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But a slew of Cannes prize winners see strong sales worldwide

As the dust settles over Cannes’ 2014 market, it looks set to go down as one of the most cross-grained in years.

U.S. market pre-buys surged, led by Paramount’s shelling out about $20 million acquiring North America on Denis Villeneuve’s Amy Adams-starrer “Story of Your Life,” sold in international by FilmNation.

At least 52 movies, many more modestly-budgeted than the $50 million “Story,” were announced as having sold to the U.S., marking it, with Asia, as the bumper sell-to market at Cannes.

But, in a market of contrasts, the international sales biz – the main reason most companies stump up the cost of Cannes – showed clear strains.

The lack of fully-packaged star-driven quality projects being brought on to the market at Cannes remained a major Croisette talking point, especially among big international buyers.

The large question it raises, when it comes to the overseas market for higher-bracket star vehicles at least, is whether 2014’s Cannes pointed to a sales cycle glitch – with foreign distributors buying big titles again once inventories need filling – or marked a milestone in more fundamental changes to the ways the high-end international industry will have to do business.

In just some U.S market headlines, Sony Pictures Classics acquired five titles – “Saint Laurent,” “Wild Tales,” “Jimmy’s Hall,” “Leviathan,” and “The Salt of the Earth”- having already bought five more titles at Cannes.

The Weinstein Co. shelled out $5 million for Pierce Brosnan thriller “The Coup,” from Bold Films, and $12 million for worldwide rights for “Lion,” from “The King’s Speech” duo Iain Canning and Emile Sherman.

After a strong showing at Sundance, A24 continued its buying spree with Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive,” from eOne Films Intl, the Altitude-sold “Son of a Gun,” an Australian heist movie; and “The Room,” starring Brie Larson, shopped internationally by FilmNation.

Apart from “Story,” a few big high-rollers or high-profile titles did fairly sizzle in overseas markets.

Lionsgate Intl. “A Monster Calls,” to be helmed by Juan Antonio Bayona, sold weightily in key markets such as the U.K. (eOne) and France (Metropolitan FilmExport).

IM Global’s biggest seller was Jackie Chan actioner “Civilian,” with most of the world being licensed, said Stuart Ford. “Forsaken,” from Jonas and Alfonso Cuaron, who came to Cannes to talk up the title (pictured) also rolled out in a majority of territories.

Alien invasion thriller “Prisoner of War” proved a breakout hit for Voltage, with buyers loving the “District 9” angle and its theatrical potential, said Voltage’s Nicolas Chartier.

Budgeted at $120 million, Foresight Unlimited’s sci-fi thriller “Inversion” closed seven major territories, and a slew of smaller deals by early last week.

Of higher-profile titles, some movie types fared better: Straight-ish-arrow action-thrillers with clear theatrical potential such as Studiocanal’s “Bastille Day” and Halle Berry’-starrer “Kidnap,” and “Candy Store,” sold by Lotus Ent.,

eOne Films International pushed out Colin Firth starrer “Eye in the Sky.” Bloom’s Matthew McConaughey-starrer “Sea of Trees” sold most of the world by mid-last-week, as did Studiocanal’s “Macbeth,” with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, seen in a buzzed-up promo, and Stephen Frear’s untitled Lance Armstrong movie.

In genre, attractively-budgeted fare from proven directors/producers gained large sales traction: Eli Roth’s “Knock, Knock” almost sold out for Voltage; Blumhouse Intl.’s “Viral” and “Sinister 2” did bumper biz for IM Global.

Other titles making a splash on the open market, often with early sales: Pathe-sold “Youth,” helmed by “The Great Beauty’s” Paolo Sorrentino; Elle Driver’s “3 Hearts,” Films Distribution’s “The New Girlfriend,” and Indie Sales’ “Marie’s Story”; “La French” and “Samba,” both sold by Gaumont; The Exchange’s comedic road movie “Wild Oats,” Ben Wheatley’s HanWay-sold “High Rise,” a J.G, Ballard adaptation; and The Embankment-repped “The Dressmaker.”

