As coronavirus wreaks havoc on festival schedules, theatre closures and distribution pipelines the leading independent Hollywood and UK companies and US agencies have been laying the foundation for a free-to-access virtual market platform should Cannes not go ahead.
Exploratory talks began several weeks ago and have now coalesced around measures such as screenings of completed projects and promo reels, online talent presentations, and multi-party video conferencing to enable back-to-back negotiations.
CAA is leading the strategy and is one of the big four agencies on board, alongside UTA, Endeavor Content and ICM Partners.
Sales company participants include: 30WEST, AGC Studios, Altitude, Anton, Cornerstone Film, Film Constellation, FilmNation, Lionsgate, Mad River, Miramax, Mister Smith, Protagonist, Rocket Science, Sierra Affinity, Solstice Studios, StudioCanal, STX Entertainment, Voltage Pictures, and Wild Bunch.
“This is not an exclusive club,” one top LA-based seller told Screen. “Anyone can join. The whole idea is how can we make it simple for everyone. The idea is to keep selling films and keep buyers buying and keep the indie business alive.”
”Buyers need content that could feasibly start shooting at the end of the year,” another participant added. “There’s a strong demand for content.”
The contingency plan is still in the relatively early planning stages and it must be stressed that Cannes organisers have remained defiant about their intention to stage the event, set to run from May 12-23.
The festival said over the weekend that an official final decision on whether it will proceed or not will be taken on April 15 in consultation with the city of Cannes and the National Cinema Centre (CNC), although sources said that the decision could now come sooner.
However, given that France went into lockdown at midday on Tuesday (March 17) for a period of 15 days that could be extended, government mandates and global travel restrictions could take that decision out of the festival’s hands.
One idea currently being explored by the group of independent companies and agencies is to stage actual screenings of market sales titles in international cities – assuming government edicts about public gatherings allow – to accommodate buyers in the US, parts of Europe, and Asia.
While some US-based sales agents have already told Screen privately they do not contemplate travelling to France in May, others are exploring the idea of flying to London and conducting talks with European and Asian buyers from a more convenient time zone.
Under the virtual market plan, parties envision five or six days of business as usual, albeit remotely. “There’s a beginning and an end,” said one source close to the discussions. There has been talk of participants adopting a shared, existing platform for consistency and ease of use and scheduling 30-minute slots throughout those days, just as they would do face-to-face under normal circumstances.
Time-sensitive links to completed films and other content might be activated to buyers around the world at the same time or at convenient times in their locales. Presentations could take place in LA in front of US buyers, before a recording is beamed out to buyers in other parts of the world.
“Managing all the different time zones is going to be a challenge, but we want this to be as professional for buyers as if it were a physical market,” one sales agent noted.
Festivals and markets elsewhere have wasted little time adopting virtual set-ups. This week CPH:DOX in Denmark announced it was setting up a parallel digital version of the cancelled festival, and said plans were afoot for a digital version of the industry conference.
After SXSW cancelled, the festival said jurors would watch competition selections online and award prizes, and Miami Film Festival has adopted a similar approach after it cancelled its last few days. On Tuesday morning Series Mania in France launched its Digital Forum to replace elements of the industry-focused Series Mania Forum.