Another year, another Cannes behind us. Cannes 2017 saw Netflix face off against the festival and female stars and directors taking centre stage for pre-sales.

Once again, it was a quiet market. There was the usual grumbling from distributors about the films, but this year’s seems to have some truth in it, with a lack of major deals announced at the market. Even now in the following weeks, we’ve yet hear many major confirmed distribution deals.

What were the hot projects and trends? Whose names keep popping up in packages? Which films can you expect to see at the festivals and award ceremonies in 2018/2019? Here’s the film distribution inside scoop.

The future’s female? Funny ladies and kick ass woman

This year’s market saw an unprecedented number of female directors and female led projects up for presale. Action and comedy featured strongly, including two Diane Keaton projects, targeted towards the grey pound audience.

For Cannes 2017, it seems like some of the industry is finally waking up to the power of female audiences and is getting ready to take a punt on female directors and female focused films.

Funny Women

Amy Schumer

 

Amy Schumer comedy I Feel Pretty was one of this year’s marquee titles. Voltage’s sales office was a revolving door of distributors making offers.

Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (Never Been Kissed, The Vow, How To Be Single) co-wrote the script about a young woman who struggles with insecurity. After a blow to the head, she suddenly believes she’s beautiful, giving her the confidence to live her life fearlessly, despite actually not looking any different.

Kohn and Silverstein will direct. STX snapped up US rights, in a deal reported to be in the range of $15M, committing to a wide release of 2000 screens, no doubt hoping to replicate their female focused box office smash Bad Moms.

Bad Moms star Mila Kunis was back with another comedy at the market; Lionsgate’s The Spy Who Dumped Me. Susanna Fogel is directing from her own script about two best friends who get swept up in an international conspiracy when one of them discovers her now ex-boyfriend was actually a spy. Think Girls meets Spy with a dash of The Man With One Red Shoe. Ghostbusters’ breakout Kate McKinnon co-stars and I can’t wait to see their comic chemistry on screen.

Diane Keaton via The Independent

Is Diane Keaton America’s answer to a British Dame? In the past five years, Dames Maggie, Judi and Helen have emerged as bankable stars for an older audience, and the market is taking a gamble on Diane Keaton being able to deliver similar box office results.

She’s headlining two comedies launched at Cannes, aimed at an older female audience. Bloom’s Book Club is a comedy about four lifelong friends in their 60s who read 50 Shades of Grey in their monthly book club and have their lives changed forever.

Bill Holderman wrote the script and will make his directorial debut. Candice Bergman and Jane Fonda are co-starring.

Documentary director Zara Hayes makes the leap to features with comedy Poms, which Sierra Affinity are producing and selling. Hayes co-wrote the script, with Shane Atkinson, inspired by the true story of a group of a women at a retirement community who form a cheerleading club to fulfill their life long dreams.

It’s a Pitch Perfect/Bring It On for the retirement set, with Diane Keaton is starring with Jacki Weaver.

Keaton can also be seen in romantic comedy Hampstead opposite Brendan Gleeson coming out later this month. Time will tell if she can rival the Dames for box office draw.

Kickass Women

Sandra Bullock via Getty Images

On Day Two of the market, IMR caused a frenzy with their launch of Sandra Bullock action Cash Truck. It’s Bullock’s first non-studio feature inspired by French film Le Convoyeur.

Bullock plays a mysterious American woman who joins a London based armoured car crew, with an agenda of her own. With Joel Silver producing, this is big budget heavy weight action that should hit cinema screens next year. Narcos director Josef Wladyka will direct.

Lakeshore were taking no prisoners with their female action project PEPPERMINT. With Taken’s Pierre Morel directing and a script from London Has Fallen’s Chad St John that sparked a bidding war between the studios and indies, this is a project to watch. Think a female John Wick with a dash of kitsch and Die Hard flavoured Christmas cheer. Lionsgate are co-producing and even without a confirmed lead, it was getting serious buzz at the market.

Lotus were hoping to launch a female led franchise of their own with Rob Cohen’s (The Fast & The Furious, xXx) passion project Razor. Based on the 90s comic book series, Razor is a revenge story about a young girl who becomes a sword wielding superhero to avenge deaths of her father and sister by taking on the mafia crime gang who killed them.

These are projects you wouldn’t have seen at the market five years ago. Films like EuropaCorp’s Lucy ($460M worldwide on a $40M budget) and The Hunger Games (total series gross $1.4B) have helped tilt us towards a sea change.

