How the Cannes Market Lost Its Mojo

The sun has been out in force at this year’s Cannes, heating up the red carpets and parties that line the Croisette, the seaside resort’s main thoroughfare. In the hotel suites where most of the deals go down at the annual gathering of studio executives and producers, the temperature has been a lot cooler. As it reaches its midpoint, bidding wars, usually a staple of Cannes, have been virtually non-existent. After losing their shirts on splashy acquisitions that sank at the box office, it’s as if the industry made a pact to not to get burned again.

“People have been more cautious,” said Arianna Bocco, exec VP of acquisitions and productions at IFC & Sundance Selects. “There’s been a true market correction.”

This year’s Cannes has proved to be one of the starkest reminders yet that the movie business is in flux, independent films aren’t what they used to be and TV continues to grow and capture the zeitgiest. As a sign of the times, two of the biggest arrivals in Cannes are the TV series “Top of the Lake: China Girl” and “Twin Peaks.”

That’s not making the movies cheaper. Netflix and Amazon have driven prices way up, causing unrealistic demands. Both services make their money from subscriptions, not from ticket sales. They need to offer their customers a deep catalog of films and shows to screen and they’re not as worried with traditional measures of success, such as profits and losses.

That’s not the case for indie labels, who can’t afford to spend millions on a movie with dicey commercial prospects. Producers say that deals are slower to close because distributors are doing more homework and running more financial modeling before making offers.

“The business is getting harder all over the world,” said Wayne Marc Godfrey, co-founder of the Fyzz Facility, producer of “Silence” and “The Yellow Birds.” “The way you monetize products is changing, so you have to be more creative. When someone is asking you for a price, you have to consider it more carefully.”

Encouraged in part by the big paydays they’ve earned from streaming services, sales agents are asking for $5 million for the new Italian-language movie directed by Paolo Sorrentino starring Toni Servillo as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. “Youth,” Sorrentino’s last film, only made $2 million at the U.S. box office, and it was in English.

“People are very careful,” said Elizabeth Kim Schwan, president of international at Covert Media, a production and finance company. ”People want films that they feel are not only marketable, but will play with great filmmakers and casts.”

The festival was abuzz that one of the biggest packages would be a movie about the hunt for Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the mastermind of ISIS, starring Will Smith, but that project never came together in time. There’s yet to be big checks for such star-driven fare as “Book Club,” boasting the trio of Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Jane Fonda, or “Richard Says Goodbye” with Johnny Depp. A few films, such as the L.A. riots drama “Kings,” which sold to The Orchard, and Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” which sold international rights to STX, landed pacts, but they’re the exception.

“I don’t hear of any type of big deals anywhere,” said Martin Moszkowicz, CEO of Constantin Film, the makers of “Resident Evil.” “Maybe they will come, but there are no big movies so where will they come from?”

It won’t be from the competition itself. Cannes feels like a placeholder this year. Many of the most anticipated premieres flopped in their Palais screenings. The movies didn’t measure up to Sundance (where “Mudbound” and “Patti Cake$” drew raves), or even this year’s SXSW, where “Atomic Blonde” and “The Disaster Artist” were favorites.

Many of these pictures arrived with distribution in place. The few that didn’t, a group that includes the documentary “Promised Land” and Sean Baker’s coming-of-age drama “The Florida Project,” are drawing interest from distributors, but have yet to ink deals.

The festival has moved up red carpet screenings this year, as they’ve ramped up security. But that’s had the unintended effect of forcing stars (the few that are here) to navigate the klieg lights at 6:30 p.m., before it gets dark, in steamy 80-degree heat. That’s the worst indictment of this year’s Cannes — even the glamour doesn’t have the usual shine.

John Hopewell contributed to this report.

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