Originally written as a Cannes market closer for Variety’s last print daily, on May 19, this article has been updated through Tuesday, May 26:
CANNES – Five years ago, Cannes biz was powered by movies selling out worldwide. U.S. distribution pick-ups were something of a sideshow.
Now it’s the U.S. and China that are driving the train. One week after on-site trading at Cannes wound down, 2015’s edition still looks like a tale of four markets: U.S. and China, both galvanized by new players; Europe, depressed by eroding ancillary markets; arthouse, still a buyers’ market focused on star titles and ever more near completed films.
Trouble is, the U.S. is helping to make up for the weakness in the market but its growth is not yet at a par with the shortfall, doesn’t take up all of Europe’s slack, said Lotus Ent.’s Bill Johnson.
But some big late market additions, new players and one spectacular deal added brio to an far more upbeat edition, than of late, up at least one or two notches on the past two years.
With regards to mainstream titles, “though there were no tentpoles, in terms of volume, this was a good hectic market, with big movies and big companies’ slates pretty well selling out,” said Ivan Boeing, at Imagem.
The spectacular deal, the biggest at any festival this year: Focus’ acquisition from CAA/FilmNation of world rights to Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals,” a relationship mystery thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, in a deal reported at $20 million. Universal Pictures will handle international.
“More companies look to be going with multi-territory deals with studio offers,” Boeing commented.
Indeed, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions closed multi-territory deals on “Bleed for This” and eOne’s “Spotlight,” starring Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo.
Regarding new players, one, Wild Bunch’s L.A-based sales co Insiders, moved waves announcing Natalie Portman’s casting as Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie.”
U.S. domestic deals – and a frenetic rumor mill about upcoming pacts – made Cannes running. Their number was legion, over 45 announcements through May 26 (see list).
Of just three buyers, The Weinstein Company picked up Roberto Duran portrait “Hands of Stone,” with Edgar Ramirez and Robert de Niro and Gaby Delall’s ”Three Generations.”
Lionsgate bought “By Way of Helena” and literary drama “Genius,” Roadside/Lionsgate acquired “The Sea of Trees,” starring Matthew McConaughey, and Lionsgate/Roadside/Saban took Tom Hanks-starrer “Hologram for a King.”
Sony Pictures Classics landed North American rights to the James Vanderbilt-directed “The Truth,” Films Distribution’s Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” and Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Wild Bunch/Gaga-sold “Our Little Sister.”
Prices paid for the U.S. can now be weighty– a reported $6 million for both “Three Generations” and “The Truth.” Sold by CAA/WME, the Solution Ent. Group’s Milles Teller starrer “Bleed For This” went to Open Road, which was said to have paid $4 million.
“The U.S. market is in full recovery. In the last few years, there has been one success story after another,” said CAA’s Micah Green, citing Cannes pick-up “It Follows,” as well as “Looper,” “The Imitation Game,” and “Nightcrawler.”
He added: “The bullishness is undeniable. Established and new players are fighting for territory. The U.S. distribution of high-end films is a growth market and they all want a big piece of it. That’s driving up pricing, particularly for English-language films.”
“The U.S. day-and-dating and wide-release businesses are both very vibrant. There’s more money and capital on the market than there are good script and actors,” added Lotus Ent.’s Jim Seibel.
In China, following on Huayi Bros.Media’s 18-pic pact with Robert Simmonds’ STX Ent.’s last month, Studiocanal announced that it is opening Beijing offices. Fundamental Films renewed its ouput deal with Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, injecting $50 million into Besson’s “Valerian.”
Europe proved a pointed contrast. “Europe in particular seems very strained: Everybody is just looking for theatrical bets,” Johnson said.
As for VOD, “The industry’s hoping that Europe will eventually catch up with the U.S., but it’s certainly not there yet. France is a big concern because of its release windows, which are not at all suited to day-and-dating.”
One logical rationale is for Europe to seek to tap U.S. equity, or equity in general. Insiders, for instance, closed with Christopher Woodrow’s Vendian Entertainment to co-finance and co-produce one of its flagship titles: Sean Penn’s “Flag Day.”
