s All You Need is Love starring Pierce Brosnan and Denmark actress Trine Dryholm (Trust).

A number of titles that began pre-selling at the Cannes Film Market will be in Toronto, including StudioCanal’s The Last Photographer, the war-photographer drama being produced by Dark Castle that Christian Bale and Sean Penn are attached to star in.

“We’ve seen an enormous increase in the number of buyers coming to Toronto,” said Victor Lowey, who has a bird’s eye of the festival as CEO of Alliance, Canada’s largest independent distributor and parent company of Momentum in the U.K. and Aurum in Spain. “In fact, I think there may be more buyers here than there are in Berlin.”