Bankable Names Spin Gold at Cannes

In a market slower than last year’s, star power helped brand sales, with TWC the biggest U.S. buyer

Fake gunshots, a $1 million jewel heist and torrential rains generated more drama and excitement at the Cannes Film Festival than most of the movie projects that were offered in this year’s market section.

While Hollywood’s most colorful movie aficionado, Harvey Weinstein, was by far the most active U.S. buyer at the 12-day annual event, overall sales lagged behind last year’s market. And many buyers remarked on the lack of commercial product available.

In the words of one Los Angeles-based buyer’s rep, there was quantity, but not the kind of quality that would guarantee a wide U.S. theatrical release. Still, there were a number of notable transactions.

Sony Pictures bought multiple foreign territories for “Spinning Gold,” a biopic of late music mogul Neil Bogart to star Justin Timberlake, who was in Cannes to wow foreign distribs. Director Martin Scorsese’s 20-year-old pet project “Silence,” a period religious thriller to star Andrew Garfield, sold to several overseas buyers. And FilmNation was the only sales agent to sell out foreign rights on a single picture, with “Selfless,” a sci-fi thriller starring Ryan Reynolds that will be released Stateside by FilmDistrict.

Studiocanal and IM Global sold a slew of territories on Sean Penn starrer “The Gunman” and Robert Redford’s “A Walk in the Woods,” respectively.

Lionsgate picked up U.S. distribution rights to director Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties,” which will be released by the Santa Monica studio’s sister distributor Roadside Attractions.

Lionsgate said it racked up a company record of more than $250 million in sales for its nine pictures, which included “Mockingjay 1 & 2,” the third and fourth installments of its global blockbuster franchise “The Hunger Games”; “Step Up 5”; and upcoming Lionsgate and Summit titles “Draft Day,” “The Last Witch Hunter” and “A Little Chaos.”

“Our strong performance at Cannes this year is attributable in part to the international framework we’ve set in place by combining output deals around the world with self-distribution in key territories such as the U.K. and Latin America,” said Patrick Wachsberger, co-chair of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group.

Few companies come close to having the kind of output deals that Lionsgate has around the world.

By the time the market neared its end, the Weinstein Co. had scooped up several titles: “Philomena,” a drama directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench in a true story about a mother’s search for the son she was forced to give up for adoption; “Suite Francaise,” a World War II drama to star Michelle Williams; “Passengers,” a science fiction romance toplining Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon; and Reeves’ directorial debut, “Man of Tai Chi.”

Weinstein also picked up “The Young and Prodigious Spivet,” Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first English language film since “Alien Resurrection” and Todd Haynes’ “Carol.”

At a screening of his company’s footage, the ever-confident Weinstein joked to the audience that someone from the jury had to leave early so that they could “go figure out which one of my movies wins the Palme d’Or.” Weinstein Co. had “Only God Forgives” and “The Immigrant” in competition, but neither scored a prize.

As for the party scene, Lionsgate threw the most buzzed-about bash along the Croisette for its forthcoming “Hunger Games” installment “Catching Fire,” due out Nov. 22. Making the party seem particularly exclusive, guests were made to pick up tickets and lapel pins in fancy white boxes. A horde of umbrellas surrounded the entrance, where the film’s stars, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Sam Claflin and director Francis Lawrence made the rounds.

But for buyers and sellers who were not hunkered down over deals, much of the fest’s most memorable moments came from events other than the parties or the screening rooms.

Early in the fest’s run, a man was arrested for shooting blanks during Canal Plus’ outdoor interview with jury member Christoph Waltz, which sent folks scrambling for cover. Before that, thieves ripped a safe out of the wall at one Cannes hotel, making off with a million dollars worth of Chopard jewels. Several other thefts followed during the fest.

The heist occurred just a day after the gala screening of director Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” based on a group of reallife thieves who steal from celebrities. The audience focused its reserved admiration for the pic on the young cast of mostly fresh faces. That’s par for the course at Cannes, which loves well-established auteur directors and bright-young-thing new acting talent. But not so much safecrackers, no matter the experience level.

(Peter Debruge and John Hopewell contributed to this report.)

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