With Wonder Woman slaying at the box office, Charlize Theron starrer Atomic Blonde slated later in the summer, and more and more studio films like Tomb Raider, Captain Marvel, Black Widow and Spiderman spin off Silver and Black to be directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood in the pipeline and Netflix snapping up Misha Green’s female led feature action thriller spec script Mother to produce, there’s going to be more women in front of and behind the camera making action movies.

More please.

Female Directors

On the pre-sale front, there were more projects with female directors at Cannes 2017 than I’ve ever seen at previous markets. In addition to the above mentioned Zara Hayes, Susanna Fogel and Abby Kohn, there were some were familiar faces and new names, with projects out for pre-sale

Overwhelmingly, most had a hand writing the scripts, giving them essential leverage to make the push to the director’s chair.

Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights:

Radioactive – Marjane Satrapi

One of StudioCanal’s big titles, Working Title are co-producing this biopic of the life and loves of the Nobel Prize winning scientist Marie Curie, with Rosamund Pike starring as the lead. Based on Lauren Redniss National Book Award Finalist and graphic novel; Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, this is a prestige package sure to make a splash in the cinema.

Out of Blue – Carole Morley

Independent continue their relationship with Carole Morley, launching her latest project, Out of Blue, which she adapted from Martin Amis’ novel Night Train. Patricia Clarkson, Toby Jones, Mamie Gummer and Teyonah Parris will star. Developed by the BFI and BBC Films, Luc Roeg and Cairo Cannon are producing.

Summerland – Jessica Swale

Gemma Arteton

 

Olivier Award winning British playwright Jessica Swale makes her feature debut as a writer/director with Summerland. Gemma Arteton, who won raves for her performance in Swale’s play Nell Gwynn heads the cast.

Set in World War II, Arterton plays Alice, a prickly woman, landed with an evacuee boy. She resolves to be rid of him, but as the young boy opens her heart, allowing her to unlock the secrets of her past, Alice undergoes an intensely emotional journey of womanhood, love and friendship.

This could be something very special. It’s a moving script and Alice is a character we don’t get to see on screen. One to watch.

Bergman Island – Mia Hansen-Løve

Hansen-Løve is currently in pre-production for her next film Maya, and her follow up feature was announced at Cannes.

Bergman Island will be her English language debut. Hansen-Løve wrote the script about an American filmmaking couple who retreat to the island for the summer to each write screenplays for their upcoming films in an act of pilgrimage to the place that inspired Bergman.

Greta Gerwig, Mia Wasikowska and John Turturro will star and Charles Gillibert is producing.

Paramour – Alexandra-Therese Keining

Kristin Scott Thomas

 

Alexandra-Therese Keining will direct Kristin Scott-Thomas in this seductive thriller based on real life events.

“Inspired by the true story of the BMW heiress Susanne Klatten, a powerful woman who chooses to lead a reclusive existence away from the limelight. When the mysterious and seductive Helg Sgarbi enters her life, they embark upon a passionate, illicit affair.”

Protagonist Pictures are selling, with Meredith Vieira Productions and Joe Neurater producing.

Untitled Reed Morano Project – Reed Morano

Formerly called First Chair, the fabulous Reed Morano will be following up sci-fi I Think We’re Alone Now, with Bankside’s moving drama starring Jeff Bridges and Diane Lane.

“A self-obsessed virtuoso violinist is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, he is forced to move back in with his estranged wife as he begins treatment. As they attempt to learn how to live with each other again, he experiences a profound change in his behaviour which compels him to learn to connect with the music and the people that surround him in astonishing and unexpected ways.”

Been So Long – Tinge Krishnan

Been So Long with Michaela Coel and Arinzé Kene

Pitched as Camden La La Land, Been So Long started life on stage at London’s Old Vic. Tinge Krishnan is helming the film version, with Chewing Gum’s Michaela Coel starring.

Backed by the BFI and Film4, it’s a modern day love story, with Coel as a single mum who meets a charming but troubled stranger on a night with her best mate. The script’s fabulous with cracking characterisation and dialogue that sings, even without the songs. Nadine Marsh-Edwards and Amanda Jenks produce for Greenacre and Film Constellation are selling.

Close – Vicky Jewson

Vicky Jewson follows up Born of War with action thriller Close, starring Noomi Rapace about a top female bodyguard who gets swept into a conspiracy trying to protect a VIP teenage heiress client from a kidnapping. Jewson directs from her own script, with West End selling.

Saving Mum – Eloise Lang

West End were also selling French language comedy Saving Mum written and directed by Eloise Lang, adapted from the Danish comedy smash All Inclusive.

