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Cannes Market Loaded With Star-Driven, English-Language Pics

Lionsgate's teen-friendly 'Hunger Games' sequels hit the market, plus adult-friendly actioners

In a frantic run-up to the annual film market, a cloudburst of English-language movies has swept onto the international stage.

“It’s nightmarish, amazing. This is going to be one of the busiest Cannes ever,” said Ivan Boeing of Brazilian distributor Imagem.

Martin Moszkowicz, at Germany’s Constantin, agrees that last year was robust but this year is even more so.

“There’s a huge number of projects being offered. We’ve gotten well over 200 projects over the last two or three weeks,” he said.

But he cautioned that two-thirds of projects received weren’t ready to come on to the market because they didn’t have a finished screenplay, or a director or cast fully attached.

And without these elements, there’s no guarantee they will happen.

“For the last year or two, studios have been offloading films like ‘A Walk Among the Tombstones,’ ‘American Hustle,’ ‘Solace’ and ‘The Ides of March’ to the independent world for financing — with the idea that they will give the film a domestic release,” noted Rich Klubeck at UTA Independent Group.

Even so, the new films heading into the Marche say much about the forces driving the international movie biz.

Yet those forces come with a paradox: The factors that help explain the high number of projects being pitched are the very same factors that mean they could have a hard time getting sold.

The product glut can be attributed to several things: the Hollywood studios’ caution over taking global rights, the changing international TV scene, the fierce battle to grab name stars and directors, and the slow pace of deals at Berlin. The global recession is still impacting certain territories, where buyers of TV rights are increasingly conservative and irregular cinema attendance by young audiences is cratering box office.

In addition, there’s a question of what audience to target. “The holy grail remains the teen fan base, although the success of these films is built upon wooing the older crowd,” said David Garrett at Mister Smith Entertainment.

Lionsgate is bringing the final two “Hunger Games” titles — “Mockingjay Part 1 and 2” — to the Cannes Market. Another teen-skewed saga is “Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes,” the fantasy franchise’s second installment being unveiled by Mister Smith Entertainment.

Yet many Cannes projects this year skew older, from their target demos to elements in the films, Moszkowicz said.

The glut means that buyers have plenty to choose from, and the biggest U.S. and European sales companies are all introducing major properties at Cannes.

Actioners and thrillers abound. Vin Diesel stars in Breck Eisner’s “The Last Witch Hunter,” Sean Penn plays a hunted hired killer in “The Gunman,” Jude Law a submarine captain in Focus Features’ “Black Sea,” Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman lead a bloody “Macbeth” from Studiocanal, while Katherine Heigl and Clive Owen star in action-thriller “Survivor” for Nu Image.

Robert De Niro toplines Good Universe’s underworld-set “Candy Store,” and John Travolta stars in both mobster biopic “Gotti” for IM Global and heist pic “Forger,” from the Solution Entertainment Group. Justin Timberlake stars in music-scene-set “Spinning Gold,” backed by Foresight. Keanu Reeves and Reese Witherspoon topline Exclusive Media’s “Passengers,” a starship-set love story.

Big names will be on the Croisette to talk up their projects, including Tim Burton and Christoph Waltz repping the Weinstein Co.’s “Big Eyes” and Martin Scorsese tubthumping his drama “Silence,” sold by IM Global.

And while “the international marketplace is where we are seeing nearly all of the industry’s growth,” said Andrew Kramer, at Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, really robust market growth is limited to Latin America, China and Russia.

“European markets are getting tougher. The economy is pressing. Buyers are ever more selective,” Garrett said.

The European box office falls along a north-south divide.

“Germany is really good; even the home entertainment market is healthy,” said Olivier Courson, Studiocanal chairman-CEO. “Scandinavia is holding, Russia is coming back. The U.K.’s home entertainment market has declined, but digital is growing really quickly.”

But, as Moszkowicz pointed out, “ad revenues are plunging at TV stations over much of southern Europe, forcing them to focus on name-cast movies rather than artier and local fare.”

In consequence, bigger production-distribution companies — Constantin, Studiocanal, EuropaCorp, Pathe, Gaumont — are venturing ever more into international, English-language fare.

The keys on international movies are “price point, concepts and actors, who realize that jumping into indie films is a wise investment,” said Keith Kjarval at Unified Pictures, producer of William H. Macy’s feature directorial debut, music drama “Rudderless.”

Big names obviously ease financing. Worldview Entertainment financed James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” a Cannes competition player. “With someone like James Gray, you really can attract a high caliber of cast. So the financials make a lot more sense,” said Worldview’s Christopher Woodrow.

Whether all the projects launched at Cannes will get sold is another matter.

Focus Features Intl.’s Alison Thompson said she expects this year’s market to be exceptionally busy in the wake of a less-than-robust Berlin.

Panorama’s Marc Butan agreed: “There’s a lot of capital available because it wasn’t spent in Berlin.”

Imagem’s Boeing said that the projects on offer seem to be more packaged in terms of stars and directors. And a lot are scheduled to start production end of June, early July, so must have financing in place.

“There’s no question that buyers are still short of product for the end of 2014 and have very few films for 2015,” said Patrick Wachsberger at Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. “Events like Cannes trigger an influx of energy to get packages moving.”

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