Market activity in Cannes was boosted by debut companies and the return of equity, but deals were less exuberant than in 2011. By Jeremy Kay

There were two deluges in Cannes. The torrent of scripts from new sales companies heightened the sense of anticipation heading into the market, but by the rain-soaked midway point a clearer sense of reality had set in.

The cyclical nature of the business can paint a misleading picture. Last year’s market was an exuberant affair that bubbled and raged alongside a vintage festival as cash-rich buyers swirled around four must-have $100m projects, Annapurna Pictures founder Megan Ellison pulled off a sequence of dazzling plays that impacted on the US independent landscape and newcomer Red Granite International threw an extravagant launch party.

The flamboyance was not so much in evidence this year as a more gentle ebb and flow replaced 2011’s surge. For 2012, the major sales agents reported sellouts as usual and there is no doubt that opportunity continues to flourish in an increasingly nuanced and complicated independent sector, despite the variable quality of festival and market fare on the Croisette and relatively flat US buyer activity.

‘Buyers said there is a lot out there and we have been getting them to focus’

Nick Meyer, Sierra/Affinity

Well-capitalised acquisitions executives were aggressive and these included the Japanese, who were looking lively at the pre-buy stage. Buyers could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by, and sceptical of, the embarrassment of riches resulting from the explosion of new sales companies on either side of the Atlantic.

If this is the onset of a boom and bust cycle, buyers (and sellers) should beware: not all these new sales companies and the equity that backs them will be around in two years. Some of the new entities hit the ground running, notably the experienced David Garrett’s Mister Smith, which sold out on The Mortal Instruments and 3,096 Days.

Panorama Media, the new company backed by Ellison, is said to have licensed more than $80m in sales on a maiden slate of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, and the untitled David O Russell and Spike Jonze projects. It licensed multi-territory international rights for the Jonze and Russell films to Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. “It was an exciting and successful first market for Panorama,” president of international Kimberly Fox said. “Now the summer is about staffing up and pulling together the fall slate.”

Patrick Wachsberger and Helen Lee Kim reported a roaring trade across the board on the Lionsgate line-up. “It has been a strong market for us and the team has been seamless,” Wachsberger said of the infrastructure following the merger with Summit.

Lionsgate’s powerhouse slate boasts November release The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and imminent production starts on The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, Red 2 and hot seller Dirty Dancing.

Exclusive Media enjoyed a big market with the likes of Agent: Century 21, Still Of Night and Liam Neeson thriller A Walk Among The Tombstones, the first title to go under the formalised development, production and financing alliance with Cross Creek Pictures. “Our production side is converting a lot of material and it’s crucial to the longevity of the company,” Exclusive head of international Alex Walton said.

Sierra/Affinity head Nick Meyer said: “Buyers said there’s a lot out there and we’ve been getting them to focus. The Coup was a big priority and that has got off to a great start. Emperor went really well and we’ve been working with the producers on The Hive for two years and we’ve hit the targets. Now we have to make sure we get the movies made.”

FilmNation’s Glen Basner and his team virtually sold out Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring and did robust business on Tracers, among others. Last year Basner was busy on international sales for 2012 Competition entries Lawless and Mud, FilmNation’s co-production with Everest Entertainment.

Inferno heads Bill Johnson and Jim Seibel were busy fielding offers on Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming stop-motion Pinocchio as well as Grace Of Monaco and Maggie from Pierre-Ange Le Pogam’s Stone Angels.

Mark Damon described an unprecedented response to Lone Survivor and Motor City. Lone Survivor director Peter Berg staged a 24-hour whirlwind series of meetings with buyers on the Croisette, while Gerard Butler flew in to talk up Motor City. Both are set to start shooting in September. Jere Hausfater and Nadine de Barros of Aldamisa International sold out Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, which Dimension will open in the US on October 4 2013, and Machete Kills.

Focus Features International sold out on a typically prestigious slate that included Admission, Oculus and Promised Land. Sales chief Alison Thompson hosted a dinner for around 130 key distribution personnel to celebrate the company’s tenth anniversary. “It was personally gratifying to see so many of the same people we have been working with for 10 years,” she said. “We know how to get these movies, we know how to make them for a price and we know how to sell them.”

The Weinstein Company was on prolific form and virtually sold out a slate that included Scary Movie 5, August: Osage County, The Master, Devil’s Knot and The Silver Linings Playbook, as well as most of the world on The Sapphires.

Of the newer US sales companies, Cargo Entertainment scored hits with The Angriest Man In Brooklyn and Zipper. “We did well in our first Cannes and it’s good to see equity has come back to help things get going,” sales chief Mark Lindsay said.

‘When you consider the economic climate, it’s quite astonishing we had competitive situations in every territory’

Thorsten Schumacher, HanWay

Cannes is not the time or place for US acquisitions teams to snap up completed films and 2012 was no exception, given that The Weinstein Company took Competition entries Lawless and Killing Them Softly off the shelf early, SPC acquired Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner Amour back in April and AMC Networks snapped up On The Road one week before the festival began.

But there was a trickle of deals. SPC took North American rights to Pablo Larrain’s No, Sundance Selects bought the US on Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share, Samuel Goldwyn Films took US rights to Gilles Bourdos’ Renoir, O-Scope acquired US to Matteo Garrone’s Reality and The Weinstein Company took the US and most of the world on Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires.

On the eve of the market, FilmDistrict bought US rights to Intrepid Pictures’ upcoming horror story Oculus. Once Cannes got underway, the Weinsteins acquired Code Name: Geronimo from Voltage Pictures and ARC took the US on Whole Lotta Sole from WME Global.

IM Global head Stuart Ford and sales chief Jonathan Deckter were in the thick of it, licensing US rights on Ends Of The Earth to CBS Films on the eve of the market and closing deals for Paranoia with Relativity Media and Dead Man Down with FilmDistrict. At time of writing, Open Road and the Weinsteins were circling Lee Daniels’ upcoming ensemble drama The Butler, an international sell-out through IM Global on behalf of Len Blavatnik-owned Icon Group.

Icon’s potential re-emergence as a major film player after announcing a revamped production slate may well go down as one of the market’s significant moments, alongside the launch of a $150m equity fund from UK-US financier AngelWorld Entertainment.

StudioCanal enjoyed success, including with David Heyman’s Paddington Bear project, while HanWay came to market with a slate that included The Big Shoe, Dom Hemingway, Great Expectations and Kon-Tiki [pictured]. “When you consider the economic climate, it’s quite astonishing that we had competitive situations in every territory,” MD Thorsten Schumacher said.

“There were bounce-backs from Spain and particularly from Japan. Italy was better but still has a way to go,” Schumacher said. “Video-on-demand is really breaking through and compensating for the depressed DVD market. It was noticeable last year but has broken through this year.”

eOne closed deals on Cut Bank and Inch’Allah and Tim Haslam and Hugo Grumbar of Embankment Films saw plenty of buyer interest for Mission:Blacklist. Caught In Flight had almost sold out prior to the market.

Protagonist’s slate continues to draw interest from global buyers and the company closed US deals on Sightseers with IFC Films and The Sweeney with eOne.

Among UK buyers, Momentum, Entertainment and eOne led the way, connecting with the types of projects that have served them well out of other markets. Artificial Eye found new films in Sally Potter’s untitled drama and Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond The Hills.