Rose (Camille Cottin) is a train-wreck: wild, single, and no stranger to dancing all night (and day) at the club. Her sister Alice (Camille Chamoux) couldn’t be more different: a helicopter parent with her life on rails who prides herself in having control over every single aspect of her life. They don’t agree on much, except on one thing: they urgently need to cheer up their mother, Francoise (Miou-Miou), who has just been left by their father for a much younger woman.

Pathe are co-producing with Estelle Productions.

Nicole Kidman in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled

 

In other female director news, Sofia Coppola won Best Director for The Beguiled, becoming the second woman to do so. Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here shared Best Screenplay honours with The Killing of a Sacred Deer and netted Joaquin Phoenix Best Actor.

Jane Campion’s second season of Top of The Lake: China Girl was rated by critics as one of the most compelling watches of the festival.

Honourable mentions to the completed The Boy Next Door directed by Sophie Brooks sold by Altitude, Rungano Nyoni’s bold I Am Not A Witch which screened in Director’s Fortnight repped by Kinology, Bac Films’ Ava by Lea Mysius and Let The Corpses Tan directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani.

The above is certainly progress, but female directors tend to get stuck in the ghetto. Comedy, romance, drama, stories focused on female characters, which can run into difficulties securing pre-sales essential for finance. Female driven stories are still not seen as commercial for certain territories. Drama is far less commercial than action.

We’re a long way off seeing equal numbers of male and female directors across all genres, regardless of the gender of the lead, or the perceived audience profile.

Serial Killers

This year’s micro Cannes trend was to die for, with three serial killer projects on the market.

Zac Efron

Zac Efron’s gunning for serious actor cred playing Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. The project tells the story of the notorious Bundy through the eyes of his girlfriend Liz. It’s a heavyweight project with Joe Berlinger directing, Michael Costigan producing and Voltage handling international sales.

Lars von Triers is looking to unnerve audiences with the brutal The House That Jack Built. Currently in post, with Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman and Riley Keough starring, the film follows Jack over 12 years and the murders that drive him. IFC locked down US rights from Trust Nordisk, with a 2018 release on the cards.

Altitude were selling Tribeca title My Friend Dahmer from writer-director Marc Meyers. It’s based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Derf Backderf, who was a childhood classmate of Jeffrey Dahmer and looks into Dahmer in his teenage years. Film Rise have US rights, with Altitude taking UK, as well as international sales.

Familiar Faces – Which actors have packaging and pre-sales power?

Rosamund Pike

Rosamund Pike was omnipresent at Cannes. In addition to Radioactive, she’s also headlining Bloom’s A Private War about renowned war correspondent Marie Colvin.

It sits somewhere between thrillers like Zero Dark Thirty and Sicario and a more traditional biopic. Colvin was a brilliant live wire of a woman and an amazing role for Pike to sink her teeth into. Charlize Theron is one of the producers, with documentary director Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land) making his feature debut.

Pike was also in Bloom’s action thriller Three Seconds about a reformed criminal working undercover for the FBI to infiltrate the Polish mob. When a drug deal goes wrong, he’s forced to go to back to prison to maintain his cover, protect his family and find a way out.

With three projects in post; including last year’s buzzy Western Hostiles, action thriller High Wire Act opposite Jon Hamm and Participant/Working Title/Lionsgate politically charged thriller Entebbe, Rosamund Pike is going to be on plenty of cinema screens in 2018.

She’s undoubtedly talented as an actress, but the next year will be a crucial test in her viability as a movie star.

Johnny Depp

With his financial woes hitting the headlines, Johnny Depp was top lining two projects at Cannes.

IM Global were selling dramedy Richard Says Goodbye about a college professor given six months to live. IMR had biopic King of the Jungle about the almost too crazy to be true life story  of anti virus software mogul John McAfee’s life in Belize.

Good Universe’s Biggie-Tupac crime thriller LAbyrinth is in post, with Depp playing disgraced LAPD detective Russell Poole opposite Forest Whittaker’s Jack Johnson, a journalist determined to uncover the truth about the rap stars’ murders.

There are no doubt more to come, as he steps into the independent world looking for cheques to cash outside the studio system.

But is Depp he worth the price tag? Outside of Disney franchises, the numbers don’t look good.

Black Mass underperformed taking just under $100M worldwide on a $53M budget, not accounting for P&A. Mordecai flopped taking $47M globally on a $60M budget and The Lone Ranger was a disaster.

That’s without mentioning the domestic violence.

