Toronto 2012: Hollywood Agencies Descend on TIFF to Find Next Big Talent

Riz Ahmed

The hunt is on to find unattached directors, writers, actors and actresses with the potential to hit it big.

While buyers and sellers are hustling to hammer out distribution deals, a different market is heating up at the Toronto International Film Festival: the agency chase for in-demand unsigned talent.

Festivals like Toronto, Sundance and Cannes are becoming increasingly fertile venues for agencies looking to sign the next Daniel Espinosa or Anton Corbijn. An agency like WME or CAA sends some 15 agents to the festival with the express purpose of landing hot unattached talent. At this year’s Sundance festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin spawned a courtship frenzy (WME’s Graham Taylor eventually succeeded in wooing the director into the fold).

As this year’s Toronto festival kicked off, UTA struck first by nabbing Lebanese helmer Zaid Doueiri, whose terrorist-themed The Attack drew critical raves coming out of the Telluride Film Festival before unspooling at Toronto. 

But a number of directors, writers, actors and actresses are still up for grabs, representing a wide swath of geography. Here are some of the hottest in play:


Director, What Richard Did 

The Dublin-born helmer has talent lining up to work with him, including the uber-hot Michael Fassbender, who recently signed on to play an eccentric pop musician in Abrahamson’s upcoming comedy Frank.


Actor, The Reluctant Fundamentalist

U.K. film and TV audiences have long enjoyed Ahmed’s charisma. The actor’s reach is about to expand significantly after seizing the spotlight in Mira Nair’s Fundamentalist (despite such seasoned co-stars as Kate HudsonLiev Schreiber and Kiefer Sutherland). Ahmed is handled in the U.K. by Gordon and French’s Kate Bryden, who has already turned Andrew Garfield into an international star.


Actor, A Hijacking

The Danish actor’s performance as the victim of a Somali pirate takeover in the taut thriller drew praise coming out of the Venice Film Festival. Agents who missed him on the Lido are now looking to catch Asbaek’s macho showing during the film’s Toronto screening.


Director, Wasteland

Every major agency is circling the British newcomer thanks to his film that is drawing comparisons to The Usual Suspects.


Director, Underground

While Hollywood races to bring a Julian Assange project to the big screen, the multihyphenate already has beaten a handful of hopefuls to the punch with his project that chronicles Assange’s days as a teen hacker.


Director, A Hijacking

Like Asbaek, Lindholm is also riding the wave of interest in the pirate-themed thriller. Look for Lindholm to take meetings throughout the Canadian capital.


Director, Aftershock

Horror directors never go out of fashion with agencies looking for the next Eli Roth. Lopez’s stock rose dramatically after Aftershock (which Roth produced and stars in) got scooped up sight-unseen by Dimension.


Director, Lore

The Aussie helmer, who managed to bring a fresh angle to the Holocaust legacy narrative, has risen to the top of many agency wish lists. Her debut film, Somersault, put Shortland on Hollywood’s radar after premiering at Cannes and cleaning up at the Aussie Oscars.


Director, Fin

The Spanish-language supernatural thriller, which marks Torregrossa’s feature debut, is putting the helmer on the map. It doesn’t hurt that he belongs to the same cinematic clique as Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.


Director, A Late Quartet

Zilberman is drawing notice for pulling together a buzz-worthy cast that includes Philip Seymour HoffmanChristopher Walken and Catherine Keener. Also impressive is that Zilberman co-wrote the screenplay that chronicles the dramas facing a world renowned string quartet.

Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27