Seeing worldwide sales sell-outs on Jessica Chastain’s “355,” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Ironbark,” from FilmNation, plus Studiocanal’s “The Secret Garden,” the 2018 Cannes Film Festival market proved the second big international market in a row to buck, though only in part, longterm industry pessimism.
After glacial-paced early trading, titles sold from Cannes’ first weekend both to the U.S. and abroad at a steady, though never spectacular, rate.
But if Cannes, like February’s surprisingly buoyant Berlinale, suggested there is still life in the international independent film business, despite a tepid Sundance and dire American Film Market, it also delivered a sobering snapshot of new theatrical market realities.
Whichever way the 2018 Cannes Film Market is taken, heartening signs of continued market traction have to be placed in a context of a longer term attrition in the independent theatrical market affecting many mid-sized English-language movies and arthouse titles alike.
The bottom hasn’t fallen out of either market. But their theatrical space, in domestic and international, looks decidedly smaller. Producers and sales companies are having to adopt to this new reality. “Tough” was the most frequently-used word to describe the market at Cannes in 2018 for all but exceptionally titles; “accessibly priced” was one of its new mantras.
First, the good news. Kickstarted by “355’s” U.S. sale to Universal for upwards of $20 million – with several studios said to be circling the spy thriller after a Riviera presentation by stars Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Fan Bingbing – some competitive and sizable deals did go down in domestic.
Neon and Amazon Studios were said to be in the mix as Annapurna secured Nicole Kidman starrer “Destroyer” for its new U.S. distribution operation, paying a reported mid five-figure sum. By festival end, the number of U.S. sales deals announced at Cannes was on near par with three years ago: 43 this year to 2015’s 46.
“I believe it was a successful market for most sales companies. From a Latin American perspective, most of the biggest and most attractive titles were sold,” said Ivan Boeing, at Brazil’s Imagem.
“This Cannes market has been much stronger than the last AFM, for instance. For distributors looking for strong theatrical titles, which is our case, there have been some very strong projects and some very good ones as well,” agreed Studiocanal’s Anne Cherel.
Of the highest-profile new projects at Cannes, on buzzy animated feature “Fireheart,” Anton pre-sold all of international, with the exception of Korea, Japan, Switzerland and some smaller territories still being finalized, to “the strongest local distributors,” Anton partner Harold van Lier confirmed Tuesday.
“We will now let the filmmakers [“Ballerina” creators Laurent Zeitoun and Yann Zenou] focus on story boarding, script, music and voice cast before engaging with domestic distributors after the summer,” he added.
Studiocanal pre-sold Omar Sy starrer “The Lost Prince,” Michel Hazanavicius’ fantasy-laced father-daughter relationship dramedy, to near all the world.
A clutch of other big or high-profile new movie projects reportedly rolled out major territory deals in international: the Guillermo del Toro-produced “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” a horror-thriller from Sierra/Affinity; AGC Studios’ tentpoles “Midway” and “Missing Link”; Lakeshore comedy “The Wedding Year,” starring “Modern Family’s” Sarah Hyland; and Bloom’s “Bill & Ted” threequel, with Keanu Reaves and Alex Winter.
Yet, symptomatically, more companies than usual held back on end-of-market pre-sales announcements. So much of the business at the 2018 Cannes Film Market turned not on pre-sales of projects but sales of finished films, often highly select top festival hits, such as two titles from Wild Bunch – Nadine Labaki’s jury prize winner “Capernaum” and Gaspar Noé’s “Climax,” which took the Directors’ Fortnight’s biggest prize – and a duo from Films Boutique: Ciro Guerra’s Directors’ Fortnight opener “Birds of Passage” and Denmark-based Ali Abassi’s thriller “Border,” “destined to be a cult classic,” according to a Variety review.
