As Cannes Market Heats Up, Will Writers Strike Slow Down Deals?

Global sales agencies and distributors are ready to dance in Cannes.

The festival announced this week that over 13,500 participants will attend the Marche du Film, bellying up for completed films and packages — but the waters may be as unpredictable as the ones that border the Côte d’Azur. 

The ongoing Writers Guild of America strike poses unique challenges for deals despite wide excitement over the recent theatrical box office resurgence, and what seems to be the end of coronavirus woes for production. 

Star-studded packages of all budget levels have inundated buyers in the lead-up to Cannes, but as far as their execution goes, agents say most production start dates will push to fall due to the writers strike — even if dealmaking can continue apace on the Croisette.  

“Things are a little murkier than they were back in 2007,” one senior agent says of the current strike and its impact on the Cannes market. The 12:01 a.m. deadline of May 2 “accelerated” the launch of numerous packages, but the reality of shooting and bonding projects that wrap after June 30 has pumped the breaks for some titles. 

“It’s not just about the WGA, it’s also about our clients in the DGA and SAG, and the bond companies are being mindful of a tri-guild strike,” says the source. “What would we do if we’re in the middle of production and the AD department decides they aren’t coming on set tomorrow with the directors?”  

As a result, the agent says some productions are “having to leapfrog the whole summer” and that “God willing, everyone’s happy with the results of the new agreements, and come fall, the bonds are coming back in place.” 

Other projects that have already been “pre-baked” with producers, financiers and sales companies are safe to proceed — sort of. Another agency boss says the “general rule” is that if a deal is done on a script that’s in place prior to the strike, they’re “good to go.” If rewrites are required, “then it’s a no.” The guidelines shift for international indie companies that aren’t “struck companies” or WGA signatories: in theory, it should be business as usual at these outfits, but some stakeholders or talent may not like the optics of serving as a workaround overseas during strike action.  

“The overarching guideline is: if there’s a deal done, a purchase agreement or option purchase agreement, or even a shopping agreement that then has all the deal points in the ultimate purchase of the script done — meaning no negotiation needs to be done, or work needs to be done on the material — then it’s good to go,” says the agent. “Any other version of that, you run into trouble.” As a result, numerous sources added, filmmakers and agencies will be less keen to make big sales announcements. 

The conditions also present an opportunity for international players. If bigger studios and distributors are forced to pull back a little, there will be more chances for territorial distributors overseas along with talent who “aren’t always available or as likely to come to the independent, international side of the business,” says the agent.  

 If ever lessons from the pandemic were to come in hand, it would be right now. Lessons from 2020 and 2021 provide some confidence, agents say, that production can continue in challenging conditions.

“A strike is a different type of beast, but it does show that even when there are these significant changes, artists and financiers and distributors and all the different parties attached to a film can come together and push through,” says the source.  

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