Cannes: Buyers Demand Star Packages as Netflix, Amazon Look to Make a Splash

Global distribs still waiting for new major title announcements

While the Cannes festival will see a starry universe of stars on the red carpet, as Matthew McConaughey (“The Sea of Trees”), Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”), Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (“Macbeth”) are expected, indie market mavens are asking, “Where are the Bruce Willises, the Gerard Butlers?” as one distributor lamented.

For the world’s independent film industry, completed movies are one thing, but the big driver remains projects pre-sold at script stage to international distributors.

On the eve of the Cannes film festival and market, buyers and sellers have many questions: Will this be the year that Netflix and Amazon scoop up a significant number of titles? Why haven’t more projects been announced? Where are the bigger-budget market staples? Where are the action titles?

Indeed, with a clutch of sales companies not announcing many or any Cannes titles by early in the week, speculation was running high that this could be the edition when Netflix and Amazon really step up to the plate, taking major packages of films off the table before they even get to indie distributors.

Beyond Netflix and Amazon, however, this year’s Cannes presents a big problem: attaching stars at script stage is becoming more difficult in a business that demands high-profile talent in order to get projects off the ground.

“Talent used to just make feature films. Now they’re involved in advertising, television, webisodes, different forms of content, which creates availability issues,” said FilmNation’s Glen Basner.

“There’s a chicken and egg thing: It’s very hard to get stars unless the money is in place, but it’s very hard to put the money in place unless you’ve got the stars attached,” said Mister Smith Entertainment’s David Garrett, which is selling two buzz projects, “Buena Vista Social Club – Adios,” and Claude Lelouche’s “Un plus une.”

The 2015 Cannes market may be offer up many quality prestige titles, but fewer higher-budget, more commercial projects.

“My estimation is there’ll be a moderate number of high-profile movies, ‘must-haves,’ and a fairly good number of movies in general, rather similar to the last Cannes,” said Basner.

Imagen’s Ivan Boeing agrees. “Cannes is shaping up as a very busy market with a lot of higher-profile films, even smaller ones, with interesting elements. But we still don’t have the real tentpoles.”

That said, there have been a couple big project announcements and casting news.

On the eve of Cannes, IM Global boarded Tom Hanks-Alicia Wikander cyber-thriller “The Circle,” and is now said to be bringing action thriller “Journey to Samarkand” with Tom Hardy as an SAS vet onto the market.

Studiocanal’s “Early Man,” an Aardman Pictures animated feature helmed by Nick Park, is reportedly budgeted around $50 million. The movie targets “each and every family member the world over,” said Studiocanal’s Anna Marsh. Aardman’s co-founder Peter Lord and Park will walk distributors through “their wealth of ideas” at Cannes, she added.

Sierra/Affinity, boasting a strong mainstream slate – “they’re the right genres, have stars or names,” said one distributor — will shop action heist thriller “Comancheria,” starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster, plus Nikolaj Coster-Waldau thriller “Shot Caller,” produced by Bold Films and Participant Media.

FilmNation heads to Cannes with the George Clooney-produced “Nocturnal Animals,” starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, helmed by Tom Ford (“A Single Man”); Pedro Almodovar’s “Silencio”; and Word War II thriller “HHHH,” with Jason Clarke and Rosamund Pike.

Two other obvious Cannes mainstream titles for sale: Kevin James action comedy “The True Memoirs of an International Assassin,” from Good Universe; and Block Entertainment’s Judd Apatow-produced untitled femme comedy (aka “Troublemakers”) with Leslie Mann.

The Solution Entertainment Group introduces “The Runaround,” an action comedy with what one distributor calls a “perfect” script and Oscar winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) and Emile Hirsch. Hailee Steinfeld stars in Good Universe’s supernatural thriller “Break My Heart 1,000 Times.”

For Bloom’s Alex Walton, which announced Kirsten Dunst starrer “Woodshock” on Monday: “One of the territories with the most competition is unquestionably the U.S. More and more new distribution companies with financing have emerged in the U.S. in the last 18 months.”

The major question these days, said one distributor, is not whether a project scores a U.S. deal, but is it with the right people?

A Paramount U.S. distribution deal, such as the one struck for Block’s Leslie Mann comedy late last week, most will certainly raise a project’s value in the international marketplace.

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