“Since the selection comprised some smaller films which were off the radar for buyers, it turned out to be a dynamic sales market. The fact that these films were selected at Cannes sparked the interest of distributors,” argued Yohann Comte, co-founder of Charades which had “Leto” in competition, “Diamantino” at Critics’ Week and animated “Mirai” at Directors’ Fortnight.
Following on Berlin, “it’s the second [more active] market in a row. There’s truly been some stabilization in the independent international marketplace,” said FilmNation’s Glen Basner, though by stabilization, he said he didn’t mean the same boisterous market of five years ago – “both valuations and types of films that work are different.”
That difference played out over all over Cannes business.
Cannes Film Market accreditations were on a broad par with 2017. That said, foot traffic in the Palais des Festivals and adjoining market zones seemed thinner. “It seemed that less people showed up. But there were as many buyers as in previous years, so the ones who weren’t there were possibly the free-loaders who don’t come to do business,” Comte commented.
Even more modest movies still struck multiple territory sales. But deals secured, and accepted by sales agents, on all but very exceptional titles are now often at price points which pale before those paid just five years ago.
In such a week theatrical environment, “what you are really seeing is people curating their own product more stringently, asking: ‘Is this the best I can do for this set of buyers?'” said Jean Prewitt. IFTA president-CEO.
Basner agreed: “We’ve been doing a better job of addressing what can work in today’s environment, better at identifying what type of film and elements need to be in that film, and what valuation that film should have.”
With huge competition for contacting number of theatrical outlets, many companies will look to digital buyers such as Netflix for distribution.
Netflix struck the biggest, if hardly highest-profile, Cannes purchase, with a $30 million deal for animated robot movie “Next Gen” and swooped on North American and Latin American rights to two laureled festival favorites, both sold by The Match Factory: Alice Rohrwacher’s best screenplay winner “Happy as Lazzaro” and Lukas Dhont’s “Girl,” which scooped, among multiple plaudits, the Camera d’Or.
But in film, Netflix has sharpened its focus, largely producing mid-level films themselves and then looking for their acquisitions from big theatrical plays and well-known festival product. The streaming giant is reportedly also paying substantially less when acquiring movie titles in some territories.
So the two title sale is an eloquent statement of the weakness of the theatrical arthouse market in the Americas.
Netflix needs Cannes as a powerhouse for new talent which could go on to direct its banner series, or movies. But Cannes and the kind of films it favors may need ever more the likes of Netflix. The two seemed destined to reach, somewhere along the way, some form of entente cordiale.
FOR THE RECORD: U.S. DISTRIBUTION DEALS AT THE 2018 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
*A24 landed Gaspar Noé’s buzzed-up “Climax,” sold by Wild Bunch, which went on to top Directors’ Fortnight
*Archstone Distribution acquired US.,. U.K., and Australia/ New Zealand rights to Justin Daly’s debut “The Big Take.”
*Bleecker Street acquired Mads Mikkelsen survival thriller “Arctic.” in a deal negotiated with CAA Media Finance and UTA Independent Film Group; XYZ Films reps international.
*Breaking Glass Pictures licensed LGBT drama “Hooked,” religious story “The Revival,” and slasher fest “Rave Party Massacre.”
CBS Films closed U.S. rights on Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” a Van Gogh bio, now in post, CAA Media Finance brokering the deal, Rocket Science selling international.
*In what Deadline describes as an all-nighter auction, over Cannes first weekend, Annapurna beat out competition for U.S. rights to Karyn Kasuma’s 30West-financed crime thriller “Destroyer,” with Nicole Kidman, produced by “La La Land’s” Fred Berger. ICM and CAA represents U.S. rights, Rocket Science international.
*U.S. genre label Cranked Up took cannibis nuns doc “Breaking Habits,” from Film Constellation;
*Film Movement unveiled North American rights acquisition on Takeshi Kitano’s “Outrage Coda,” bought from Celluloid Dreams.
*Focus Features announced it had U.S., U.K. and other territory rights to Cannes opener “Everybody Knows,” following its May 8 world premiere.
