The Toronto International Film Festival is where you go to win an Oscar, as each of the past five Best Picture winners have screened at the festival.
Yet over the past few years, Toronto has also morphed into one of the more robust markets for acquiring and packaging movies, a place as fertile for launching new projects as finished films.
Though not an official market, Hollywood agents and executives descending on southeast Canada Sept. 6 expect the festival’s most robust week of dealmaking yet, following a buoyant Cannes when buyers reported an extraordinary number of pre-sales projects presented at the Marche du Film.
Also read: Toronto 2012: 10 TIFF Titles to Watch
“Toronto has just become such a prolific festival,” Jessica Lacy, ICM Partners' head of international and independent film division, told TheWrap. “In the past we used other fall festivals as an international space for our films, and now it’s all about those films being in Toronto. We put all of our resources behind Toronto this year, and it seems to be the same for buyers.”
Spurring this transformation in part is the fact that there are more independent sales companies, distributors and financiers handling more product, creating bigger films, and using festivals to sell from.
A slew of international sales companies have launched during the past year, including Will Clarke’s Altitude Film Entertainment, Megan Ellison’s (Annapurna) Panorama, David Garrett and Constantin Film’s Mister Smith Entertainment, Mimi Steinbauer’s Radiant Films International, Joe Drake and Nathan Kahane’s Good Universe, and the newly launched Scott Pictures International, which will all be on hand at Toronto.
These companies join existing players such as Lionsgate-Summit, Glen Basner’s FilmNation, Kirk D’Amico’s Myriad Pictures, and Avi Lerner’s Millennium Films, and Bill Block’s QED International, which are behind an increasing number of major films and festival pictures.
At Toronto, Myriad is selling Rubba Nada’s Syrian-set festival film “Inescapabale” for example, and showing buyers footage from “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” which isn’t playing at TIFF. Summit is taking “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Impossible,” with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.
Lionsgate is handling “Dredd,” the opening night film of the Midnight Madness section. And another new sales venture, Sierra/Affinity, has a number of films on offer, including “How to Catch a Monster,” “The Way, Way Back” and “The Place Beyond The Pines.”
And international companies, such as Corsan Films, will use the festival as a sales launch for their non-festival titles, including “Third Person” from Paul Haggis.
"Toronto has been growing as a market place for the past five years," said FilmNation founder Glen Basner. "We have had great success introducing and selling new films at the script stage. In past years we had terrific success selling “Looper” and “Magic Mike” in Toronto as examples."
Also on the docket: films directed by major directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Joss Whedon, Nick Cassavetes, Ryan Gosling, as well as dozens of movies starring A-list talent.
Certainly, a change in the industry calendar has also affected Toronto's transformation. The festival fills a void in the early fall calendar, as there is no substantial market between Cannes in May and the American Film Market in November.
“Because of where Toronto falls, it has become a very important festival to premiere new films,” Myriad Pictures CEO and President Kirk D’Amico told TheWrap. “Because films usually only screen as part of the festival, and not in the market on the side like for Cannes, it also allows for everyone to focus on particular films which again are actually in the festival.”
Once upon a time, the MIFED film market in Milan in November and the London Screenings in October served as the fall film markets, with the AFM taking place in February.
But once the industry decided to kill off MIFED and the London Screenings a few years back, things began to change.
“Toronto is now almost like a pre-AFM,” Kevin Iwashina, managing partner at Preferred Content, told TheWrap. “Buyers are dealing with films in the festival, but it also becomes a place to launch new projects either publicly or in a soft way. It has made AFM much more productive.”
While Toronto has been building up over time, this year for the first time distributors say that they are choosing to show their films in Toronto rather than Sundance, because it serves as a better platform for touching base with the increasingly important international market place.
“We have found that for the first time this year, distributors want to have a premiere at Toronto as opposed to Sundance, because of the international market playing a bigger role. They don’t want the films at Sundance because there is not so much global focus,” said one buyer who did not wish to be named.
However, the focus of business remains domestic sales in Toronto for now.
“Toronto is more significant on the U.S. distribution side than for any significant worldwide pickups,” said D’ Amico.
“The acquisitions market has gotten more competitive because of the theatrical/VOD players like Magnolia, IFC and The Weinstein Company’s RADiUS, whose checkbooks seem to be growing,” he said.
One oft-cited example of how distributors are starting to reap digital rewards is “Bachelorette,” a title from the Weinstein Company’s RADiUS shingle. It hit number one on the iTunes movie chart in advance of its Sept. 7 debut.
“People are seeing return on VOD and iTunes has become a viable platform for movies, which it wasn’t a year ago,” Mark Ankner, a sales agent at WME, told TheWrap. "The industry is slowly becoming accustomed to the reality of the new marketplace," he added.
So why is Toronto in particular so good for dealmaking?
“Its spread out right and scheduled right,” David Glasser, COO of the Weinstein Company. “I’m not running from one meeting to another, don’t have one on top of the other and have time to get to screenings. It’s just really well planned.”
Several people spoke to the festival’s efficiency and the comfortable atmosphere. Plus, Toronto as a city is manageable and the venues appropriately spaced.
“I always look forward to Toronto, now even more so in the new location, where everything is so concentrated and the screening facilities so fantastic,” indie veteran Jonathan Dana told TheWrap. “What I like most about Toronto is that people are there to see films.”
Of course, this is starting to change — with sales agents bracing for more hectic schedules, a transformation not welcome by all.
Lisa Wilson, co-founder of international sales and financing company The Solution, said the growth of the market came “despite howled anguish from distributors.”
“[Sales Companies] have battled it last two to three years,” Wilson told TheWrap. “The argument is it’s the only place we have left that’s a festival we can screen movies we’ve bought and look at finished movies we’ve been tracking without having to read scripts before they go.”
And though those films without a Ryan Gosling may have a harder time now in Toronto finding a buyer as they screen up against multiple star-driven features, films catching the eyes of buyers ahead of this year’s festival cross a range of budgets and genres.
“Toronto tends to have the broadest range of films of any festival,” Peter Goldwyn, senior vice president of acquisitions at Samuel Goldwyn Films, told TheWrap. “There is something for every buyer. This year it seems to be turning into more of a market with a number of sellers using the lightbox to screen films from their slate that are not in the festival.”
“The pictures look good this year, across a broad range of budgets and genres,” said Dana. “The acquisition market has improved over the past three years, at least in so far as there is some stability in the 'floor values' of films with brand-name elements. And the digital and alternative outlets for all films have grown, with the caution that some markets have tightened for the very indie or critic-driven pictures.”
“When you look at Toronto this year, there are so many films open for distribution,” Ankner said. “There’s more star power this year than there has ever been.”