Why Cannes Film Market May Move at an Escargot’s Pace This Year

TheWrap Cannes magazine: With festival fever on the wane, interest in Cannes’ sales titles and competition films looks unexpectedly low

This story first appeared in TheWrap’s magazine’s Cannes issue.

Not even a shot of Botox under the arm will curb a certain kind of nervous sweat for buyers and sellers headed to this year’s Marché du Film. A continued pattern of caution will reign when it comes to deals at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, numerous industry insiders told TheWrap.

Festival titles have been selling at a snail’s pace since last September’s Toronto International Film Festival, despite the widely held industry line that we live in an aggressive buyers market. And while the Marché always brings a smattering of diverse international fare and typically produces an awards player or two, the impulse-buying phenomenon that one top studio executive called “festival fever” has cooled considerably.

“There are challenges in the independent marketplace that are well-documented in terms of the economic model and the pipeline of films,” said Stuart Ford, former head of IM Global, who returns to France with his new content and sales engine, AGC Studios.

“I don’t expect Cannes to signal any great deviation from the trajectory we’ve been on, but true premium projects will be more in demand … the appetite and the volume of business for smaller indies is just changing.”

One studio executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, added, “A few years ago, people were really overspending and then taking a bath when they released the films.” Another notable dealmaker who declined to be named said that interest in finished films at Cannes, even competition titles, is unusually low.

“People are so apprehensive,” said Alex Walton of Bloom, an international sales, production and financing company (“The Nice Guys,” “Suburbicon”). But Walton cautioned against sounding any death knells, thinking back to his time at Paramount’s defunct indie label, Vantage.

“I think our top movie one year made $12 million at the box office,” he said. “Compared to now? This is a heyday. The market will liven up with continued success stories, like ‘Hostiles’ making $30 million or ‘Chappaquiddick’ getting to around $12 million. Or look at ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘The Shape of Water.'” (“Lady Bird” grossed $49 million, while Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar winner hit nearly $64 million.)

Here’s what we’ll be watching for as the market unfolds on the Croisette:

1. INTERRUPTED STREAMS
It’s been two years since streaming giants Netflix and Amazon stormed the indie market at Sundance, acquiring titles by the bucket and inflating price tags by millions. The companies both launched fireworks displays to announce their arrival and drove a money train that almost immediately stalled. Both companies pivoted to original productions, which the services could own outright as library titles and use to keep their global pipelines full of content. At the Marché this year, expect both to pack light.

Netflix has already given us the first beef of Cannes by refusing to submit its films to any section of the festival. The move was in direct response to a rule change that all eligible competition films must have a theatrical run in France, a move that found festival boss Thierry Frémaux placating France’s domestic exhibition business, which was in full revolt over Netflix’s day-and-date theatrical release strategy.

But if Netflix won’t send films, it will send acquisitions reps to the festival for some window shopping. “Netflix is more likely than anyone to be prolific,” said Bloom. “They need more foreign product than anyone else.”

Amazon is in a different situation. Jeff Bezos’ studio is still “in flux” after installing former NBC chief Jen Salke to replace the disgraced Roy Price, one studio executive said. “They’re not looking to be major players–their strategy has moved to bigger films. They might be looking for awards but they’re after the next ‘Big Sick,’ not a Todd Solondz movie.”

Both “The Big Sick” and Solondz’s last film, “Weiner-Dog,” were released by Amazon Studios. “The Big Sick” earned an Academy Award nomination and $43 million domestic. “Wiener-Dog” took in less than $500,000 in limited release.

2. LE PAQUET
One pocket of the sales market sure to see movement are content packages with movie stars attached — deals where agencies will bring scripts and big names to market and raise millions in domestic and international sales to finance production.

Long before distributor Neon and content sales company 30West bought “I, Tonya” for $6 million out of Toronto, for example, the Margot Robbie-starring, Oscar-nominated film raised millions in France to get it onto the ice. (The film grossed $30 million domestically.) And last year, the stop-motion film “Bubbles,” about Michael Jackson’s beloved chimp, kicked off a heated bidding war eventually won by Netflix for what was reported to be a staggering $20 million. Action fare like Chris Evans’ “Red Sea Diving Resort” also fetched big money.

“We’re taking two behemoth projects with big names,” Ford said. Though he couldn’t disclose attachments, he targeted the budgets at around $100 million each. “There’s a certain tier of films that even a couple of years ago would have seen studio production,” he added. “It reflects the reality that studios are making fewer movies.”

3. MINI-MAJORS AND MAJOR PRIZES
One thing our insiders unanimously agreed on was the plum position of the mini-major–specialty labels at the big studios who get to flex creative muscle without having to perform big for the C-suite executives. Sony Pictures Classics, Focus Features and Disney’s soon-to-be-acquired gem Fox Searchlight are all coming with money to spend, numerous individuals familiar with their plans told TheWrap.

There are also decisive and well-financed operations like A24, The Orchard and Magnolia, which will be on the prowl for awards season entries across features and documentaries. Last year, The Orchard took Robin Campillo’s “BPM,” which won the César (France’s Oscar) though it fell short of an Oscar Best Foreign Language Film nomination. SPC took Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless,” which made the Oscar cut but didn’t win.

For the record, a previous version of this story had an incorrect purchase price for theatrical rights to “I, Tonya.”

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