Inside the surge of U.S. buying activity at TIFF12


During the Toronto International Film Festival, Playback featured a series of Q&As with festival programmers and insiders on trends in the films they program and the buzz they were hearing from distributors.

Following the festival, which wrapped Sunday, Justin Cutler, TIFF senior manager of sales and industry office, here shares the feedback he heard from buyers, looks at acquisition activity, and identifies some trends he saw in industry activity.

What did you hear from buyers who attended the festival?

Much to my excitement, the palpable pre-Fest buzz for this year’s film program carried through to the end of the festival.  Buyers from all territories actively sought out and purchased films – more so than in the past.  In fact, reported sales to the U.S. increased by 30%.

Buyers took a cautioned approach to purchasing films in the first half of the festival. It wasn’t until Tuesday (Sept. 11)  that the flurry of sales commenced.  Many of the buyers I spoke to were waiting to gauge reviews and public reaction before moving forward with purchasing.

Buyers were pleased with the increased access they had to festival screenings.  438 press and industry screenings and 781 public screenings were made accessible to buyers, which offered them the flexibility to personalize their screening schedules.  Servicing improvements at the industry box office, the introduction of the Dolby Buyer’s Lounge and the new private screening rentals program provided buyers with a more fluid festival experience.

What kind of activity did you see and from what territories?

Acquisitions were strong across all territories. The surge of buying activity came from U.S. distributors.  Lionsgate, IFC and Millennium purchased the most content, racking up a total of 10 titles of the 32 sold to the U.S.  Reported film sales to U.S. distributors to date include:

The Brass Teapot, Byzantium, Casting By, Come Out and Play, Dangerous Liaisons, Emperor, The End of Time, Great Expectations, Imogene, How to Make Money Selling Drugs, John Dies at the End, Love, Marilyn, Motorway, Much Ado About Nothing, No Place On Earth, Paradise: Love, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Something in the Air, Song for Marion, Spring Breakers, Still, Thale, Thanks for Sharing, The Patience Stone, Thérèse Desqueyroux, Three Worlds, The We and The I, What Maisie Knew, White Elephant and Writers.

Notable film purchases of Canadian content included StillStories We Tell and The End of Time.

In terms of industry activity, did anything happen that you didn’t expect? For example, did you hear a lot about distributors looking to unload back catalogues?

An interesting trend identified this year was the cooperative efforts of major American talent agencies, such as CAA, WME and UTA, to jointly package and sell independent films. In my opinion, the cooperative efforts of these companies increased visibility of films like Byzantium, Place Beyond the Pines, etc., leading to their sales to U.S. distributors.

Annapurna Pictures’ (production company behind The MasterZero Dark Thirty) purchase of Spring Breakers just prior to the festival was quite unexpected.  Their movement into a vertically integrated business model could prove to be quite successful. I expect this will improve their brand recognition within the marketplace. Details are yet to be known about their distribution arm, but we will be tracking these developments closely.

What niches saw the most activity or look to be the “next big thing”?

The DIY aesthetic was a surprise hit with Toronto audiences. Films like Frances Ha and Much Ado About Nothing revealed to audiences a more personal viewpoint from both Noah Baumbach and Joss Whedon.

What makes both of these projects special is the limited press that was released during their production. In a time where every detail about films are tweeted, the element of secrecy invigorated and excited audiences. I expect this will provide breathing room for buyers to shape marketing campaigns for these films.

The genre films playing in our Midnight Madness program were also quite popular with buyers. Come Out and Play and Lords of Salem both sold over the course of the festival.

What are buyers looking for regarding home entertainment, broadcast networks and digital?

Most buyers at the festival purchase for theatrical rights. Increasingly, there is an interest in finding titles that will eventually play well across all medias.

How does this year’s festival compare to last year’s festival, in terms of industry activity and buying and selling? Was there more deal making? Was there less?

The sales and industry office accredited 4,280 industry professionals, which represents a 9% increase over 2011. We attracted 141 more buyers and 31 more sales agents to this year’s festival. All of which resulted in more business taking place in Toronto.