*Grasshopper Film made a U-S. pick up on Ricky D’Ambrose’s debut, “Notes On An Appearance.”
*In another high-profile deal, Global Road swept up North America “The Secret Garden,” produced by David Heyman, and Studiocanal’s lead title at Cannes, which sold out in the space of five days at Cannes, no mean feat.
*Sci-fi title “Ederlezi Rising” was picked up by Grindstone Entertainment, from Arclight Pictures
*Kino Lorber took North American on Jean-Luc Godard’s well-received competition player “The Image Book,” a cinema history essay on Wild Bunch’s books, and to Paul Civeyrac’s Berlin Panorama player “A Paris Education.”
*Magnolia closed with Beta Cinema on Critics’ Week co-winner “Woman at War,” Benedikt Erlingsson’s follow-up to “Of Horses and Men,” then took Hirokazu Kor-eda’s “Shoplifters” from Wild Bunch, before it went on to win Cannes’ Palme d’Or, Magnolia’s second Palme d’Or winner in a row after 2017’s “The Square.” It also announced at Cannes the acquisition of Tribeca Festival opener “Love, Gilda,” and Norwegian disaster movie “The Quake.”
*Music Box Films’s genre label Doppelgänger Releasing took U.S. rights to Finnish back metal comedy “Heavy Trip” from LevelK.
*Netflix did not sit Cannes out entirely swooping on “Next Gen” for the biggest price paid for any film at the 2018 edition, and on of the biggest ever, and then taking North America, as well as Latin America on “Happy as Lazzaro” and “Girl.”
*NEON secured for North America one of the most talked-up titles of the whole festival, Cannes Un Certain Regard winner “Border,” based on a short story by “Let the Right One In” author John Ajvide Lindqvist.
*The Orchard won out on Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s “Birds of Passage,” reportedly beating out a bigger bid from Netflix. “The film was always conceived as a theatrical experience, and there’s really no better way to appreciate it than in the cinema,” co-directors Gallego and Guerro and producer Katrin Pors said pointedly in a statement. The Orchard also acquired Eva Vives’ “All About Nina.”
*Pantelion will release “The Inhabitant,” sold by FilmSharks Intl. and directed by Nicolas López co-scribe Guillermo Amoedo.
*Regal Theatres committed to a limited U.S. theatrical release on Fedor Bondarchuk’s “Attraction,” a big sci-fi movie.
*Saban hoovered up a quintet: “Between Worlds,” (Voltage Pictures), “Berlin, I Love You” (Highland Film Group), “Siberia” (Global Road), “Keeper” (Protagonist Pictures) and “Viking Destiny” (Film Mode Ent.).
*In one of the earliest deals unveiled at the Cannes Festival, Sony Pictures Classics announced it had secured North American and Latin American rights to Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” with CAA Media Finance brokering the deal. Wild Bunch holds international.
*Strand Releasing acquired Soho rent-boy tale “Postcards from London,” from The Bureau Sales;.
*Uncorked Ent. picked up Danish cross-cultural comedy “St. Bernard Syndicate,” sold by Level K.
*Universal scored the deal of this year’s Cannes, beating out rivals for U.S. rights to “355,” for a reported $20 million. Netflix may have paid more for “Next Gen.” But, after “355’s” presentation on the Croisette, with stars Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing and Lupita Nyong’o in attendance, this was the highest-profile deal of Cannes 2018, recalling the razzmatazz of dealmaking of yore.
*Vertical Entertainment will release supernatural thriller “The Hollow Child,” from the U.K.’s Devilworks, and Chris Mul’s paranormal thriller “Astral.”
*WellGo USA acquired iQiyi’s martial arts “Unity Of Heroes’ and fantasy action ‘Legend Of Zu’ for North America
*XYZ, following a Frontières Platform Proof of Concept pitch, XYZ Films swooped on Can Evrenol’s Turkish coming of age story “Girl With No Mouth,” Versatile taking international.
Jamie Lang contributed to this article