As the Cannes Film Festival begins its close down, with companies shuttering their offices and beginning the slow and laborious work of packing up materials for return shipment to their home ports, the question remains if this was a strong Cannes in terms of sales or just one that continues the steady but rather anemic activity of the past few years. Despite some high profile acquisitions of films in the festival proper, the main activity has been in sales of future projects and for films screening in the sidebar Cannes Film Market. Truth be told, in this cautious market, deals may take weeks or even months to come to fruition. The asking prices during the Festival are substantially lowered in the weeks to come as the top drawer buyers drop out and the smaller fish begin to nibble. It may take time to assess this Cannes, but so far all signs indicate a slight return to the robust activity and old time glamour of past events.
Big budget indie titles have been the ones grabbing the headlines, but that makes up only a small portion of the auteur films that are on display. A strong sign of the return of a stronger marketplace is the return of pre-sales activity (buyers essentially making money commitments BEFORE they see the actual films). This has been active this year, although it certainly contains a huge risk. Many films that looked good at Cannes have grossly underperformed both in the United States and overseas, leaving distributors and financiers holding the bag. Since pre-sales terms cannot be adjusted after the fact, a company’s money commitment remains firm, if the film is solid or falls apart like a fortune cookie. Among the pre-sale titles that offer the most stable promise of solid bo office returns include such projects as ENDER’S GAME (from Sierra/Affinity), SNITCH (from Exclusive Films), CLOUD ATLAS (from Focus Features International), THE BROTHERS GRIMM: SNOW WHITE (from FilmNation) and the historical epic POMPEII (from Summit Entertainment).
Another pre-sale title that generated strong interest was GREAT HOPE SPRINGS, starring Meryl Streep, which Lionsgate International brought to market. Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay about a middle-aged couple, to be played by Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, who seek out a marriage counselor, played by Steve Carell, sparked interest in plenty of territories. David Frankel (THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) is on board to direct. Among the eager buyers who made solid pre-sale commitments to the film are Alliance for the UK and Spain, Wild Bunch for Germany and Italy, and Metropolitan for France. IM Global, a major Los Angeles-based sales company, had its busiest Cannes in a long time, with nine projects available for pre-sales action. Leading the slate was SPECTRE, a supernatural thriller to be directed by James Wan and set to star Nicole Kidman. That film sold strongly to UK (Momentum), Spain (Aurum), Russia (Top Film), Australia (Icon) and Latin America (Gussi). Also of strong interest was WELCOME TO THE PUNCH to star James McAvoy and Mark Strong, which found pre-sales partners in the UK (Metro), Germany (Square One), and Australia (Pinnacle).
Only time will tell if these investments in films that have not yet even been shot was a wise one or a foolhardy one, biased by the strong sun of the French Riviera. If one or several of the films score big numbers when they are eventually released, then those who took the leap early on will be seen as being particularly savvy. If the films tank mercilessly, then these same savants would look like fools, and may not even hold on to their jobs in the bargain. Such is the hard stakes game of pre-sales, but without it, financing for producers is even riskier and fewer films would get made.