What a difference a year makes. In 2013, Cannes was deluged by wave after wave of high-profile movie projects, very often from the U.S., very often only semi-packaged, semi-cast. Very often they didn’t get sold.
Cut to a week out from this year’s Cannes.
Cannes’ common consensus this year is that, rather than too many projects, there may well be too few.
“One of the things that’s been building for about a year now, but that is now really coming into focus for people, is that there is a genuine lack of content coming onto the markets,” FilmNation’s Glen Basner commented.
Ivan Boeing at Brazilian distributor Imagem agreed: “Unless we hear of 20 new big announcements in the next 10 days, it’ll be very different Cannes to last year. No question about it,” he said.
“I think the buyers were expecting Cannes to be very busy, with more activity. As of May 7, I’m not sure it’ll be as busy as everyone hoped for,” added Bill Johnson at Lotus Entertainment, which will be showing footage at Cannes of Tom Tywker’s Tom Hanks starrer “A Hologram for the King.”
But four or five fairly substantial titles look set to be announced by May 12.
There will be a clutch of must-see titles for mainstream buyers. Voltage, for instance, hits Cannes with Eli Roth’s latest, erotic psycho-thriller “Knock, Knock,” with Keanu Reeves.
Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult star in “Equals,” a futuristic love story from Mister Smith, with Ridley Scott among producers. FilmNation will arrive in Cannes with an Amy Adams sci-fi thriller “Story of Your Life,” from Denis Villeneuve. Mel Gibson will star in Jean-Francois Richet’s action thriller “Blood Father” for Wild Bunch, which is presenting “Spring Breakers: The Second Coming” and Mark Osborne’s animated feature “The Little Prince.” Colin Firth co-stars in drone mission thriller “Eye in the Sky”,” from eOne Intl.
“What’s missing are the big tentpole films,” said Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz. “There’s always room for one or two surprise pictures. But I don’t think there’s going to be a huge amount of big movies happening.”
A trio of very large films indeed will of course be brought to Cannes by Lionsgate Intl.: Denis Villeneuve’s Mexican drug lord hunt “Sicario,” with Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt; “The Last Face” starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem and directed by Sean Penn; and Juan Antonio Bayona’s “A Monster Calls” with Liam Neeson on board to star.
To the frustration of big indie distributors in many territories, Lionsgate/Summit films are locked into output deals in very many places over the world.
So, six days out from Cannes, the market was shaping up sedately.
As at Berlin, many films coming onto the open market cut two ways: Cast-driven action thrillers and movies for older 40-plus auds.
Again, as at Berlin, the latter seem legion at Cannes. James Schamus, X Filme and Alison Thompson’s Sunray are teaming on “Alone in Berlin,” adapting Hans Fallada’s anti-Nazi novel. FilmNation will start selling John Carney’s musical drama “Sing Street,” with U2’s Bono and the Edge.
And there’s more: eOne has taken international rights to the Bryan Cranston-starrer “Trumbo.” James Franco will adapt Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” with Franco and Seth Rogen, New Films Intl. selling. Atom Egoyan will direct Christopher Plummer in revenge thriller “Remember,” from IM Global. Pathe is selling Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” about two old friends nearing 80 but still with fire in their bellies. Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz star.
“In many countries, like Germany, there is a very, very reliable audience segment, 40-50-and-above, that goes to see these kinds of movies,” said Moszkowicz.
“Male-oriented, action-driven movies budgeted around the mid-twenties make distributors comfortable. They may often be going straight to video and there is some value in Asia and Latin America,” he added.
The Cannes Market boasts some highly attractive genre movies: IM Global will be offering the Blumhouse-produced “Sinister 2,” which looks set to sell strongly after “Sinister” grossed $77.7 million worldwide.
Hyde Park Intl. is touting “Eloise,” a chiller set in a former insane asylum; XYZ has sci-fi drama “Parts Per Billion,” with Rosario Dawson and Josh Hartnett and Millennium distributing Stateside; and Nicholas McCarthy’s SXSW player “Home.”
Companies are seeking to hit that sweet spot: A balance between security for buyers and originality for audiences.
“It’s probably true in every creative industry. People want things they can market. They understand the audience. But at the same time, audiences are craving for original things,” said Mister Smith’s David Garrett.
The biggest talking point at this year’s Cannes may well lie elsewhere, however.
Said Basner: “If there is one over-arching theme that we need to address in our market that is: How are we going to continue to bring a consistent supply of quality theatrical films to the market?”
Why there a lack – or at least an obvious plunge in the volume of significant product being brought on to the market – is another question.
The industry already had multiple answers a week before Cannes.
“Everybody is telling me the very same thing,” said Imagem’s Boeing. “It’s difficult to package projects correctly. That’s mostly a problem with getting the cast.”
Said Mimi Steinbauer president of Radiant Films, “I think there’s issues with getting cast confirmed. They’re either going to TV which is such a draw now, or big-budget studio films.” Radiant is introducing “The Driftless Area,” an unconventional romance with Zooey Deschanel and Anton Yelchin, at the market.
“The vagaries of U.S. distribution performance are giving a lot of indie financiers food for thought, about the budget level and the kind of movies they’re doing,” said IM Global’s Stuart Ford, who added, “The pool of bankable movie actors seems to be ever-shrinking. And the international business isn’t completely compensating for those challenges here in Hollywood.”
For Basner, “Five years ago, if you were working in feature film, whether as writer, director or actor, you just worked in feature film. So when you weren’t working you were trying to get another movie made.”
Not now. “Nowadays all types of creatives are working in many different mediums. They’re not just sitting around and trying to create and get other movies made. That’s having an impact on the number of quality films that we’re seeing coming through,” he said.
In a drive to guarantee a consistent supply of quality titles, select companies – FilmNation is one example – are increasingly taking over their own project development.
“We’ve spent a lot of energy this year procuring and developing internally, in order to have more control of our destiny.” said Jim Seibel, Lotus co-chairman.
There are also multiple upsides to the lack of a product tsunami at this year’s Cannes.
“In the same way as we’ve seen some out-and-out programmers struggle at the U.S. box office, they’re having a tougher time internationally, and that generates a flight towards quality in the buyer mentality,” Ford said, adding: “What we have is a less cluttered marketplace with better quality movies on the whole and that is healthy.”