Chatting to distributors, there were conversations that without careful management, there’s potential for Depp to slide into the B movie action space, banking a couple of million dollars for a couple of days work to keep afloat.

His first three independent projects have potential to be good films, but it’s a case of whether they perform and if he can maintain the quality as financial pressures increase.

Auteur Watch

Cannes had its share of intriguing auteur packages to track. With Carol Morley, Hansen-Løve, Reed Morano and Marjane Satrapi mentioned above, what are the other projects to keep tabs on into 2018?

Gloria

Julianne Moore

 

Sebastián Lelio confirmed he’s one of the great directors of our time with his Berlinale winning Una Mujer Fantástica. At Cannes, FilmNation announced he’s making an English language version of Gloria, with Julianne Moore stepping into Paulina García’s shoes as the eponymous Gloria.

The script’s almost a direct translation from the original, but with the action transplanted to LA and none of the bittersweet edges are softened for American audiences. Moore will be fantastic and it’s my pick to become a sleeper box office success.

Bubbles

With stop motion animation from the same team and producers as Anomalisa, a brilliantly bizarre Black List script about Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, Bubbles won most original project at the market for me.

It tells the story of the ape’s life in the kingdom of the King of Pop, with Bubbles talking in pseudo Shakespearean speech. The wonderful Taika Watiti is directing. Rocket Science handled international sales, and Netflix swooped down to take global rights for an estimated eight figures.

Loro

Paolo Sorrentino is flying high, fresh off the success of The Young Pope. His new feature project Loro, based on the life of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has more than a dash of The Great Beauty about it in its world and themes.

Focus took Italian rights, which will be distributed through Universal Pictures’s local outpost. Pathé are co-producing and selling. In the time of Trump, this looks at greed, corruption, sex and power, is sure to resonate with audiences worldwide.

The Sister Brothers

IMR launched sales for Cannes favourite Jacques Audiard’s The Sister Brothers. Set in Oregon in 1851, based on Patrick DeWitt’s novel about the infamous brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, who are hired to kill a prospector who has stolen from their boss.

Part Western, part odd couple black comedy, it was a delight to read and has an outstanding ensemble cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed.

Reilly originally optioned the book and is producing with Michael De Luca, Rosa Attrab and Alison Dickey, and Annapurna co-financing, with Megan Ellison on board as an EP.

Digital Disruption: the new normal?

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle with the digital giants disruption. Film distribution will never go back to what it was, but traditional distributors are learning to navigate these new waters and partner with Netflix and Amazon on distribution deals.

Even though Cannes 2017 was clouded by headlines with Netflix facing off against the festival on eligibility for Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories, given their lack of a French theatrical release, distributors know which way the wind is blowing.

Sales agents are now selling wrap around rights in territories – the remaining rights for theatrical, TVOD, physical rights etc, left on the table after a film takes a Netflix or Amazon deal.

Amazon tends to be the preferred partner of the two. At their industry presentation at Cannes, they stressed how much the Amazon team love cinema and see the cinema experience as central to that. They’re working working to incentize theatrical releases for their films and pick ups, with their SVOD rate card tied to box office performance.

The bigger the splash at the cinema, the more a film will get for SVOD, pushing distributors to take a punt on riskier projects for theatrical release. With Amazon launching two new projects per market and successful awards runs for Manchester By The Sea and a Sundance win for The Big Sick, they’re positioning themselves as strong partners for traditional distributors.

Sales agents are increasingly savvy at piecing together the patchwork of deals from both the digital world and traditional theatrical distribution. Robert Patterson Cannes title Good Time is a example of the coming new normal. Netflix picked up the title at AFM, with a clause allowing for theatrical releases in territories where distributors wanted to take a punt on the title.

Screen Daily has a break down of the deals, which include a US deal with A24 who work exclusively with Amazon Prime for their slate, traditional distributional deals and hybrid wrap around deals in Netflix territories.

Here’s where a smart sales agent is worth their weight in gold to maximise the revenue for a film.

Filmmakers increasingly need to weigh up what a traditional theatrical release means to them and their film. What is cinema is and how we watch films has fundamentally shifted.

Agree, disagree, questions, thoughts? Hit me up in the comments.

Header Photo: The official Cannes 2017 poster.

Additional reading

It’s not just features which have been impacted by the brave new digital world. Netflix has been game changing for documentaries. Screen Daily has an excellent article highlighting the acquisitions deals and trade off for documentary makers. Push a button and reach 190 countries on Netflix for the biggest payout versus visibility and exposure for the theatrical and festival route?

Vox have a great breakdown on the Cannes Netflix controversy and cinema culture.

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