The red carpet is ready. The fresh rosé. And given the turmoil of the past year, the lineup looks as impressive as it gets, from author’s catnip to star Wes Anderson The French dispatch (Elisabeth Moss, Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, etc.) and the lesbian drama ready for the Paul Verhoeven scandal Benedetta, at the high-octane Hollywood show promised by Universal’s F9, which set a pandemic-era record for North America with its $ 70 million weekend debut June 25-27. Around the world, the latest entry into the Fast and furious franchise grossed $ 405 million.
Cannes, it seems, is back in the furrow. For a global film industry battered by a year of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the opening of the 74th Cannes Film Festival on July 6 cannot come soon enough.
“Cannes [and] in-person festivals are now more important than ever, ”says Jeffrey Greenstein, president of the Millennium Media Producer and Sales Group. “We need to restore that red carpet glamor. … There is an inherent value in this for our business.
Cannes has pushed back its initial dates from mid-May to July to accommodate France’s coronavirus safety guidelines, but the timing may be right. Theaters in the United States and much of Europe are reopening, and there are signs of a box office rebound, with Godzilla vs. Kong and A Quiet Place, Part II becoming the first two post-COVID films to cross the $ 100 million mark nationwide. Even the independents saw reason to celebrate. IFC’s horror comedy Werewolves inside cashed in a respectable $ 2.3 million in its first 10 days of release in North America. The feature film is sold worldwide by Mister Smith Entertainment.
If all goes well, Cannes could be the coming-out night that the film industry is hoping for.
COVID-19 has forced more changes in the film industry – from production and financing to distribution and exhibition – in 12 months than the company had seen in the previous decade. Endless debates over “windowing” – how long a cinema should have exclusive rights to show a movie before it went live – were settled within days when theaters closed and studios rotated. Universal signed an agreement with AMC in the summer of 2020 to reduce the window between theatrical release and premium VOD to between 17 and 45 days, depending on box office performance. Disney has announced day-and-date releases in the United States for some of its biggest titles on Disney +, and, of course, Warner Bros. released all of their 2021 titles with their HBO streamer Max. As theaters reopen and buyers assess films on offer at Cannes this year, the question is whether exhibitors can, like Humpty-Dumpty, put those broken windows back together.
Few people think this will happen.
“The fact that the studios have already made deals with a lot of show channels means I don’t think you can go back, to close the lid on this particular Pandora’s Box,” says David Garrett of Mister Smith Entertainment, which launches Midas man, a biopic by Brian Epstein (aka the “Fifth Beatle”) and a literary adaptation AJ Fikry’s life story to Cannes buyers this year. “That’s not a bad analogy because in the Pandora’s Box myth, the only thing left in the box was hope. I hope we have more theater left in the box. But it won’t be alike.
Arianna Bocco, president of day-and-date pioneer IFC Films, adds Arianna Bocco: “Nothing is going back to the way it was before. And we all have to accept it. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
The pandemic, argues Bocco, “just the speed[s] which was inevitable “by forcing the industry to adapt to consumer demand and to take” a more bespoke approach “to releasing films:” You can’t really have a one-size-fits-all approach to theatrical distribution anymore.
The financial damage caused by the pandemic to the theater sector is still being felt. On June 18, California-based theater chain Pacific Theaters Exhibition Corp., which operates ArcLight Cinemas, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and plans to liquidate its assets, although some theaters could be salvaged if AMC bought them out. Elsewhere, independent movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and, with new funding in place, announced on June 1 that it plans to open five new theaters.
“There’s going to be a lot of uproar and a bit of upheaval until next year, I imagine, but those who come out of it will be stronger,” Bocco said. “A lot of things are happening faster than people expected, including some of the most significant consolidations we’re seeing in the industry. But I think the theater will bounce back.
The Cannes market should give a first indication of the scale of this rebound and the form that the post-COVID recovery will take. IFC put their money where their mouth is, snatching up a trio of Cannes competition titles ahead of their world premieres at the festival: Verhoeven’s Benedetta; that of Jacques Audiard Paris, 13th arrondissement; and Bergman Island, Mia Hansen-Love’s first English film starring Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth.
This approach – buy big and buy early – has become a go-to strategy for many independent distributors looking to outsmart streamers and deep-pocketed studios for the best titles. Cooperation between global streamers and traditional distributors is possible – the Cannes opening of Leos Carax, Annette, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, is releasing via Amazon in the US while bowing in French theaters via UGC – but the financial strength of online giants, which has only increased during COVID lockdowns, has encouraged the genre of everything global – the rights agreements seen in recent film markets. Berlin’s biggest independent European film market sale in March was a jaw-dropping $ 55 million deal with Netflix for worldwide rights to the Scott Cooper-Christian Bale project The pale blue eye.
Increasingly, says Andrew Frank, vice president of sales and acquisitions at Canadian distributor Mongrel Media, sales companies are keeping the best projects out of the independent market, holding them back for the promise of leveraging a global platform. .
“We had to find creative ways to fundraise, get on board earlier with the movies, secure our rights before the streamers had a chance. [to buy up the world rights], notes Franck.
As the global film industry lands in Cannes this year, both in person and online, these creative new ways of doing business will be put to the test.
The indie war on streamers could escalate or – if platforms shift from acquisitions to more in-house production – easing. As theaters reopen, the old models of financing, selling and releasing independent films may prove to be resilient. Or they could be washed away, replaced with day and date and other hybrid forms.
After a year of turmoil and disruption, Cannes 2021 looks like a big reboot for the independent film industry.
“Distributors have been jostled, exhibitions are jostled and we do not yet know what the new normal will be,” explains Bocco. “Both studio and indie we’re going to have to redefine what success looks like… but no one should expect this ship to be righted anytime soon. “
This story first appeared in the June 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.