The rise of streamer content has created anxiety for talent and their reps, due to models that require ownership of a project in perpetuity. Since the product starts on a streaming site and never leaves, there’s no chance of backend bargains. Just look at the creators and cast of squid game to see what that can mean: a billion-dollar ownership for Netflix, embarrassing salaries for artists who made it, and little hope of making up the shortfall in subsequent seasons.
While some of Hollywood’s top negotiators and lawyers try to create fair compensation formulas, a growing way to turn quicksand into advantage is a tendency for artists and their agents to play on themselves and come on the market with fully fleshed out projects, packed with screenplay, director and star. The result has been auctions that bring green lights and sometimes career-best paydays.
The biggest recent example has been the sale of two Knives out Rian Johnson sequels. The CAA-brokered auction ended with Netflix paying around $450 million for two films, and salaries for Johnson and star Daniel Craig are said to be in the range of $100 million. It was one of the biggest deals ever in Hollywood for a photo property.
Similar deals with big paydays were struck on Antoine Fuqua-directed star Will Smith Emancipation, The Moonflower Slayers– directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro – and a Formula 1 racing film starring Brad Pitt, with Top Gun: Maverickis directed by Joseph Kosinski. There are many examples to varying degrees. And studios and streamers aren’t unhappy with the premium price, they see it as an acceptable cost to add quality, star-driven projects to their slates that they don’t have to develop from scratch.
CAA Media Finance sells an inordinate amount of it, and Roeg Sutherland and Benjamin Kramer say it’s become a viable way to make movies, with participants gaining more creative control and a better stake in the future of these properties. They and their team have been in the midst of an inordinate number of offers for packages and finished films on the Cannes market, from the sequel to It’s Spinal Tap for The hood, a period peasant revolt drama that Paul Greengrass will direct with Benedict Cumberbatch starring. There are nearly three dozen more they sell here. The first two major deals came from streamers, with the acquisition of Netflix Adventurers of Painthe David Yates-directed drama starring Emily Blunt, and Apple Original Films buying the Christos Nikou-directed film Nails, starring Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed. Their efforts have created a bustling Cannes market, with theatrical offerings to come as the business recovers from the pandemic. The co-heads of CAA Media Finance are naturally optimistic.
“There’s never been so much money in the market, ever,” Sutherland says. “People understand the benefits and risks of creating content. There are so many buyers out there that when it’s over, and that’s good, you’re going to find him a home on better terms and with more perks.
According to Kramer, “Making a film independently and then licensing it out is a way out of a cycle of dependence on studio whims and schedules. Entrepreneurial filmmakers and producers see the value in retaining control. On good projects, those that start franchises, this value is exponential.