×

Toronto: Stars Align to Drive Big Indie Successes

Hollywood’s major studios are making fewer movies and focusing more and more on big-ticket tentpole franchises, giving the independent sector the clear-cut opportunity to expand.

With the 38th Toronto Film Festival opening today, stars are more and more the key currency in that expansion — with financiers and producers gambling that buyers will be ready, willing and able to close deals.

Toronto often serves as launching pad for awards season contenders, with buzz already growing for “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Fifth Estate,” “August: Osage County” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” But there are plenty of star-driven projects without distribution — a sign of confidence by sellers that there’s ample buyer interest in finished films.

Take, for example, Paul Haggis’ drama “Third Person,” starring Liam Neeson, Adrien Brody, James Franco and Olivia Wilde. The story jumps from Paris to Rome to New York as it traces the hidden connections between three very different men.

“There is so much product so something like ‘Third Person’ really helps you stand above the crowd, which is really difficult in this environment,” notes Ben Weiss of Paradigm, which is co-repping domestic rights with CAA.

Lionsgate’s Patrick Wachsberger puts it bluntly: “Stars give you an anchor. Without stars it’s very difficult to get awareness on specialty movies.”

One of the hotter titles at TIFF is Exclusive Media’s “Can a Song Save Your Life,” a music industry drama starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener in a music industry drama with recording artists Mos Def, CeeLo Green and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.

Alex Walton, Exclusive Media’s president of international sales and distribution, noted that the film is Irish director John Carney’s return to the music arena after 2006’s “Once.”

“Because of the director and script, we were able to get a very strong cast and soundtrack album,” he added.

It’s been a good summer for indies with recognizable stars — “Mud,” “The Way Way Back” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” have generated solid domestic B.O. with about $20 million each.

“More independently financed movies are doing well than in years past,” says WME Global topper Graham Taylor, who sold “Pines” at last year’s TIFF for $3.5 million. There are several new buyers, with A24, Radius and Exclusive Releasing in addition to the usual lineup of TWC, Fox Searchlight, Focus, Sony Pictures Classics, CBS Films, Lionsgate and sister company Roadside Attractions, IFC, Relativity and Millennium.

Worldview Entertainment is selling several high-profile titles — Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” which received strong Venice reviews; Atom Egoyan’s “Devil’s Knot,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth; Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno”; and “Joe,” starring Nicolas Cage.

“We were very pleased about Ti getting into Venice and Toronto with what’s really his first mainstream film,” Worldview topper Christopher Woodrow notes.

Myles Nestel, who launched sales-financing banner the Solution last year, notes that Joel Edgerton’s star power and script were key in getting “Felony” financed and into TIFF.

“Once you go past $2 million or $3 million, the casting really becomes a key dynamic,” Nestel added.

Christine Vachon of Killer Films has Daniel Radcliffe starrer “Kill Your Darlings,” which Sony Classics is distributing; and Errol Flynn biopic “The Last of Robin Hood,” starring Kevin Kline in the story of Flynn’s final years and the actor’s romance with a starlet portrayed by Dakota Fanning. Cinetic is selling U.S. rights.

“The challenge is to tell an ambitious story on a limited budget,” she said. “We shot ‘Robin Hood’ in under 30 days.”

Other key titles for sale at TIFF include Jimi Hendrix biopic “All Is By My Side,” starring Andre Benjamin; “Cymbeline,” starring Ethan Hawke and still in production; Ron Howard’s doc “Made in America,” covering Jay-Z organizing the “Budweiser Made in America” music festival; Mike Myers’ doc “Supermensch The Legend of Shep Gordon” and Matt Weiner’s “You Are Here,” starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifiankis and Amy Poehler.

“I don’t recall a year where there were so many commercial star-driven films at Toronto,” said CAA’s Micah Green. “You’re seeing the continuing phenomenon of commercial movies being financed by non-studio financiers.”

Green, co-head of CAA’s Film Finance and Sales Group, called Ron Howard’s “Rush,” premiering at TIFF and financed by Cross Creek and Exclusive Media, a great illustration of a Toronto commercial title that’s financed independently — mid-budget, wide release, star director and star cast, completely funded by independents.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Yao Chen in “Send Me to

    Cheng Cheng Films Nabs North American Rights to China's 'Send Me to the Clouds'

    New York-based distributor Cheng Cheng Films has acquired North American rights to first-time Chinese director Teng Congcong’s comedy drama “Send Me to the Clouds,” starring and produced by A-list actress Yao Chen. The company is planning a theatrical release for fall 2019. “Cheng Cheng has always championed films with strong female leads,” the firm said [...]

  • A White White Day

    Film Movement Brings ‘A White, White Day’ to the U.S. (EXCLUSIVE)

    OSLO  —  New-York based distributor Film Movement has acquired U.S. rights to critically-lauded Icelandic drama “A White, White Day,” today’s opening film at New Nordic Films in Haugesund. In a separate deal, sales agent New Europe Film Sales has closed French-speaking Canada with Funfilm and English-speaking Canada with Game Theory. Hlynur Pálmason’s sophomore pic, “A [...]

  • (from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)

    Korea Box Office: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Topples ‘Exit,’ ‘Roar to Victory’  

    Opening on Wednesday, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. Showing on some 1,311 screens nationwide, the UPI release earned $15.1 million from 2.03 million admissions over five days. That included the four-day National Liberation Day weekend. “The Battle: Roar to Victory” remained in second. The [...]

  • Tracy Morgan Netflix stand-up special

    Film News Roundup: Tracy Morgan Joins Eddie Murphy's 'Coming 2 America'

    In today’s film news roundup, Tracy Morgan and Michael Rooker book roles in major movies, and Gravitas buys “Christmas Break-In.” CASTINGS Tracy Morgan has signed on to appear in Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America” sequel as the brother of Lesley Jones’ character. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is directing the project with Murphy, Kevin [...]

  • Spider-Man Far From Home

    'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Gets Re-Release With New Scene

    Sony Pictures is re-releasing “Spider-Man: Far From Home” with a new action scene. Starting Aug. 29, a new extended cut, featuring four minutes of a never-before-seen action sequence, will be released in theaters in the United States and Canada. The film will also be available in IMAX and large formats in select locations. “Spider-Man: Far [...]

  • Matthew Modine

    Supporters Back Matthew Modine After Clumsy Joke at SAG-AFTRA Meeting

    More than 100 women, including Ellen Barkin and Allison Janney, have voiced support for Matthew Modine’s campaign for SAG-AFTRA presidency, following a joke at a SAG-AFTRA meeting that some decried as misogynist. With voting set to conclude on Aug. 28, the campaigns have featured vitriolic attacks between supporters of Modine, secretary-treasurer Jane Austin and incumbent [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content