Pre-Cannes Screenings: Hot Tickets and Ever More Complex Deals Dominate Pre-Sales Market

Vin Diesel, Zoe Kravitz and Alexander
Credit: CAA/Mark Seliger/AP

Vin Diesel vehicle “Muscle,” Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” and the Zoe Kravitz-directed “Pussy Island” have proved early sales standouts at a contained virtual Pre-Cannes Screenings whose pre-sales market says a lot about the resilient vitality and ever greater complexity of the international film business.

Budgeted at a reported $60 million, which would make it the biggest project at the Screenings, “Muscle” moved waves when Leonine paid a reported high seven-figure pre-sale figure for Germany.

In an out-of-the-box move, Miramax announced Monday that it had secured worldwide rights to “The Holdovers,” reuniting Payne with “Sideways” star Paul Giamatti.

In earlier banner deals, reinvigorated under Michael de Luca, MGM landed global rights to “Pussy Island” and North America on Sean Penn’s “Flag Day,” the biggest film in Cannes competition.

The Anton/CAA Media Finance-sold “Greenland: Migration” was drawing a lot of heat, cited by overseas distributors as the kind of straight-arrow action thriller which most mainstream international buyers craved.

Led by Doug Liman’s “Everest,” sold by HanWay, a clutch of other major high rollers – Voltage Pictures’ Renny Harlin action thriller “Refuge,” and Dakota Johnson-Sean Penn pic “Daddio” – from Endeavor Content – hit the Pre-Cannes Screenings pre-sale market.

Yet the Pre-Cannes Screenings wrapped Friday, with meetings taken between sales agents and distributors, and the latter filing offers.

Few, if any, big hot tickets will be brought onto the market at Cannes Festival. Five days after the market’s official close, however, precious few other major sales have been announced on big Pre-Cannes Screenings titles.

That may reflect in part the tenor of titles on offer. Constantin had a list of five or six targets at the Pre-Cannes Screenings, compared with 10 or 12 in a normal Cannes Festival pre-sales market, Constantin’s Martin Mozkowicz told Variety.

“For the types of films my company looks for that cater to multiplexes rather than city theater movies, there weren’t a lot of big commercial titles, but I found the prices were quite high for these films,” says María Grazia Vairo at Italy’s Eagle Pictures.

This market was much more auteur driven,” she added, citing projects from Todd Solondz (“Love Child,” sold by Madriver Intl.), Todd Haynes (Rocket Science’s “May December”), Payne, Garth Davis (sci-fi thriller “Foe,” from CAA/FilmNation) and Rebecca Miller (romantic thriller “She Came to Me,” from Protagonist Pictures).

That very breadth of titles made the Pre-Cannes Screening catnip for distributors working at a slightly lower budgetary range such as top Spanish outfit A Contracorriente Films, which buy across a broad range of films from name auteur titles to big French comedies.

“Practically all the sales agents with whom we traditionally work had interesting titles, film with commercial appeal, important cast, tried and the tested directors and interesting budgets,” said A Contracorriente’s Adolfo Blanco, citing “adult and YA comedies, period pieces, and literary adaptions.”

“It’s as if the pandemic has given people more time to really mature projects,” Blanco added, saying he has bought three titles.

As cinemas reopen or move to full capacity around the world, “people are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel, starting to buy and absolutely engaging, booking as many meetings as they can,” said Highland Film Group’s Voros, citing as her two biggest sales propositions “Bandit,” with Josh Duhamel and Mel Gibson, and Stephan Rick-directed The Good Neighbor,” starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Luke Kleintan.

The Highland Film Group is handling more not fewer star-driven thrillers and action and horror films, said Sebastien Aussal, HFG head of marketing and communications.

Yet, to date at least, sales announcements on the Pre-Cannes Screenings hottest tickets have been few and far between.

Some sales agents could be holding back on deal news until they can announce they’ve sold out much of the world. Distributors also have much of 2022 release inventories stocked from pre-COVID-19 and recent buys.

Virtual markets also slow dealings with sales companies not fully commanding buyers’ attention, and no physical deadline to negotiations.

Above all, however, the process of actually selling a movie project looks to have become much more complex.

As projects are put out not only to international distributors but global studio streamers, the process of selling a title has become far more involved, leaving major sales agents on big titles with the daunting task this week of sorting through a myriad of often conflicting offers.

“Normally in the past, if you offered the asking price and got approval from the producer, you got the movie,” says Vairo.

No more. Now at sales companies, “everybody is trying to get the best deal and are waiting to see if they can do big multi-territory or worldwide.”

Vairo said she hoped that sales would finally be sealed by the end of this week. Some dealings could last longer.

So the Cannes Festival could frame a large irony. Most of the big U.S. and U.K. sales companies which foreseeably have made the running at the Pre-Cannes Screenings will not attend Cannes.

From this week onwards, most real new business focuses on sales companies in Europe, led by France, bringing onto the market new projects targeting the arthouse distributor clientele that will be in attendance and working at Cannes.

But the industry mood at Cannes Festival could still be energized by big sales announcements on some of the hottest titles at the Pre-Cannes Screenings. Most of the people who put such deals through, however, will either be absent or using the festival to catch up with friends and clients they haven’t seen in person in a long 18 months.