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Toronto: Festival Deals Set to Heat Up in Second Half

Films including 'Railway Man' draw strong interest from buyers

With the 38th Toronto Film Festival at the halfway point, Harvey Weinstein has raised hopes for a high-powered finish following his company’s $7 million deal for writer-director John Carney’s “Can a Song Save Your Life?”

The transaction, which includes a $20 million P&A commitment, closed Sunday morning, less than 12 hours after the well-received world premiere at the Roy Thomson Hall. TWC and Lionsgate were the final bidders for U.S. rights from seller Exclusive Media with CAA and UTA co-representing U.S. rights.

The drama, starring Keira Knightley as an undiscovered singer and Mark Ruffalo as an over-the-hill producer, sparked comparisons with Irish helmer Carney’s “Once.”

“I can’t think of any buyer who wasn’t involved,” said Alex Walton, Exclusive Media’s president of international distribution. “Because of John, we thought early on that we had something special. And we wanted to be sure everyone saw it first so there would be a level playing field.”

The transaction was the second major weekend deal at Toronto, following Focus Features’ Saturday acquisition of worldwide rights to Jason Bateman’s black comedy “Bad Words,” also for $7 million. Those two deals were far in excess of last year’s top Toronto transaction of $3.5 million for “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

A24 also locked up North American rights on Saturday for Tom Hardy’s “Locke.” And Nicole Kidman-Colin Firth starrer “The Railway Man” appears to be one of the most likely films to see a deal by the time the festival ends Sunday, with TWC having made an offer.

Other Toronto films generating interest among buyers included closing-night title “Life of Crime,” starring Jennifer Aniston; Fred Schepisi’s “Words and Pictures”; Matthew Weiner’s “You Are Here”; Mike Myers doc “Supermensch”; Daniel Radcliffe starrer “Horns”; “The Double,” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska; and Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno,” a Midnight Madness entry for which a sequel is already in the works.

“It’s a good market for actor-driven titles, and we’ll see it reflected in the number of sales this year,” said UTA’s Rena Ronson. “The financing market is very healthy, and it’s led to some potentially great Academy films like ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ ‘August: Osage,’ ‘Foxcatcher’ and ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ — films that the studios are not financing.”

Ronson said funding sources are getting more sophisticated. “Five or six years ago, people just wanted to get into it,” she added. “Now they ask for more diligent modeling and pre-sales. They’re looking at the big picture a little more closely.”

Mark Damon of Foresight Unlimited, who oversaw impressive sales last year on “2 Guns,” admitted he was perplexed that activity had not ramped up further but speculated that many deals will need several more weeks to close.

“There are a lot of good films for sale, but I’ve also noticed that sales take more and more time,” he added.

Five-month-old International Film Trust saw solid interest on a pair of projects — Ethan Hawke’s “Cymbeline,” now in production with Dakota Johnson in the cast; and “Your Voice in My Head,” starring Emma Watson.

“I think summer was not easy for putting projects together so the market was not overly saturated,” said International Film Trust prexy Ariel Veneziano. “Cymbeline” sold to Japan, Australia, Russia/CIS, Eastern Europe, Turkey and Greece.

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