The red carpet at the 69th Cannes Film Festival may be the center of the film universe for 10 days starting on May 10, but the trenches of the independent film world are located away from the cameras at the Marché du Film, the marketplace where thousands of producers, distributors and sales agents gather every year to seek financing and breathe life into new projects.
Though Cannes is the granddaddy of film festivals, the movies in competition have never been huge acquisition targets for U.S. distributors. Most English-language titles in the main competition are already spoken for this year, with Sean Penn’s “The Last Face” being the only U.S. film looking for a home. At the marketplace, however, investors and distribution executives will watch nearly 1,500 finished films and works in progress in the hopes of finding projects they can buy or support financially. Here are five ways the Marché du Film will impact independent film in 2016.
1. New titles
Many films in post-production or that have recently been completed will have their first opportunity to gauge interest from potential acquirers at the marketplace. By the end of the festival, some relatively unknown projects will have inked deals with distributors, raising their profile in advance of being released or sold in additional territories.
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Projects that may be seeking partners at this year’s marketplace include Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi’s “Luxembourg,” his follow-up to the sign-language drama “The Tribe,” Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women,” which the “Beginners” director has finished with Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning, and “A United Kingdom,” a drama starring David Oyeolow. Among the bigger titles: “Escobar,” a biopic co-starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.
2. Works in progress
As competition for new titles has increased, distributors have been forced to buy films at earlier stages in the production process, said Glen Basner, CEO of production and distribution company FilmNation. A significant portion of the discussion at this year’s market will likely involve films that have not yet been produced, but that have a script, director, and cast in place, plus and small amount of footage that has been shot to give distributors an idea of what the finished product will look like.
“My expectation is there will be a lot of activity around pre-buys and promo clips,” said Paul Davidson, Senior Vice President of Film and Television at distribution company The Orchard. Recently announced projects at this stage include “Veep” creator Armando Ianucci’s “The Death of Stalin,” a graphic novel adaptation being sold by Gaumont.
3. The financing market
One of the significant changes to have taken place in independent film in recent years is how much money distributors can expect to make from DVD sales, pay TV and free TV.
“The revenues for these ancillary markets have diminished or disappeared completely,” said David Garrett, CEO of international sales agent Mister Smith. “That same buyer who once was offering $1 million now only feels safe offering $300,000 or $400,000.” As is the case every year, the size of these deals will help establish the new market value for independent films.
4. Digital disruptors
For the first time ever, streaming video companies like Netflix and Amazon will play an outsize role in the Cannes acquisitions market, using their massive purchasing power to outbid traditional distributors for popular titles.
Though these two companies are expected to disrupt the status quo with their streaming models, Amazon is simultaneously pursuing a distribution strategy that also includes traditional theatrical distribution. The company has already partnered with Lionsgate to release Woody Allen’s opening night film “Cafe Society” in theaters.
5. The global marketplace
The flood of producers, distributors and sales agents that will descend upon Cannes will give the members of the independent industry the opportunity to take the global market’s temperature in terms of demand for product. One of the issues FilmNation’s Basner said will be top of mind is what’s happening in the traditional home video marketplace in countries around the world. “Is electronic sell through picking up or is it more transaction video on demand?” he said.
More than anything, the Cannes marketplace will help set the tone for the independent film industry for the next 12 months. “Basically, the whole market is recalibrating,” said Mister Smith’s Garrett, adding that the projects with the most elements already in place have the best chance of being sold. “It’s got to be perfectly prepared and packaged so everybody think they know exactly what they’re getting.”