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Cannes Business: A ‘Seller’s Market,’ Says IM Global’s Stuart Ford

Sales companies are doing brisk business in a global market where there are plenty of international buyers with money

In the basement of the Palais de Festival, the annual market – a warren of booths selling Dolph Lundgren’s latest and a Jason Schwartzman comedy with a small army of Chinese actors – propels the commerce of the Cannes Film Festival.

Sales companies are doing brisk business in a global market where there are plenty of international buyers with money, especially for movies with name brand talent. And with the rise of numerous new distributors in the United States – STX Entertainment, Broad Green, A24, Open Road – and others, “it’s a sellers market,” said Stuart Ford, the CEO of IM Global, a leading international financier and producer.

Ford was sitting on the terrace of his sprawling corner offices in the Palais basement – also known as the Riviera building, overlooking the water – taking back to back meetings. With CAA and WME he had early that morning sold “Three Generations” to The Weinstein Company based off 10 minutes of footage shown the previous day to interested bidders. The film is a transgender drama starring Elle Fanning and Susan Sarandon.

Stuart Ford / photo by Sharon Waxman

Stuart Ford / photo by Sharon Waxman

“Weinstein is aggressively buying and so is Focus,” he said. “It’s becoming much more of a seller’s market than it was 18 months ago. It’s great for the financing community, since US deals are still the cornerstone of the industry and they drive international sales activities.”

Sierra Affinity, another leading sales company, announced its strongest sales in its history, driven by titles with stars including Charlize Theron (“The Coldest City”), Blake Lively (“All I See Is You”) and Chris Pine (“Comancheria”). Some projects already have US distributors attached, such as Focus Features on the Theron thriller, or CBS Films on the Chris Pine film, but not all of them.

“We have been strategically building our company and platform in order to capitalize on these kinds of moments,” said Nick Meyer, the CEO of Sierra Affinity, who called the festival “incredible” for his company.

Still, one of the big challenges U.S. sellers are continually facing is the rising value of the dollar, which in recent months has driven the buying power of the Euro down by nearly one-third.

This is having an especially huge impact in Russia, where the economy is severely challenged by political pressures and the collapse of oil prices. I was reliably told that the biggest box office release in Russia this year will be “Terminator Genisys,” the reboot starring never-say-die international star Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that means it may take in $35 million at the U.S. box office, where a couple of years ago that take would have been double.

That makes China an even more important market than before, with cash-rich companies eager to buy movies despite a rigid government quota system that limits the number of non-Chinese movies that can be released in theaters.

“They are making so much money off their Chinese movies that they’re willing to take the risk,” said one sales agent, speaking on background. (In China, movie distributors pay a tiny fraction in marketing compared to US norms, a couple of million per movie. Hence, profits tend to be huge.) Still, the quota system does place real restraints around the size of the market.

“Our job is to make the best version of content,” said producer Nigel Sinclair, of White Horse Pictures, who is making a Beatles documentary by Ron Howard for theatrical release and a history of the Ford Mustang, “A Faster Horse.” StudioCanal is handling sales with White Horse which, Sinclair said, “has become very much a service business,” with the challenge of digital looming over everyone.

Nonetheless, he said, “I’m extremely optimistic.”

See exclusive stories and pictorials from TheWrap Magazine: Cannes Edition:

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