Lady Bird catches the biggest worm as TIFF wraps up with frenetic deal-making
Greta Gerwig-directed film among $50-million US spent on deals over the course of this year's Toronto International Film Festival
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Beyond the crowds and celebrity sightings, TIFF is about deal making, and if there is a prize catch this year for independent distributors looking to buy films, it’s Lady Bird.
The coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan, from actor turned first-time director Greta Gerwig, was a prime target of many; the film is riding a wave of rave reviews and Gerwig is an indie darling on the verge of being a huge star. And now the winners are known: Lady Bird will be distributed by Toronto-based Elevation Pictures in Canada; A24 gets the U.S. rights; and Focus Features secured the rights earlier in the week to the film outside of North America. The much-buzzed-about movie is now slated to come out Nov. 11.
“A lot of people were interested in Lady Bird, and we are very excited to be working with A24 and the filmmaking team on the release of the movie,” said Adrian Love, senior vice-president of acquisitions and marketing of Elevations, which had the rights to what’s seen as a strong slate of films in this year’s festival even before the Lady Bird deal.
Movies from independent producers arrive at TIFF every year seeking distribution and, preferably, theatrical release around the world, and this year was no exception. A number of sales were struck; industry site Thewrap.com reported that over $50 million (all figures US) has been spent cumulatively, but no single deal surpassed $5 million.
“There’s been a lot that’s been available, and it’s pretty much in line in past years,” says Andrew Frank, vice-president of acquisitions at Toronto-based Mongrel Media, which this year brought buzzy films to TIFF including opening-night gala selection Borg/McEnroe and Call Me By Your Name, starring Armie Hammer. “I’d say overall, really the activity has been on the quieter side, than usual, certainly compared to Sundance, which was crazy with Amazon and Netflix buying everything up. One of the things that have been surprising is that so far, there’s been no activity from Amazon on the acquisition side.”
The growth of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video has created a new venue for many films, but also affected the movie-rental business, whether on DVDs and online.
“In general, distributors need to be more conscious than ever of both what the critical and audience reaction will be to a film,” said Love. “People are being more deliberate in their decisions, and are putting in a lot more diligence (toward) being a well-reviewed, well-made film because cheating an audience is becoming harder and harder to do.”
Netflix has made one move notable to many Canadians — subscribers abroad can look forward to watching Long Time Running, the Tragically Hip concert documentary that premiered at the festival. It’s coming to that service outside of Canada on Nov. 26, though the terms of the deal, first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, are not available.
Netflix also picked up the Jim Carrey documentary about his relationship with Andy Kaufman, which has a mouthful of a title: Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond — the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton. The streaming service also snapped up Kodachrome, the Ed Harris and Jason Sudeikis road-trip movie, for $4 million.
Just as films can make a splash at TIFF, so can companies, and two in particular have drawn a lot of attention this year. The first is Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, which bought Chappaquiddick, a film based on the 1969 scandal surrounding Ted Kennedy, for $4 million, while also committing $16 million to marketing the film. That same company has also spent a reporter $4 million for the rights to Replicas, a science-fiction thriller starring Keanu Reeves, which only held a private screening at the festival for buyers.
The other is also 30 West, a new venture by former executives of the powerhouse CAA talent agency. The company launched last April has been very active, securing the Morgan Spurlock-directed Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken; Beast, a buzzy psychological thriller; and — along with indie distributor Neon — the rights to I, Tonya, the Tonya Harding biopic starring Margot Robbie.
Other notable TIFF deals:
Louis C.K.’s Woody Allen-inspired film, I Love You, Daddy was picked up by the The Orchard for $5 million.
A24, the company that produced last year’s Oscar winner for best picture Moonlight and this year’s much-praised TIFF drama The Florida Project, is also a distribution company, and that arm of the business picked up 1% and Hot Summer Nights in partnership with DirectTV.
KimStim and Icarus Films reportedly acquired the U.S. rights to Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, an Indonesian film by Mouly Surya.
IFC Films has picked up the distribution rights to The Cured, a film starring Ellen Page which looks at people picking up the pieces in the aftermath of a zombie outbreak.
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