While big star vehicles were at a premium, and only a select number had detailed bullish sales in international by Wednesday, in a market of many moving parts, an exciting bevy of big or at least high-profile arthouse movies proved four-quadrant plays: Having won selection at Cannes, they garnered critical raves, powerful sales and then, in chronological order, major kudos.

Movies which ticked all four boxes included competition winners “Winter Sleep,” “Leviathan,” “Goodbye to Language,” “The Wonders” and “Timbuktu,” Un Certain Regard’s “White God,” “Force Majeure” “Party Girl” and “The Salt of the Earth,” Directors’ Fortnight’s “Love at First Fight” and Critics’ Week “The Tribe.”

Even sans kudos, Palme d’Or contenders “Wild Tales,” “Jimmy’s Hall” and “Clouds of Sils Maria” pushed out powerful sales. While prices paid for art pics have plunged drastically in the last decade, this made for a robustly focused foreign language/art and crossover movie market.

In contrast, international’s high-end business proved particularly preoccupying.

Unlike the U.S. or Asia, the bigger, more mature European markets face multifarious challenges: In France, paybox Canal Plus’ more contained acquisition of foreign titles; Russia’s weakened rouble, down about 20% year-on-year vs. the dollar, its face-off with Ukraine, and possible quotas on foreign movies; German broadcasters’ pull-back on movie buying; Spain and Italy’s continued doldrums.

Reasons cited for the absence of big star vehicles cut multiple ways: The diaspora of stars and stars directors into TV in the U.S.; contracting DVD and TV sales around the globe; foreign distributors’ reluctance to pre-buy projects which are not fully-financed and might never get made.

Fall-out seems inevitable. Sales-financing outfits already handle more development in house.

The pre-sales market isn’t dead. But, in order to get big projects greenlit, financiers will probably have to stump up more equity to compensate volatile international pre-sales finance.

In this sense, Alex Walton’s Bloom, which launched at Cannes as an integrated production-financing-sales house rather than a pure-play sales agency, looks like a business model for the times.

One of the multiple ironies of this year’s Cannes was that while the U.S. studios moved out of the speciality biz from 2006, leaving Europe to move in – with such stellar results as “The Artist,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” – 2014 Cannes saw the studios returning to the mid-budget and stellar art pic scene, but this time as distributors.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions was especially active, sealing multi-territory deals on “Story of Your Life,” Bill Murray starrer “Rock the Casbah” and “Sea of Trees.”

A new phase in consolidation may see attempts in Europe at pan-national buying alliances as indies seek to face off with more-active studios, as well as Studiocanal and eOne.

Those are large challenges for the market to digest. It now has a few months to do so before Toronto.

One thing didn’t change at Cannes this year: Highland Film Group licensed major territories on Nicolas Cage crime thriller “The Trust.”

At least the Cage/Bruce Willis sales well has not run dry.

TOP PLAYERS’ TAKE ON THIS YEAR’S CANNES:

“Distributors wish there were more films available but it always comes back to the proposition: Do we bring something which compels them to act? If you look at the best-selling films at this market, I think you’ll see some really interesting creative choices and distributors stretching to get hose films because they are unique.” Glen Basner, FilmNation

“We ended up happy with our Cannes sales. [But] Europe, western and eastern, remains a big challenge,” Nicolas Chartier, Voltage

“We’re seeing changes in Asia’s buying dynamic, Box office is growing. A flurry of freshly re-capitalized distributors is acquiring more movies than ever before. These days it feels like it’s easier to sell Japan than France and you can get bigger numbers from China than the U.K.. I’ve never known such as Asia-centric market for us.” Stuart Ford, IM Global.

“There are a lot of good movies this year,” said Sony Pictures Classics co-chief Michael Barker. “They may not be huge commercial prospects, but there are many marketable titles from all over the world.”