Higher-end titles did come onto the international market. Among this year’s most attractive propositions, mainstream-minded distributors cited IM Global’s “The Circle” – which sold near all major territories – and “Fifty Shades of Black,” Sierra/Affinity’s espionage thriller “The Coldest City,” with Charlize Theron- the subject of a second 2015 Cannes Focus/Universal multi-territory deal – and Voltage’s Bruce Willis action comedy. A just pre-Cannes Paramount U.S. pick-up, “Bad Moms,” Block Entertainment’s Leslie Mann comedy sold out.
Top-top U.S. sales companies – IM Global, FilmNation, Sierra/Affinity – looked to have sold multiple key territories across their slates as the market would down. Sierra Affinity hailed Cannes as its best ever.
Among sales highlights from European companies, Wild Bunch and Gaumont confirmed a slew of licensing deals on Nicolas Wending-Refn’s “The Neon Demon.” Studiocanal sold most of the world on new Aardman toon “Early Man.” eOne’s Seville Intl.’s pre-sold the U.K., Japan, Italy on Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World.”
2014 saw a flurry of sales on festival-selected titles. Buyers said that the finished product this year at Cannes was not as strong in terms of commercial prospects.
That said, Studiocanal closed most near the world on “Mon Roi.” Films’ Distribution sold out on two more Palme d’Or contenders: Laszlo Nemes’ debut “Son of Saul” and Nanni Moretti’s “My Mother.” Le Pacte struck key deals – Concorde (Germany), Curzon Artificial Eye (U.K.) – on “Valley of Love.” Early reports suggest Wild Bunch titles – “Love,” “Assassin” – have sold or pre-sold fulsomely. “Love” has been licensed near worldwide, for instance.
Other arthouse/foreign-language sales standouts: Un Certain Regard winner “Rams,” repped by New Europa Film Sales; “Assassination,” from Korea’s Showbox/Mediaplex; MK2’s ”The Measure of a Man” and “An.”
But for the arthouse sector, “these are the trees, not the forest,” commented Films Distribution’s Nicolas Brigaud-Robert. “The trend is that a few movies sell everywhere. The business remains tough.”
With arthouse/foreign-language distributors warier and able to sit back on buys, pre-sales are increasingly challenged on all but exceptional titles. With a huge influx of titles to chose from, distributors bought across a wide range, meaning many art titles sold just a clutch of territories.
At his Cannes Film Market NEXT Q & A, a highly anticipated event, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos at least hinted at Netflix’s supporting local-language production. Just how far that support may go regarding European production is one question, however,
Another for international markets: How fast SVOD or transactional VOD can really lift off, catching up with the now much more vibrant U.S.
U.S. DEAL ANNOUNCEMENTS, CANNES 2015
A24: “Krishna,” “There Are Monsters, “Remember”
ALCHEMY: “Love,” “The Survivalist,” “Howl,” “The Lobster,” “My Mother”
ASIA RELEASING: “Wonderful Nightmare”
BROAD GREEN: “The Infiltrator”
CINEMA LIBRE: “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police”
COHEN MEDIA GROUP: “Standing Tall,” “Mustang”
DISTRIB FILMS: “In the Shadow of Women”
FILM MOVEMENT: “Haemoo,” “The Automatic Hate”
FOCUS FEATURES: “Nocturnal Animals,” “The Coldest City”
FOX SEARCHLIGHT: “Youth”
GRAVITAS VENTURES: “The Nymphets”
IFC: “A Perfect Day”
IMAGE: “Criminal Activities.”
INVISIBLE FILMS: “Just Jim: Gravitas”
KINO LORBER: “Mountains May Depart,” “The Measure of a Man,” “Sembene!”
LIONSGATE: “By Way of Helena,” “Genius”
LIONSGATE/ROADSIDE/SABAN: “Hologram For a King”
MAGNOLIA PICTURES: “My Golden Days”
MPI/DARK SKY FILMS: “Mexico Barbaro”
OPEN ROAD: “Bleed for This”
ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS/LIONSGATE: “The Sea of Trees,”
SONY PICTURES CLASSICS: “Truth,” “Son of Saul,” “Our Little Sister”
SUNDANCE SELECTS: “Disorder (Maryland)”
THE ORCHARDS: “Louder Than Bombs”
THE WEINSTEIN CO: “Hands of Stone,” “Three Generations”
WELL GO USA: “Kill Your Friends,” “The Golden Cane,” “The Assassin,” “Assassination”
WOLFE RELEASING: “Serial Monogamist,” “The Girl King”