After a rain-soaked start the sun came out for the second week of Cannes, mirroring how business and deal-making brightened as the festival progressed.
Sellers reported buyers were active but cautious and were taking their time to agree deals on completed movies given the challenges facing both the theatrical and streaming markets as well as the ongoing strike by the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) and the threat of action from both SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild Of America (DGA). Many Cannes attendees believed that actors and directors are likely to strike, with a slow summer ahead for new shoots.
Production start dates on packages were vague or earmarked for late 2023 or early 2024 and beyond and some companies have been looking to relocate productions outside the US to work with talent who are unaffiliated to US guilds. This may be difficult to achieve, given the intertwined nature of US and international business.
“Buyers were more careful [this year],” said Sarah Lebutsch, managing director of international sales at the UK’s Independent Entertainment, whose buzzy market titles included Frankie Goes To Hollywood biopic Relax. “Post-pandemic, people needed to replenish their slate. With inflation and the current state of the world, there is less urgency. Geminiano Pineda, at Mexico’s Cine Canibal, said: “Market Prices have generally increased considerably.” Many of the selected films start with asking prices that are too high and, depending on reviews, they are adjusted in most cases.”
“We did a tonne of business,” said Todd Olsson, president of international sales for the US’ Highland Film Group, whose slate includes Russell Crowe crime thriller
Sleeping Dogs. “We came to market with a set of films that we know are going in a certain timeframe and we wanted to make sure they can get financed.”Key deals
As of Tuesday May 30, Netflix’s $11m acquisition of North American rights to Todd Haynes’ Competition title
May December was the biggest deal to be announced, despite the talk a week earlier of the streamers’ retrenchment from film acquisitions. It is true that, along with Prime Video acquiring streaming rights to Karim Ainouz’s Firebrand , it signals a more cost-conscious and opportunistic era. Lebutsch, Independent’s director of marketing, said that it’s hard to see the streamers’ strategy at this time. “What they pick up isn’t always in line with what they tell us in meetings and what they are looking for,” said Independent’s Lebutsch. She added that period movies were a no-no when speaking to Prime Video about its pending deal to release
Firebrand is the story of the ending of the marriage between Alicia Vikander’s Catherine Parr and Jude Law’s Henry VIII. Mubi and Neon, in addition to the streaming services, have acquired North American rights for three Cannes films each. Mubi has also committed to theatrical release. (Mubi purchased multiple territories for Aki Kaurismaki’s Fallen leaves
, Felipe Galvez’ The Settlers, and Rodrigo Moreno’s The Delinquents. Neon acquired Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall, WimWenders’ Perfect Day, and Pablo Berger’s-Robot Dreams. )Elsewhere Jonathan Glazer’s The Area Of Interest
was sold to key territories by A24. Jude Law-starrer Firebrand sold out internationally, with STX International handling the UK and Sony Pictures most remaining overseas markets.There has been plenty of content on offer at the market, with buyers searching for completed films as they stockpile in the eventuality the strike will endure for several more months. The strike is expected to last until August or September. Asia Muci, UK head of international Distribution for Signature Entertainment, noted that pre-sales had been happening, but buyers were asking for contingency planning. “We pre-sold a lot.” She said that the strike had “definitely opened up a window” for sellers who aren’t reliant on US productions. She says Dogwoof agreed “more theatrical deals than we expected” at the market.Content boom
The recurring message from the execs with whom
has spoken was that the market was spectacularly overrun with packages this year, making it difficult to get the attention of the inundated buyers. The reasons for this were varied: some claimed that sellers saved their best packages for Cannes and not the European or American Film Markets. Others said that the WGA strike on May 2 meant that writers had to scramble to finish projects before Cannes.
“The market and buyers just were so overwhelmed,” said Lebutsch. The market is not over and we will all be doing more in the coming weeks as buyers to catch up on some projects. The market is not finished and we are all going to be doing more over the coming week or weeks as buyers to catch up on some projects.”“Everyone felt like there was too much product out there,” added Muci, who observed Cannes was Signature’s “busiest yet”.Among package deals announced at the market, Mister Smith Entertainment sold multiple territories on the US comedy
, set to start shooting early next year with Emma Roberts, including to Vertical for North America.
Amazon Prime Video was also reportedly set to pre-buy international rights, excluding Germany, to Liam Neeson action sequel Ice Road 2: Road To The Sky in a deal said to be worth around $17m.
Strong territories There was plenty of debate about who exactly are the younger, bankable stars who can open films, given that names like Gerrard Butler, Mel Gibson and Liam Neeson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were still headlining key sales packages. The key to attracting buyers is a well-known cast and a clear genre. “Don’t give us anything for mixed audiences, or something that is not a clear proposition,” was the feedback Muci had from buyers, with crime comedy Riff Raff,
starring Brian Cox, Jennifer Coolidge, Dustin Hoffman and Gabrielle Union a particularly popular title.
Territory-wise, UK sellers have said the appetite for commercial titles has been strongest from buyers in the UK, Germany, Spain, Eastern Europe, Russia and Latin America. According to Spanish and Latin American vendors, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, were the most active in Latin America. However, there was a feeling that after a busy Berlin period, Latin American buyers had a quieter Cannes. Muci felt the US was “active, but slightly slower in terms of being able to commit, because of a lot of uncertainty around the pay-1 window”.Asia in focus
For many sellers, China hasn’t performed as strongly as had been hoped, despite mainland buyers attending Cannes for the first time since the pandemic.
“China is working under increasingly difficult circumstances,” said Lebutsch. “China is working under increasingly difficult circumstances,” said Lebutsch. There are many rules against violence, too much gore, sex and drugs, corrupt officials, etc. They cannot be released in China, so they need to see the finished film, or at least a promo that gives them a very good idea of what the film contains, and where they can be released. They just cannot be released in China, so they either need to see the finished film, or at least a promo that gives them a very good idea to really assess what the film contains and where they can be released.”
Lebutsch also noted the challenge of China’s constantly changing quota system, that limits the number of foreign films allowed into the local market on revenue-sharing terms.
However, other Asian countries were back in business at Cannes, combining a more significant presence with hot new projects and signals of intent to ramp up production across the region.
Japan unveiled a long-awaited incentive to attract international productions to the country and Indonesia launched a $10m co-production film fund. An ambitious film network promoting cooperation between seven Asian countries, including Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, was also announced at the Cannes market.
Deals on Asian features in Official Selection such as Japan’s
and Korean titles
Cobweb,Hopeless and In Our Day were numerous and Malaysian horror Tiger Stripes scooped the top Critics’ Week prize.New projects introduced to buyers that generated buzz during the market included Ip Man 5, led by Hong Kong star Donnie Yen;
The Roundup: Punishment, the latest in a franchise that topped the box office in South Korea last year; and Japan’s The Box Man, directed by influential filmmaker Gakuryu Ishii and starring Masatoshi Nagase.“Buyers are looking for original new voices”: French sellers reflect on Cannes 2023