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Toronto Festival Market Swells, But Will It Yield Any Hits?

Two splashy deals have revived a slow market for films at this year’s Toronto Film Festival.

Buyers and sellers were getting concerned that no one would reach for their checkbooks until a pair of Scott Rudin produced pictures sparked bidding wars among distributors willing to shell out big bucks. U.S. rights for Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young” sold to A24 for $4 million, while global rights to Chris Rock’s “Top Five” will likely be nabbed by Paramount for $12.5 million and a $20 million P&A commitment.

Those major paydays aside, there is a mounting sense among the Hollywood types who made the cross-continent trek to the Canadian city that this year’s festival will go down as a slow boil that never bubbled over.

“The market is a little disappointing,” said Bill Bromley, president of Saban Films. “There’s some commercial product here, but I’ve seen a lot of product that I like, but don’t know what to do with.”

Bromley won’t go home empty-handed. Saban snagged North American rights to the Taylor Lautner action film, “Tracers” last week and the executive says he’s in talks for other projects.

There are still major films left to be plucked, such as “Cake” with Jennifer Aniston, “Black and White” with Kevin Costner, “Big Game” with Samuel L. Jackson and “The Cobbler” with Adam Sandler. All could ink deals for important territories, though industry observers are skeptical that another project will come close to matching the price “Top Five” attracted.

“Normally you only have one of those per festival,” said Robbie Brenner, president of production at Relativity Media.

Her studio was very much in the hunt for “Top Five” before dropping out, and she notes that there can be a feeding frenzy mentality to the way a film festival unfolds.

“People come to a festival hungry,” she said. “They’re ready to spend money and they get swept up in the emotion of the moment where they just have to have something.”

Spend they have, though not at the same levels as previous years. After all, the Rudin projects aren’t the only sales. Radius nabbed North American rights to the Anna Kendrick musical “The Last 5 Years,” Lionsgate and Roadside shelled out $2 million for the Michael Douglas thriller “The Reach” and Relativity secured U.S. distribution the Halle Berry thriller “Kidnap.”

Likewise, pre-sales for projects that haven’t gone into production have also had a few high points. “The Nice Guys” with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe has attracted a great deal of interest, as has “Idol’s Eye” with Robert Pattinson and Robert De Niro. Here, cast is key.

“Buyers time is incredibly competitive because of the volume of films people are watching,” said Alex Walton, co-founder of the sales and production company Bloom, which is here with “The Nice Guys.” “You have to have strong materials to get people’s attention.”

But finding the right stars can be difficult and Hollywood has itself to blame. With the exception of Jennifer Lawrence, most major actors who can guarantee box office results are looking long in the tooth. It doesn’t help that a number of star-driven Toronto acquisitions from last year, such as “Begin Again” with Keira Knightley and “What If” with Daniel Radcliffe, had mediocre results when they debuted last summer.

The hope is that by next year’s festival when newcomers such as Dakota Johnson (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) and rising talents such as Charlie Hunnam (“Crimson Peak”) have major roles under the belts, the landscape will be altered for the better.

“In the past few years the list of bankable actors who would warrant major foreign sales has been limited, but luckly studios are putting money behind fresh faces which could vary and expand the list,” said Christian de Gallegos, president of the sales company International Film Trust. “Hopefully it will result in us not always talking about the same ten names.”

Maybe that would also mean buyers wouldn’t lose their heads over the same one or two films.

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