Before we dive in today, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for reading this column. “Going Bionic” turned two years old last Friday, May 18th, the same day my nephew Sean turned 21. So, here’s to Sean turning “of age” and to this column entering its “terrible twos.” Now let’s slide into our regularly scheduled column.
I’m sitting in my booth at the Cannes Film Market, writing this between meetings, lunch and random interruptions by filmmakers wanting to pitch their projects. As I observe the negotiations, frustrations and occasional jubilation around me, I’m realizing that for the first time since I started writing this column, things are looking up. That’s right, there is light is at the end of the tunnel. Maybe I’m just delirious with jetlag, but this year’s market is the busiest I’ve seen since 2007. Dare I say film sales are on the brink of thriving once more? Well, maybe “thriving” is not the right word, but the road to healthier sales is paved with yellowish-green lights. This market injects a shot of hope into the creative veins of all filmmakers, and “hope” is one four-letter word we all need to hear.
I should also report that I just ran into an old friend, a 40+-year film professional based in London and Tuscany who reads “Going Bionic,” and he thinks I’m often times too optimistic. That’s funny, since most people think these columns are too negative. However, my friend’s comments remind me how incredibly dark and treacherous this industry actually is. So, I guess it’s probably wise to take my optimism with a grain (or pound) of salt. Nonetheless, things are getting better. Today’s article focuses on industry trends emerging from this year’s Cannes; trends that will increase indie film values for the rest of 2012 (and hopefully) beyond.
Greater Foot Traffic Signals Greater Sales
The first thing I’ve noticed here is the “foot traffic” is far heavier than the last several years. Since the Cannes Market is exclusive to credited film professionals, an increase in foot traffic means more buyers are buying and more distributors are sending more executives to scout for product. Of course, larger crowds also means more collective money is being spent, and that signals an upswing in the market.
Fewer Sales Agent/International Distributor Booths Are Registered
When I first started attending Cannes a decade ago, the market was packed with wall-to-wall booths of sales agents. Those days are long gone, because this year I saw several aisles blocked off, because there were far fewer sales companies willing to spring for the cost of sales booths. This trend started when the global economic meltdown of 2008 arrested the world. The money-crunch forced fewer sales agents to attend markets, which resulted in the majority of them filing for bankruptcy. In fact, by most accounts, anywhere from 40%-70% of sales agents worldwide have gone under during the financial apocalypse. Thus, those of us who are still standing are starting to snag a larger piece of the film sales pie for our filmmakers. It’s simple; each player “scores” more when less players playing in the game.
Sales Agents/International Distributors Are Producing Their Own Films
And I thought I was the only one. With the margin of profit being deeply reduced since 2008, many sales agent companies/international distributors have started to develop and produce their own films. Since they know what buyers are buying, they only produce what they can get their buyers to commit pre-sales to. Although this way of filmmaking isn’t the most creative or artistically fulfilling, it is smart as hell and financially failsafe. Don’t worry, this trend won’t take opportunities away from you filmmakers, but rather it will open more doors for you. All you have to do is find an international distributor who thinks he or she can sell your proposed film idea to their buyers, and you just may find a new way to finance your film.
Buyers are Approaching Sellers
The most positive sign of recovery I’ve seen this week is that buyers are actively approaching sellers. While such an action may seem normal, the exact opposite situation has dominated the film sales world in recent years. Since 2008, a sea of sellers has been chasing a pond of buyers and those buyers have been handcuffed with a puddle of spending money. Naturally, things were beyond tight, and when something actually sold, it did so for three to 10 to even 20 times less than it would sell for prior to the world financial collapse. So, get ready filmmakers; buyers may not have deep pockets yet, but their pockets are no longer empty or shallow.
Films Are Selling For Higher Selling Prices
Another positive sign is that many sales agents/international distributors are selling their clients’ films for higher prices than the last several years. While the prices are by no means astronomical, or even “healthy” by film industry standards, they are increasing enough for everyone to notice a slight increase.
3-D Projects Are Fetching Much Higher Selling Prices
With the cost of producing a film in 3-D is coming down by the minute, it may behoove many filmmakers to make their film in 3-D. Of course, a coming-of-age drama or a comedy/romantic comedy in 3-D is a tremendous waste of time, if you are making a genre picture (thriller/action/sci-fi/etc.), then doing it in 3-D will make your film worth three to ten times more money.
Genre-Based Micro-Budget Films Are Starting To Sell Again
With many buyers having more money to spend, and more and more cable channels popping up all over the world, ultra-small genre pictures are doubling and tripling their budgets through their international sales. I’ve spoken to many producers who made $50,000-$75,000 genre feature films that made $150,000-$200,000 in sales.
Okay, everyone. That’s the wisdom (or lack thereof) that I have for you today. By the time you read this, I’ll either still be 35,000 feet up in the air somewhere in Europe or America, stuck in customs, or back home in Redondo Beach playing with my 11-month old daughters whom I’ve missed like crazy since I’ve been here in Cannes. Thank you again for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday!
I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal