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Cannes Facetime: Alison Thompson & Mark Gooder

Cornerstone Films, the London- and L.A.-based production, finance and international film sales company, was launched in Cannes last year by Alison Thompson, former head of Universal’s Focus Features Intl., and Mark Gooder, former president of acquisitions at the Weinstein Co. At Cannes this year, they are back with footage from new films and are on the hunt for strong stories.

What are the highlights of your Cannes slate?
Gooder: We have footage from two films that are in post: Paddy Considine’s second feature, “Journeyman,” which we are bringing to market for the first time, and “Denial,” starring Rachel Weisz.

Thompson: Paddy is such a talented filmmaker and he’s been looking for the right piece to do (following his directorial debut “Tyrannosaur”) that will help broaden his audience. He definitely has a director’s voice, but he’s also a guy with a real commercial eye.

How does Cornerstone stand out from the Cannes crowd?
Thompson: We are lucky because we are a young company and we don’t have a legacy. We don’t have a business model that we’ve been operating on for several years. We have a fairly lean team and this allows us to stay true to what Cornerstone is and we hope will continue to be, which is the provider of high-concept, high-quality theatrically driven films for the independent market.

Gooder: Something that sets us apart is that we’ve said more “Nos” than “Yeses” in our first 12 months, and that is counter to how traditionally somebody would do it at a sales company, which is quick, get volume.

What do leading independent distributors look for when acquiring films today?
Gooder: What doesn’t go away and which is almost an obsession for most independent buyers is cast, but at the same time strong stories are what they are looking for — compelling stories well told.

Thompson: It is slightly ironic in these times to think this way, but it is theatrically driven films that continue to drive the market as we try to figure out the value of ancillary, and it is important to be able to define precisely who your audience is for each and every movie that you bring to the market.

What are the major developments affecting the independent film market?
Gooder: It is the sheer competition for audience on other platforms that has to be the No. 1 issue for independent distributors. Maybe a lot of them are scratching their heads and saying, “maybe we should be in TV rather than purely film.” The challenge is to get the audience into the cinemas.

Thompson: One of the most immediate challenges is windowing and the impact of U.S. hold-backs and U.S. day-and-date releases. That is causing distributors to be very cautious about how and when they buy. So the U.S. component is a very important factor.

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