Stalled productions take wind out of presales

Cannes Film Festival 2012 - The Money

At Cannes in 2010, Inferno racked up more than $40 million in presales for sci-fi adventure “Lost City of Z,” to be directed by James Gray and star Brad Pitt, who was also producing through his Plan B shingle.

But then Pitt decided to make “World War Z” at Paramount instead, and the earlier project stalled.

At Cannes 2009, Hyde Park raised nearly $30 million from foreign buyers for Madeleine Stowe’s directorial debut, “Unbound Captives,” which was supposed to star Robert Pattinson, Hugh Jackson and Rachel Weisz, and was budgeted at close to $40 million.

Stowe had previously turned down $5 million for her script from Fox, because she was so keen to direct it herself. But soon after Cannes, sources say she decided she needed a significantly bigger budget, as much as $10 million higher, to do justice to this sweeping romantic Western about a widow searching for her kidnapped children.

Despite a lengthy effort, Hyde Park couldn’t close the gap with a domestic deal, so Morgan Creek eventually took over the project, but was equally unable to make the sums add up. Stowe is still talking up her hopes to shoot in 2013.

At Cannes 2007, Handmade Films signed $37 million in presales for a Paul W.S. Anderson remake of “The Long Good Friday,” based only on a three-page director’s pitch. But the script never came together, and Handmade itself fell apart. The international team headed by veterans Guy Collins and Michael Ryan eventually splintered off to launch its new shingle, GFM Intl., partly in frustration at the failure of Handmade’s production team to deliver the projects they had pre-sold.

Also at Cannes ’07, Jan de Bont’s $40 million Euro actioner “Stopping Power,” bankrolled by Internationalmedia, was a big pre-seller for IM Global in its debut market. But when an equity investor withdrew just weeks before shooting, the project collapsed, and Internationalmedia ultimately fell into the hands of notorious financier David Bergstein.

DeBont had no better luck with “Point Break Indo,” the still unmade sequel to Kathryn Bigelow’s surfer heist pic, which Essential Entertainment pre-sold heavily at Cannes ’08. Set in Asia, the project was tooled for Singapore co-financing but never came together. Jeff Wadlow replaced DeBont at the helm before the whole thing fell over. Buyers report it took a while to get their deposits back, though they were eventually repaid.

Casting problems are generally cited as the biggest factor for delays or derailments. When Jason Statham drops out of an action project, for example, there isn’t a long list of acceptable alternatives to fill his boots.

Some projects simply take a while to gel. Inferno booked $35 million in presales for “Arabian Nights” at AFM 2009, with a plan to shoot in 2010. But it took longer than expected to nail the script and raise the $27 million in equity needed for the $70 million project. Pre-production finally started this spring, with the all the original foreign buyers still on board to release the movie in 2013.

Ealing Metro Intl. says the Nina Simone biopic “Nina” (Cannes 2010) has been recast and will shoot later this year, as will Michael Winterbottom’s “Bailout” (Cannes 2011), which was originally announced for production last fall and then this January. “What the Puck?” (Cannes 2010) went back into development without its original director Peter Cattaneo, and may re-emerge in 2013.

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