Cannes: US authorities fine international distributors under CODA

As the global film industry recovers from the worst of the pandemic – and sweeping U.S. consolidation throws studio and streaming strategies in turmoil – representatives from CAA, UTA and WME Independent say international distributors are more important than ever to their business.

That claim will be put to the test at this week’s Cannes Film Festival, where a chaotic domestic landscape and the absence of China and Russia could put other international distributors in a good position after a pandemic-driven streaming boom led to global deals for films like “CODA” cut these players out.

“What we do know is that people who go to market build their films without relying on the US market to present themselves,” says a senior agent diversity. “I’m not going to say it’s as bad as Russia and China, but their funding plan has really low expectations for the US.”

To that end, the films on the market are “very much in sync with what the international community has always been looking for,” says Rena Ronson, partner and co-head of independent film at UTA. “We want a healthy global marketplace and the bottom line is we need it and the industry needs it. I am glad that there are currently so many projects that can help with this.”

Jim Meenaghan, partner and co-head of independent film and head of motion pictures business affairs at UTA adds, “The international buyers are buying and they want to buy their territories. After ‘CODA’ they don’t give them up if the streamer shows up later so the pre-sale becomes real.”

With the abrupt departures of Michael DeLuca and Pam Abdy from MGM, and the confusion over how the businesses will be structured following Amazon’s $8.5 billion acquisition of the studio, it’s unlikely that MGM will be particularly active, say insiders. Similarly, WarnerMedia is in the process of outlining its post-discovery strategy, and there are still question marks surrounding the demarcation between Warner Bros. and HBO Max. While Netflix continues to grapple with the fallout from a choppy quarter that saw subscribers and the stock price have been in free fall, most agents are not holding their breath to expect much activity from the streamer.

“Maybe the market has been quieter with these big mergers over the past few months,” said Alex Walton, co-head of WME Independent. “They need to align their business plans and mandates before they go ahead and start buying.”

But agents say independents and theatrical distributors are rushing to the record – buoyed by the success of indie films like A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once – with players like Focus, Searchlight, Sony and Universal getting more involved. US distributors specializing in non-English language products such as Neon, Sony Pictures Classics, A24 and IFC Films are also expected to be active in Cannes, and art house streamer MUBI is set to face high expectations after its 2021 Croisette spending spree Criterion is expected to be a new addition to the specialty market this year.

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The domestic theatrical success of A24’s “All at once” is touted as a success story for theatrical distributors in Cannes.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

However, the loss of Russia as a buyer and continued volatility in China should change the landscape for certain types of films, such as mid-range mainstream action films. “From a sales standpoint, there is currently no bank that can back or pre-finance a Russian contract, so it affects the way films are put together and affects the risk that financiers have to take,” says Walton. “There’s no immediate expectation that that’s going to change in the next few years, so that’s having an impact [sellers].”

The executive also wonders how a film like Lionsgate’s Moonfall could now be made without the backing of China, which is increasingly cutting itself off from Hollywood blockbusters.

The co-head of CAA Media Finance, Ben Kramer, takes a more laissez-faire approach to international fluctuations. “China is down and Russia is down, [but other countries are] really support their SVOD and give theatrical distributors more backing to make more aggressive offers, and that’s happening in France and Germany. And the theater comeback is obviously a big thing in Latin America, the UK and other places. These things always rise and fall separately and budgets might get a little bit smaller and a little bit swell.”

As for the kinds of projects that come to market, Kramer sees a “pretty wide range of films that actually work” — which all boils down to pricing and the right filmmaker.

“If we look at the films that we bring with us, there’s quite a lot of variety, not just in terms of price, but also in terms of genre and approach, and it’s really about making them suitable for different audiences. There are the big films for a wide audience, but there are also things that are more specialized, with more author directors.”

CAA’s list includes the Riz Ahmed-directed adaptation of Hamlet; Katy Perry animated musical “Melody”; Michelle Pfeiffer drama “Wilde Vier O’Clock”; and Susan Sarandon and Bette Midler with The Fabulous Four. diversity As we know, a new Paul Greengrass project is also under construction.

UTA, meanwhile, is bringing forth Jodie Comer’s sci-fi thriller The End We Start From, Jennifer Hudson’s Breathe and Sarandon drama Tunnels. WME Independent’s list includes “Fingernails” by Greek auteur Christos Nikou and the romantic comedy “Maybe I Do” starring Diane Keaton, Sarandon and William H. Macy.

However, the biggest problem agencies are facing right now is talent availability. Most agencies have been working to the very last minute in front of the market to attract talent who can realistically make movie release dates.

“It’s difficult to get actors that are available between television and film,” says a senior agent. “Everybody works, and everybody works on the directing side. There are no people available.” Cannes: US authorities fine international distributors under CODA

Charles Jones

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