Writers Strike Dampens Dealmaking in Rainy Cannes

The unseasonably cold and rainy weather in Cannes this year didn’t put a damper on business, but the writers strike loomed like a storm cloud, threatening a deluge.

There were plenty of deals, big and small, in the Cannes Marché du Film, which drew more than 13,500 participants this year, an all-time record, exceeding pre-pandemic figures. As the market drew to a close, Netflix closed an eight-figure deal for North America for May December, the Todd Haynes-directed dramedy starring Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman. The pickup, reportedly worth $11 million, is a domestic-only, non-global agreement, a setup that used to be rare but could become increasingly common as streamers tighten their focus on individual territories and local audiences. CAA Media Finance and UTA Independent Film Group are handling domestic rights for May December, with Rocket Science brokering international deals.

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Sony did a major deal for Paddington in Peru, the third film in the family franchise featuring the cuddly bear from South America, signing an agreement with StudioCanal to take North America and most of the world, excluding Russia, China and Japan. Studiocanal, which is fully financing the movie and producing with Heyday Films, will release Paddington 3 in the U.K., France, Germany, Benelux, Australia/New Zealand, and Poland. The first two Paddington movies have been a huge commercial and critical success for Studiocanal, earning more than $500 million at the global box office. The deal was a coup for Sony, which snatched the rights away from Warner Bros., who had handled domestic on the past two films.

The studio’s specialty division Sony Pictures Classics nabbed rights in North America, as well as Latin America, Scandinavia, South Korea and several other territories, for the animated feature They Shot the Piano Player from Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, the pair behind Oscar nominee Chico & Rita. The Bossa Nova-themed film, narrated by Jeff Goldblum, follows a New York music journalist who goes on a quest to uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of young Brazilian piano virtuoso Tenorio Jr. SPC is positioning the film for an awards season release.

The specialty market in the U.S. has had a tough ride of late, with few indie films breaking out domestically, the mega-success of Everything Everywhere All at Once being a notable exception. But hope springs eternal, and Neon was active in Cannes, acquiring U.S. rights to the courtroom thriller Anatomy of a Fall, written and directed by French filmmaker Justine Triet. Neon also inked a deal with Elle Driver for North American rights to Robot Dreams, the Spanish animated feature from Blancanieves director Pablo Berger, which had a special screening at the fest on May 20. Based on the Sara Varon graphic novel the film is set in 1980s New York and follows a Manhattan canine, called DOG, who, tired of being alone, decides to build himself a robot companion, named ROBOT.

Music Box Films nabbed U.S. rights to Barbara Kulcsar’s hit Swiss tragicomedy Golden Years with German sales outfit Beta Cinema, in a deal that will see Music Box release the film stateside later this year. Briarcliff Entertainment acquired the U.S. rights to Den of Thieves 2: Pantera, the sequel to the 2018 Gerard Butler action thriller, from eOne with plans to bow it theatrically in the fourth quarter of 2024.

Several big packages — among them Ric Roman Waugh’s Cliffhanger sequel with Sylvester Stallone, which Rocket Science and CAA Media Finance are selling, and Black Bear International’s new, still-untitled Guy Ritchie film starring Henry Cavill, Jake Gyllenhaal and Eiza González — generated major heat, including bidding wars in some territories, and are expected to sell out worldwide. “There were a lot of good projects this time around, solid commercial films,” noted Dirk Schweizer of Germany’s Splendid Films. “But the offering prices are still crazy high. We’ll see where the deals end up in the end.”

Just don’t mention the strike.

News that Aziz Ansari’s Good Fortune, a hot title in the Cannes market being sold by Lionsgate, has been shut down indefinitely after its shoot in L.A.’s Koreatown was disrupted by Writers Guild of America pickets, sent a chill across the Marché. Demonstrators forced a shutdown of the Keanu Reeves-Seth Rogen film May 18, and it is uncertain when the comedy will be able to resume shooting. Buyers are increasingly concerned that the projects they are bidding on could be similarly vulnerable.

More worrisome is the threat of a multi-union strike. Less than a week before the opening of the Cannes market, on May 10, the Directors Guild of America entered contract talks and SAG-AFTRA’s national board voted to recommend that members authorize a strike in advance of its own negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of studios.

News that director Pawel Pawlikowski’s The Island, set to star Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, shut down on the eve of production has the indie industry worried. The movie, backed by FilmNation, WME Independent, Vision Distribution and Wildside, was apparently unable to secure bonding, with bond companies unwilling to shoulder the risk that a potential SAG-AFTRA strike would shutter the production.

“It’s not a question of money, since we don’t pay until the film delivers,” notes one European distributor. “But if everything shuts down, eventually we’re going to run out of movies.”

A version of this story appears in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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