Toronto Wrap: Music-Themed Acquisitions Kept Market Humming ... Barely

Teen Spirit - Screenshot-Tiff- H 2018
Courtesy of TIFF

Movies about female singers dominated an otherwise anemic slate of sales.

The deals were alive with the sound of music.

As the Toronto International Film Festival market wrapped on Sunday, movies about singers dominated an otherwise anemic slate of sales. First up was Max Minghella's feature directorial debut, Teen Spirit, which fetched $8 million ($3 million upfront and a $5 million prints-and-advertising commitment, a whopping figure for a first-time helmer and the high-water mark of the market for a finished film). Mickey Liddell's LD Entertainment bought the film, which features Elle Fanning doing her own singing, and will partner with a distributor at a later date — an increasingly common scenario at markets (MRC also didn't have a distributor in place when it made a $40 million commitment for worldwide rights to the Daniel Craig-Rian Johnson package Knives Out).

Also in tune was Neon, which nabbed Tom Harper's Wild Rose for low- to mid-seven figures about 12 hours after it garnered a standing ovation at its world premiere. The distributor, which took I, Tonya to three Oscar noms and a win after buying it at Toronto last year, hasn't yet committed to a similar awards-season strategy for lead Jessie Buckley, who plays an aspiring country singer. But sources say Neon will likely hold the film until May. The company also bought another film during the market that features a chanteuse with Oscar potential: the Natalie Portman starrer Vox Lux (although Vox Lux polarized buyers, reviews for Portman were strong). Neon, which bought the film for $1 million, is said to be planning an awards-qualifying release and will push Portman for supporting actress recognition.

On a non-musical note, Focus Features bought the Isabelle Huppert-Chloe Grace Moretz thriller Greta for about $4 million. That deal covered North America as well as the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and China.

Christine D'Souza Gelb, a partner at Endeavor Content, which co-repped with CAA the deals for Vox Lux and Greta, credits those films' "distinct voices and marketing hooks" for their quick sales, adding, "This year felt like a healthier market over last."

Heading into Toronto, political documentaries had buyers excited. The Roger Ailes deep dive Divide and Conquer didn't disappoint, selling quickly to Magnolia. But Sony Pictures Classics appears to have plucked the market's hidden gem with the inspirational doc Maiden, which centers on Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old charter boat cook who became the skipper of the Whitbread Round the World Race's first-ever all-female crew (SPC also nabbed the John C. Reilly-Steve Coogan drama Stan & Ollie early in the market). Other docs landing distribution included John Chester’s crowd-pleaser The Biggest Little Farm (Neon) and Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble's nature film The African Queen.

On the narrative side, the deals continued to trickle in throughout the second half of the festival, most notably The Orchard picking up The Hummingbird Project, which stars Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard, A24 landing the Robert Pattinson sci-fi drama High Life and IFC taking the Judi Dench spy thriller Red Joan. Altogether, there wasn't much to sing about for sellers.