No fest frenzy but deals aplenty

This year's edition failed to repeat the buying frenzy of last year

As Toronto draws to a close, it’s clear that this year’s edition failed to repeat the buying frenzy of last year, which saw major players including the Weinstein Co. and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions walk away with pics.

As of Thursday, newer players like Open Road, Relativity and Film District hadn’t bought anything, though IFC, Magnolia, Samuel fledgling distrib Cohen Media Group walked away with a clutch of smaller titles.

“There were very good movies here, but expectations were so high that buyers went in expecting to get into bidding wars right away, and when they realized that maybe they didn’t have to, they waited a beat,” said Submarine’s Josh Braun, whose outfit shopped a number of titles including “Your Sister’s Sister,” which went to IFC. “I think we’re going to see at least three or four more acquisitions announced in the next few days.”

Major deals inked in Toronto this year included Lasse Hallstrom’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” which went to CBS Films, whose new staffers include veteran Sony exec Scott Shooman as exec veep of acquisition.

The energized distrib snatched the pic, one of the most commercially attractive titles of the fest, for an estimated $5 million on Sunday after its preem on Saturday.

Mickey Liddell’s Liddell Entertainment snapped up domestic rights to William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” on Tuesday from Voltage Pictures for $3.5 million plus a larger P&A commitment.

That acquisition came two days after the pic’s preem at the fest, signalling a generally more measured approach to dealmaking. Arianna Bocco, senior VP of acquisitions and productions for Sundance Selects and IFC Films, closed three deals Wednesday: Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” went for an estimated $1.5 million along with Abel Ferrara’s “4:44: Last Day on Earth” and Alexandre Courtes’ horror pic “The Incident.”

On Thursday, she closed on North American rights for Michael Winterbottom’s “Trishna.”

Bocco said several more high-profile titles such as “The Oranges,” “Friends with Kids” and “You’re Next” drew interest at the fest. “There are aggressive new buyers and they need films,” she noted.

The exec she wasn’t surprised, however, that the more commercially-oriented new distribs haven’t pulled the trigger on deals.

“It’s not shocking at all, because they want films that they can open in wide domestic release,” Bocco added. “What they’re looking for is such a particular film.”

And that “particular film” rarely seemed to raise its head this year in Toronto.

“Maybe some of the bigger titles didn’t lineup with buyers’ expectations,” said Braun. “The films that sold were not the ones that were at the top of all the lists at the beginning of the festival.”

Richard Rionda Del Castro, CEO of Hannibal Pictures, sold domestic rights on football drama “All Things Fall Apart,” toplining Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson on the first day of the fest to Image Entertainment for a high six-figures.

Many buyers are taking their time to pull the trigger, Del Castro said. “I can’t blame them,” he added. “TV and DVD are not doing well and P&A is very expensive right now, so only the most commercial are going to sell.”

Alex Walton, prexy of international sales and distribution at Exclusive Films Intl., screened football doc “Undefeated” at TIFF this year and announced that it had boarded Ron Howard’s “Rush,” which began production on the second day of the fest.

While early talks of “Rush” took place in Toronto, pic is more likely to gain traction at AFM in November.

“It’s been fairly active compared with two years ago and I think you’ll see a lot of deals got locked down within the next week,” he said, noting that the new revenues from digital streaming are providing optimism to buyers but also making deals more complicated to close.

“Toronto isn’t a sales market like Cannes or AFM — it’s more of a hybrid,” Walton said. “It’s a very good place to start because you have the eight weeks between now and AFM.”

Studiocanal’s head of international sales Harold Van Lier, who sold Rebecca Hall starrer “The Awakening” to Cohen Media Group for a low-seven figure sum, noted that this year’s Toronto sparked more conversations about VOD.

“There have been a lot more players existing here in Toronto because buyers have seen the value of the VOD market through Netflix and Lovefilm,” he said.

But TWC’s new VOD indie label, spearheaded by former Magnolia toppers Tom Quinn and Jason Janego, hasn’t made an acquisition as of Thursday.

The one-year-old Cohen Media put itself on the map: fledgling distrib also bought “Confessions of a Child of the Century” and Luc Besson’s “The Lady,” toplining Michelle Yeoh, from Europa Corp., a project the French sales agent quietly unveiled to buyers in Toronto last year.

Audience hits at the festival were surely George Clooney starrer “The Descendants,” Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” Brad Pitt starrer “Moneyball” and Summit’s “50/50” which all resounded well for industryites and non-bizzers alike.

Other pics that whetted buyers’ appetites included Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper starrer “Place Beyond the Pines,” which is being shopped by Nick Meyer’s Sierra/Affinity. Pic sold well internationally in Cannes and, after showing footage to buyers in Toronto, pic is edging closer to a U.S. deal.

Glen Basner’s FilmNation showed 20 minutes of footage of Chinese epic “Flowers of War,” toplining Christian Bale, to a room full of buyers but sources indicate that many international buyers will wait to see the finished pic before making a move.

Jennie Punter contributed to this report.