Cannes: Star Power, Star Challenges

Cannes shaping up for a busy market, but attaching stars remains main mart bane

Led by “The Sea of Trees’” Matthew McConaughey, “Carol’s” Cate Blanchett, Benicio Del  Toro in “Sicario” and “Macbeth’s” Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, the 2015 Cannes Festival looks like one of the glitziest on recent record.

But completed Cannes movies are one thing. Cannes’ big biz drivers, script-stage projects pre-sold on the Croisette to international distributors, are another.

In what may be the biggest industrial irony of 2015 Cannes, while stars will pack out the Palais red carpet steps, and five jurors, Jake Gyllenhaal among them, are thesps, getting stars attached to projects in the first place is a far stiffer challenge that is bedeviling the big indie movie industry most probably more than ever.

“If the film hasn’t started production yet, and the cast is not yet fully complete, even if they may have the main lead, if distributors have the chance they will wait,” said Ivan Boeing, at Brazil’s Imagem.

“Projects are coming in later and later. Talent attachment is so difficult these days, it’s probably taking even longer than usual to get names attached,” said Martin Moszkowicz, at Germany’s Constantin.

Overshadowed by global concern at the European Commission’s determination to limit territorial licensing, the backbone of Europe’s movie industries, in new projects terms, 2015 Cannes already looks more vibrant than contained 2013 and 2014 editions. From mid-late April, new projects have tsunami-ed international distributors’ inboxes. One received 40 new screenplays from April 24 through last Sunday.

Yet tying down cast and U.S. distribution – very much linked – is shaping up as a major international industry narrative at 2015’s Cannes, as it has been over the last year.

Some higher-profile projects do hit Cannes with stars or name attached, or don’t really need them at this stage at all. Maybe the biggest-budgeted movie project at this year’s Cannes will be Studiocanal’s “Early Man,” an Aardman Pictures animated feature helmed by Nick Park (“Chicken Run”), reportedly costing a gross $55 million.

Of buzz titles, London-based Mister Smith Entertainment will commence sales on “Buena Vista Social Club –Adios.”

Among high-profile projects, 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 (“Terminator: Genisys”) and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”).

Sierra/Affinity sells international on New Mexico action heist thriller “Comancheria,” starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster, plus Nikolaj Coster-Waldau thriller “Shot Caller,” produced by Bold Films (“Whiplash,” “Nightcrawler”) and Participant Media.

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. Working out of new outfit Block Entertainment, Bill Block will be touting Judd Apatow-produced femme comedy “Troublemakers,” with Leslie Mann, described by one distributor as “Horrible Bosses” with female leads. Hailee Steinfeld stars in Good Universe’s supernatural thriller “Break My Heart 1,000 Times.”

But, at least through mid-week, some major sales agents had yet to announce slates. Here, U.S. distribution and star-attachments rep a double bottleneck.

“When structuring a big budget film via the typical independent financing model, you absolutely need your U.S. distribution confirmed before pre-selling, with an average of 2000 screens and $20 million P&A, to ensure foreign sales at the level you need,” said Christian de Gallegos at International Film Trust, which hits Cannes with Jessica Biel thriller “Bleeding Heart.”

Yet, Gallegos added, “There are far too many films for the few aggressive U.S. distributors, making it crucial to package with fresh content and relevant cast.”

For Bloom’s Alex Walton, “The cast wants to come in with knowledge of a U.S. distribution deal and when a film will be released, which is logical.”

The result: “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 Ent.’s David Garrett.

Companies are addressing this comundrum. Announcing

“What Happened to Monday?” with Noomi Rapace and Glenn Close, and produced by L.A.’s Vendome Pictures and Raffaella Productions, France’s powerful SND-M6 Group also confirmed in the first two paragraphs of the press release both start dates and that it is fully-financing the sci-fi action film.

Or it is strategically advantageous that new shingle Cornerstone Films, which will initiate sales at Cannes on Hilary Swank starrer “Denial,” written by Brit David Hare (“The Reader”) and developed by Participant Media and BBC Films, has launched with officesin both London and L.A

A slew of U.S. distribution deals went down in the last few weeks: Sierra Affinity alone sold “Comancheria” to CBS Films; Relativuty is is advanced negotiationsto close a wide release deal on “Shot Caller.” More look likely to follow.

When Broad Green took 45% in Mister Smith Ent. this February, MSE gained not only an equity investor but a potential financing partner and a U.S. distribution operation, said Garrett. Broad Green won a partner which can bring pre-sales and pre-sales estimates to the table.

As of Thursday, the flow of new projrct announcements showed no signs of abating. Voltage Pictures announced Christoph Waltz’s directorial debut “The Worst Marriage in Georgetwon,” Good Universe added Jon Hamm action thriller “High Wire Act,” with Brad Anderson helming.

Out of Europe, Wild Bunch’s slate includes new films by Emmanuelle Bercot, whose “Standing Tall” opens Cannes, Cristian Mungiu, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and Radu Mihaileanu, the last, “The History of Love,” his English-language debut. Gaumont has a talked up comedy, Mister Smith Ent. Claude Lelouche’s “Un Plus Une,” desribed by one distrbutor as “very sexy,” and Protagonist Pictures the Scott Free co-produced “Lords of Chaos.”

A score-or-more projects still have to be officially announced. “Though no major tentpoles, there are already a lot of high-profile titles. If major sales companies which have as yet to unveil their line-ups announce one high-profile big title with the right title, suddenly it’s a big Cannes,” said Boeing.

After a string of soft markets, distributors’ inventories may well need to be replenished. “People really do need films for the end of 2016 and 2017.,” said Bloom’s Alex Walton.

But, in distributors’ eyes, key cast announcements or U.S. distrubution deals, will be the key news at this years Cannes. And only a clutch of titles most likely will sell out quickly pretty well worldwide.

“The bar for excellence is super-high. That means the rigor put upon people who produce, finance, self-package is higher, because there isn’t unlimited bandwidth within the pipe. Consumers have high expectations. If the package is great then you can sell movies,” said Sierra/Affinity’s Nick Meyer.

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