While the Cannes Film Festival has served up punishing 80-plus degrees weather every day so far, that heat has yet to translate to the iconic festival’s film market.
At the halfway point, Cannes 2021 has not seen the expected flurry of deals at the festival’s concurrent Marché du Film. The only significant sales have come in the form of an eye-popping $75 million from STX for the global rights to Gerard Butler’s forthcoming “Greenland” sequel, and a multimillion-dollar pact from Netflix for the low-fi horror “CURS>R” with Asa Butterfield, both from international content shop Anton.
Numerous industry players who spoke with Variety noted the sluggish sales pace on the ground, especially considering many available titles pre-screened for buyers in June at the Cannes virtual market.
Top brokers, financiers and agents in the south of France, however, insisted that the market is rebounding following the easing of pandemic restrictions and is fully active — with only six days left until Cannes-goers head home.
“All the major U.S. buyers are here for all the competition entries, and they’re active,” said Stuart Ford, CEO of the production and finance entity AGC Studio. “There have been deals. Obviously, for the international buyers, we had the virtual market, but I get the impression there’s plenty of follow-through going on here. Generally, I think that the wheels are turning, and this has been a really constructive exercise.”
While optimistic, Ford did concede this was “a slightly more sedately paced festival.”
Sources at top agencies expected several high-profile deals to close before the end of next week. There’s no shortage of pedigree product for sale, a mix of finished films and preproduction packages. Directors including Alexander Payne, Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz and Andrea Arnold are selling their wares. Movies with marquee names such as Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Sean Penn, Dakota Johnson and Ewan McGregor are up for grabs. An interesting observation from Ford noted the ongoing struggle for indie productions to obtain pricey COVID-19 insurance, which can eat as much as 20% of already lean budgets. It directly impacts mid-budget films, which will not be able to raise pre-sale financing without bankable stars.
On the international front, Asian companies have seen a limited physical presence at the Marché. While partly due to travel restrictions, buyers in territories including Japan are banning travel at the express advice from leadership or parent owners.
The larger fear in these markets, according to knowledgeable insiders, is that border closures and quarantine conditions will prevent travel for many months to come. That could adversely affect the region’s fall film festivals in Busan and Tokyo, as well as November’s American Film Market and Singapore’s ATF.
Those lucky enough to walk the Croisette think it lends a competitive advantage.
“As a buyer, you’re more special if you’re here on the ground,” said Rocket Science boss Thorsten Schumacher. “You have an edge over your competitors. When it gets really serious, you have to be there.” Schumacher has been championing the independent model in Cannes, but streamers will continue to be key players as the industry claws its way out of the pandemic.
Without studios and the SVODs, productions won’t be able to nimbly adapt to ongoing coronavirus outbreaks and ever-changing protocols.
Many territories in Asia are suffering third or fourth waves of COVID, forcing film and TV shutdowns.
Australia’s unexpected new coronavirus wave has led to dramatic precautions. Still the region seems to be booming. Thailand, a major destination for mid-size runaway shoots, has also closed its borders. Some are continuing or are expecting to go ahead (like Apple and Paramount’s “Shantaram,” for instance).
With the threat of production shortage and pipeline disruption for the indie players, the stakes may prove too high.
Patrick Frater, Manori Ravindran, and Christopher Vourlias contributed to this report.