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Cannes: U.S., China Drives Cannes Biz

2015 Cannes a testimony to the vibrancy of the U.S. distribution market

Five years ago, the business at Cannes was powered by movies selling out worldwide, and U.S. distribution sales were something of a sideshow.

Now it’s the U.S. and China driving the business forward, with 2015 Cannes fueled by U.S. and China, both galvanized by new players. Europe remains depressed by eroding ancillary markets.

Trouble is, while the U.S. is helping to make up for the weakness in the market, its growth doesn’t cover all of Europe’s slack, said Lotus Entertainment’s Bill Johnson.

But some big late market additions, new players and one spectacular deal added brio to an far more upbeat market.

“Though there were no tentpoles, in terms of volume, this was a good hectic market, with big movies and big companies’ slates pretty well selling out,” said Ivan Boeing at Imagem.

More big projects could still come onto the market, he added.

The biggest deal in the market was the $acquisition of world rights for a reported $20 million to Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” by Focus from CAA/FilmNation. Drama is a relationship mystery thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. Universal Pictures will handle international.

“More companies look to be going with multi-territory deals with studio offers,” Boeing commented.

Regarding new players, one, Wild Bunch’s L.A-based sales co Insiders, moved waves announcing that Natalie Portman will play Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie.”

A frenetic rumor mill about U.S. domestic deals kept Cannes jumping, as did actual pacts.

The Weinstein Co. picked up Roberto Duran portrait “Hands of Stone,” with Edgar Ramirez and Robert de Niro, and Gaby Delall’s “Three Generations.”

Lionsgate bought “By Way of Helena” and literary drama “Genius”; Roadside/Lionsgate acquired “The Sea of Trees,” starring Matthew McConaughey, and Lionsgate/Roadside/Saban took Tom Hanks-starrer “Hologram for a King.”

Sony Pictures Classics landed North American rights to the James Vanderbilt-directed “The Truth,” Films Distribution’s Holocaust drama “Son of Saul” and Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Wild Bunch/Gaga-sold “Our Little Sister.”

Prices paid for the U.S. can now be weighty– a reported $6 million for each “Three Generations” and “The Truth.” Sold by CAA/WME, the Solution Entertainment Group’s Miles Teller starrer “Bleed for This” went to Open Road, which was said to have paid $4 million.

“The U.S. market is in full recovery. In the last few years, there has been one success story after another,” said CAA’s Micah Green, citing Cannes pick-up “It Follows,” as well as “Looper,” “The Imitation Game” and “Nightcrawler.”

He added: “The bullishness is undeniable. Established and new players are fighting for territory. The U.S. distribution of high-end films is a growth market and they all want a big piece of it. That’s driving up pricing, particularly for English-language films.”

Lotus Entertainment’s Jim Seibel added: “The U.S. day-and-dating and wide-release businesses are both very vibrant. There’s more money and capital on the market than there are good script and actors.”

In China, following on Huayi Bros.Media’s 18-pic pact with Robert Simmonds’ STX Ent.’s last month, Studiocanal announced that it is opening Beijing offices. And while Chinese picture deals were not grabbing headline, certainly there was plenty of corporate deal flow at Cannes.

Europe proved a pointed contrast. “Europe in particular seems very strained. Everybody is just looking for theatrical bets,” Johnson said.

As for VOD, “The industry’s hoping that Europe will eventually catch up with the U.S., but it’s certainly not there yet. France is a big concern because of its release windows, which are not at all suited to day-and-dating.”

Though a lot of key distribution decision-makers have flown back to L.A., “a great number” of additional U.S. sales will go down over the next few days, said CAA’s Green. “We’re not nearly done.”

Higher-end titles did, however, come onto the international market. Among this year’s most attractive propositions, mainstream-minded distributors cited IM Global’s “The Circle” and “Fifty Shades of Black,” Sierra/Affinity’s World War II espionage thriller “The Coldest City,” with Charlize Theron, and Voltage’s Bruce Willis action comedy. A just pre-Cannes Paramount U.S. pick-up, “Bad Moms,” Block Entertainment’s Leslie Mann comedy, sold out.

By Monday, top-top U.S. sales companies – IM Global, FilmNation, Sierra/Affinity – looked to be selling out on most or all of their major titles.

Wild Bunch/Gaumont’s “The Neon Demon,” Epic Pictures’ “Turbo Kid” and Bruno Dumont’s “Slack Bay” (MFI) sold well before or at Cannes.

While 2014 saw a flurry of sales on festival-selected titles, buyers said that the finished product this year at Cannes was not as strong in terms of commercial prospects.

At his Cannes Film Market Next Q&A, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos at least hinted at Netflix supporting local-language production. The big question for international markets remains, however, just how fast SVOD or transactional VOD can catching up with the much more evolved U.S. market.

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