Bleecker Street Moves Into Spoof ‘Fackham Hall’ as Toronto Market Bows With Promising Titles for Sale Like Robert De Niro’s ‘Ezra’

In one of the first deals out of Toronto, domestic distributor Bleecker Street is in final negotiations to acquire rights to “Fackham Hall,” a British spoof of “Downton Abbey” and other costume dramas. Sales outfit The Veterans is pre-selling international territories. And as international buyers face a potential drought of Hollywood product due to strikes, the market is offering other promising presale titles. 

WME Independent is pre-selling James Madigan’s “The Beast,” with Samuel L. Jackson in negotiations to star. He’ll play a U.S. president who fights a coup in his battle-ready, bomb-proof limousine with grenades and shotguns. As he rides through a violent wasteland of chaos and unrelenting carnage, he must learn to control The Beast — and the monster inside himself — to save his life, the life of a Secret Service agent (Joel Kinnaman of “Suicide Squad” fame) and his country. Unified Pictures’ Keith Kjarval, Fifth Season, Film 44’s John Logan Pierson and Peter Berg are producing the screenplay from Umair Aleem (”Kate”). The film, packaged pre-strike, is now in pre-production.

CAA Media Finance, Range Media Partners and FilmNation Entertainment are screening Pamela Aldon’s pregnancy comedy “Babes” with Ilana Glazer. And Sierra/Affinity is repping all rights to Jason Buxton’s thriller “Sharp Corner” with Ben Foster in negotiations to star.

Like several Toronto projects, “Sharp Corner” has a SAG-AFTRA interim agreement, but uncertainty about how they’ll affect pickups is making some buyers nervous. 

“Nobody knows 100% what the fallout of signing these interim agreements is going to be,” said Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the executive board at German distrib Constantin Film. “Usually [a few days] before the market, we see more projects than there are currently, and one reason is the strike. People are waiting to see how the situation evolves. There are a lot of films sold in Cannes that haven’t been put into production.” 

A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson provided some clarity. “Any distributor, worldwide, entering into a distribution agreement with a production entity covered by the interim agreement [IA], will be bound by [its] residuals provisions, or residuals provisions in the final AMPTP CBA, depending on when distribution occurs,” they say. If a film’s “distribution happens before an AMPTP deal, the IA terms will apply. If we reach a deal with the AMPTP before distribution, those are the terms that will govern.” 

While it’s likely that any deal will be more favorable to distribs than the IA, it creates some budgeting guesswork, and the final terms could affect titles with IAs. They include Patricia Arquette’s drama “Gonzo Girl,” Ethan Hawke’s biopic “Wildcat,” Christy Hall’s drama “Daddio” and Michael Keaton’s thriller “Knox Goes Away,” plus market titles like the thriller “Coup!” and biopic “Widow Clicquot.” 

AGC Studios CEO Stuart Ford has three hot sales titles without agreements in the TIFF lineup: Richard Linklater’s thriller “Hit Man” with Glen Powell (repped by CAA/Cinetic), Anna Kendrick’s drama “Woman of the Hour” (repped by CAA) and Chris Pine’s comedy “Poolman” (CAA). Like many others, Ford said the theatrical market for independent films is “extremely challenging. Distributors are very cautious and slow to make deals. Sundance and Cannes were very light on domestic deals, [but] there is a hope that theatrical distributors are going to return to a progressive buying phase in Toronto. My sense is that all the buyers have slots they need to fill, partly because of the production shutdown.” 

TIFF’s senior director of industry and theatrical Geoff Macnaughton points to Focus Features’ $30 million worldwide buy of Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” from a market screening last year, and many more this year as a sign of a stronger need for theatrical content. “Titles planned for a platform release are getting bumped up [to wide releases] based on their cast, director or a comparable hit.” 

U.K. indie distrib Altitude’s Laura Wilson, whose biggest hit this year is the A24 thriller “Talk to Me” from Stephen Kelliher’s Bankside Films, says there aren’t many presale packages in Toronto, and it’s been difficult keeping most indies in theaters. “The longer the strikes go on, the harder it’ll be in terms of people buying product and filling their pipelines. It’s definitely a concern.” 

Cornerstone Films’ Alison Thompson, who arrives with co-prexy Mark Gooder and a private market screening of the horror film “Sting,” said that, given changes in distribution, buyers “have to find material that has a singular value proposition: Does it have value or doesn’t it?” 

And Mister Smith Enter-tainment head David Garrett, who arrives with three sales titles — Tony Goldwyn’s dramedy “Ezra” (with CAA), Lee Tamahori’s action epic “The Convert” and Weston Razooli’s adventure “Riddle of Fire” — sees darker skies ahead. “Distributors don’t have the guaranteed revenue streams they used to have from output deals with platforms like Netflix or Amazon, where they were guaranteed revenue for a slate of pictures, or it was linked to box office. [So] most areas of the business is going through an existential crisis.”  

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