Cannes Conundrum: Navigating the New Realities of the Independent Film Market

Halfway through Cannes, one of the pressing questions is whether the positive momentum from the European Film Market (EFM) and Sundance will continue or if those successes were anomalies following a disappointing American Film Market (AFM) late last year.

Marché du Film, a beacon of the independent film market, is experiencing an upbeat atmosphere after several years of challenges and negativity. However, seasoned industry veterans are quick to highlight that the overall market is still struggling compared to the pre-lockdown era.

As presales remain slow across the board, many financiers are now willing to gamble on securing worldwide deals later down the line. As such, an increasing number of projects are fully financed upfront without relying on presales.

A significant concern voiced since the start of Cannes is the noticeable absence of US theatrical deals. Debt-laden studios are navigating a tumultuous transition in the evolving streaming landscape, resulting in a lack of domestic deals. This void has a cascading effect on international distribution. Films without a US distributor face deteriorating values over time, making it increasingly challenging to recoup production budgets.

There are notable exceptions, including Neon and A24. However, more traditional independent distributors previously active in the US market sit on the sidelines, waiting to see if theatrical audiences return.

Despite these hurdles, there has been a rise in worldwide rights deals, particularly with streaming platforms. These deals are fostering new financing models and opportunities. However, buyers are predominantly interested in films featuring solid casts that can guarantee audiences.

Distributors seek the assurance of marketable names that audiences will recognize, leaving many mid-market and specialty producers and distributors struggling to secure these lucrative deals. This effectively sidelines a significant portion of the independent market—casting is more crucial than ever before.

As Cannes progresses, the industry will be closely watching to see if the enthusiasm from EFM and Sundance can translate into sustained sales or if Cannes will mirror the challenges seen at AFM.

Broken Windows: The Market Regroups After Losing Lucrative Output Deals

The way films are sold, bought, and distributed is in flux, primarily due to the collapse of the Pay-1 window following a film’s theatrical and home entertainment releases. The theatrical release is struggling, and home entertainment has nearly vanished.

A momentous challenge is that very few distributors have output deals with streamers or Pay-1 output deals, making it impossible to offer the substantial sums needed to finance films. Reopening the Pay-1 window to local distributors would be the most significant change that could transform the industry.

However, the situation is complicated because films can become too financially dangerous to handle, exacerbating the well-known reluctance to make large financial bets due to lower Pay-1 fees. Streamers have generally scaled back their acquisitions, preferring to focus on internally produced content.

The disappearance of the Pay-1 window in the US is a pressing concern for sales agents and buyers, made worse by streamers cutting content budgets to boost profitability rather than expand subscribers.

Independent producers and sellers hope streamers will return to licensing films from distributors in the Pay-1 window as they reduce their original productions; such a shift would create a positive ripple effect throughout the industry.

Major Content Licensing Deals in the U.S. (Updated)

Film StudioFilm SlatePay-One WindowPay-Two Window, etc.
Disney20th Century Fox /
Disney+ / Hulu /
HBO / Max
A24A24HBO / Max / CinemaxN/A
LionsgateLionsgate FilmsStarzN/A
MGMMGMMGM+Amazon / Paramount+
SonySony PicturesNetflixAll Disney Platforms
UniversalAnimated FilmsPeacock / NetflixNetflix
UniversalLive-Action FilmsPeacock / AmazonStarz
Warner Bros.Warner Bros.HBO / MaxN/A

The Booming Market for Remakes at Cannes

Amid the hundreds of original films showcased along the Croisette during Cannes’ Marché du Film, a quieter yet equally significant trend is emerging: the booming market for local-language remakes of established hits.

This year, Cannes launched a new Cannes Remakes initiative focusing on remaking European films, spotlighting France, Italy, and Spain. Also, the Spotlight on Asia session returned this year to feature intellectual property from Japan, Taiwan, and elsewhere in Asia to connect with European and US producers.

The rising trend of adaptations across various languages highlights a growing appetite for remakes. The surge in the remake business is mainly fueled by global streaming services eager to deliver original content to their diverse audiences. For these platforms, remaking a proven hit offers a shortcut in the development process, sidestepping the lengthy and risky journey of crafting original scripts.

Developing an original script can take up to five years—a timeline that short-sighted streaming platforms often cannot afford. The high risk associated with developing new content from scratch further underscores the appeal of remakes. By investing in stories that have already demonstrated success, streamers can mitigate financial risks and expedite the production pipeline, ensuring a steady flow of new content to satisfy subscriber demands.

Thrillers and crime dramas are particularly popular genres for remakes. These genres, characterized by their mechanical precision and universal appeal, require minimal adaptation to succeed across different cultures. A well-crafted thriller or crime drama, with its tight plot and engaging suspense, can captivate audiences worldwide, making it an attractive option for producers and streamers alike.

The industry is finding innovative ways to meet the ever-growing demand for fresh and engaging content by revitalizing successful narratives and adapting them to new cultural contexts. The bustling activity at the Marché du Film is a testament to this dynamic trend, heralding a new era where what once was old is indeed new again.

FilmTake Away: A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

Often, films that premiered at Sundance and failed to secure a worldwide deal resurface at Cannes, with producers hoping to sell them territory by territory. Unfortunately, by this time, they face stiff competition from a fresh slate of films debuting at Berlin and Cannes as they try to reengage buyers that passed the first time or are now offering substantially less.

In many respects, the independent film business is being rebuilt one brick at a time, with those who are adaptable most likely to survive, nay, thrive.