“The business is going through fundamental change. We can turn a blind eye, say next year’s going to be fine, book at table at for next year, but maybe it’s wiser to analyze what are the reasons for this change,” Martin Moszkowicz, Constantin

“I don’t know if it’s just our films or the U.S. market, but it’s a very good distribution market right now,” Anna Marsh, Studiocanal

“People respond very strongly to a model which, compared to pure sale agents, is that you are your own distributors, you have skin in the game, your building marketing campaigns for your partners, Harold van Lier, eOne Films Intl.

“It’s very important for companies to ensure that all your elements are in place. Ultimately the sophistication throughout the international market place has improved so much over the last 10 years.” Alex Walton, Bloom

“Buying habits will have to change too. The system of just AFM, Berlin and Cannes doesn’t really fit with the timing of when packages come together and talent availability. That disconnect is getting further and further apart.” Jim Seibel, Lotus Entertainment

“The bull’s eye is getting smaller on what international buyers want to take risk on. The result has been fewer movies getting made which, when combined with fewer packages showing up in the first half of the year from the agencies, poses the question of whether over the next 12 months, buyers are going to get more aggressive because they need to fill up slates, or are they simply going to reduce their slates,” Bill Johnson, Lotus Entertainment

“The biggest players at the market have been the studios. not that the independents didn’t buy. It’s not totally disappointing, but there was nothing really big driving the market into a state of excitement.” Ivan Boeing, Imagem.

“Our major problem is to attach talent to projects. Talent falls out much more easily then it ever used to. If it’s an independent, agents will question whether the talent is really in place and, rather than hang their clients up for a slot, they will be looking for something else, either TV or a studio movie,” Mark Damon, Foresight Unlimited.

 

U.S. DISTRIBUTION PICK-UPS ANNOUNCED AT CANNES 2014

A24: “Room,” “Son of a Gun,” “The Captive”

CINEDIGM: “The Stream”

COHEN MEDIA GROUP: “In the Name of My Daughter,” “Timbuktu”

CURATOR FILMS: “The Man of the Crowd”

DRAFTHOUSE FILMS: “La French”

eONE FILMS US: “Dior and I”

GRAVITAS VENTURES: “Love Eternal”

FILM ARCADE/LIONSGATE: “Nightlight”

FILM MOVEMENT: “Stations of the Cross,” “Belle and Sebastian”

FOCUS FEATURES: “Bastille Day,” “The Forest,”

IFC: “The Salvation”

IFC MIDNIGHT: “Extraterrestrial”

KINO LORBER: “The Forgotten Kingdom,” “The Life of Riley”

LEVELK: “The Turning”

MAGNOLIA PICTURES: “Ballet 422,” “Life Partners,” “White God,” “A War”

MILLENIUM ENT: “Reach Me,” “God Only Knows”

MUSIC BOX: “Of Horses and Men,” “Gett, The Trial of Viviane Arsalem”

OPEN ROAD: “Rosewater,” “Nightcrawler”;

PARAMOUNT: “Story of Your Life”;

PHASE 4 FILMS: “Fort Bliss,” “Drones,” “Ask Me Anything”

REVOLVER: “House of Last Things”

SABAN FILMS: “The Homesman”

SCREEN MEDIA FILMS: “Young Ones”

SHOUT! FACTORY: “The House of Magic”

SONY PICTURES CLASSICS: “Saint Laurent,” “Wild Tales,” “Jimmy’s Hall,” “Leviathan,” “The Salt of the Earth”

STRAND RELEASING: “The Mystery of Happiness”

SUNDANCE SELECTS: “The Blue Room,” “Last Weekend”

SYNERGETIC: “Gold”

UNCORK’D ENT.: “Horror”

VYER FILMS: “The International Sign of Choking”

THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY “Sing Street,” “Lion,” “The Coup”

WELL GO USA: “These Final Hours”

XLRATOR MEDIA: “It’s So Easy and Other Lies,” “The Mule,”

ZEITGEIST FILMS: “Zero Motivation”

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