When this year’s Cannes market migrated online, some worried that it might have a negative impact on the business. As it turns out, it’s a lot easier to close international pre-sales when jumping from meeting to meeting means logging into various Zoom rooms, rather than squeezing through throngs of people on the Croisette. Agents and buyers say that while nothing can compare to in-person meetings at Cannes, this week’s virtual markets were productive and offered a blueprint for pandemic-era dealmaking.
In fact, if the Cannes markets are any indication, buyers are hungry for big deals, despite the uncertainty that surrounds whether audiences are comfortable returning to theaters.
While the the country’s three largest circuits all plan to reopen all their locations in July, Warner Bros. this week pushed back for a second time the summer’s highest-profile film, Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” this time from July 31 to August 12. But in nearly the same breath, Warners, Apple, MGM, Lionsgate and Universal were in a bidding war for one of the Cannes’ hottest titles, “Emancipation,” with bidding in the $75 million earlier this week, Deadline reported. The hefty price tag of the Antoine Fuqua-directed drama starring Will Smith as a runaway slave speaks to Warner Bros.’ and its peers comfort in investing in a film that wouldn’t be ready for release until later next year.
Pre-sales on buzzy titles attracted a lot of interest from theatrical distributors: Neon and Topic Studios nabbed US rights to another hot pre-sale, Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer,” starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana; sources put the deal in the $4 million range. Production is set to start early next year. And STX Entertainment secured worldwide rights on “Run Rabbit Run,” a horror thriller that will see Elisabeth Moss re-team with her Handmaid’s Tale director Daina Reid.
The markets — one spearheaded by American sales agencies and the other run by Cannes’ official Marché du Film —represent the first major virtual markets to go live since the pandemic roiled the world. They were a major departure for the status quo of the business of international pre-sales and sales of finished films, which have historically relied on face-to-face meetings. Cannes dealmaking has historically made up the bulk of some distributors’ acquisitions in any given year, putting the pressure on the virtual markets to go off without a hitch.
Regardless of which deals come out of the markets, their execution represented an impressive organizational effort, showing how exactly the industry can adapt to unusual circumstances.
And that those takeaways will be crucial for organizers, agents, sellers, and buyers as it has become more and more clear that the pandemic will continue to impact the status quo. It’s uncertain the exact place that Toronto and AFM — two fall hotbeds of sales activity — will have in this year’s landscape, but a robust virtual component seems like a likely necessity for any event to have sustained relevance this year.
Buyers were also eager to snap up rights for the best finished films. There were bidding wars for the Australian and Japanese rights to Thomas Vinterberg’s “Another Round,” according to Nicolai Korsgaard, executive sales manager of TrustNordisk, which is handling sales of the Danish film. North American rights haven’t yet been sold, but Korsgaard said those and other remaining rights will go soon. So far deals have closed for Japan, Australia, China, Mexico, Central America and Colombia and Brazil.
In a year where normal festival status-markers are harder to come by, “Another Round” already has among the best pedigrees. It’s one of the films bearing the Cannes official selection label, and it’s one of only 50 films that will be screened at a truncated TIFF, a festival that normally screens upwards of over 300 titles. Several market attendees who saw the film remarked that Mads Mikkelsen — who stars as one in a group of high school teachers who test the idea that their lives would be improved by constantly maintaining a level of low-grade drunkenness — would have been a shoo-in for Cannes’ best actor award, if the festival handed out accolades this year.
There are still plenty of other market projects up for grabs, like Phillip Noyce’s “Peggy Jo” and Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter.” With a slower pace of business compared to Cannes in normal years, expect news of deals to continue trickling in in the coming weeks.
Eric Kohn contributed reporting.