Magazine article Screen International

Sundance's Boom Year

Magazine article Screen International

Sundance's Boom Year

Article excerpt

With more than $30m shelled out in minimum guarantees and countless more committed to p&a spends, one week into Sundance the festival was on a roll unlike any it had seen in years. Jeremy Kay analyses the deals and the market.

At least 19 deals with domestic elements had closed and more were brewing as the 2011 iteration approached the final weekend.

Based on this remarkable deal flow, the headline from Park City is that the US independent business appears to be in excellent health. It remains to be seen of course how well the films perform at the box office, but attendees agree that a little over two years after the financial collapse, the correction is enabling business to thrive, albeit in a brave new environment.

It all starts with the films and in this regard credit must go to festival director John Cooper, his director of programming Trevor Groth and their team for pulling together a compelling cinematic roster. The films by and large have been good and there has been a handful of superlative entries including Another Earth and Buck, which both sold.

Buyers clearly felt the quality went hand-in-hand with commercial prospects and after the traditionally cautious start the deal flow took off on the first Sunday [23] in a way that caught many by surprise. Business trickled into life when Paramount and billionaire industrialist Steven Rales' ambitious new finance and production house Indian Paintbrush partnered on worldwide rights to Drake Doremus' romance Like Crazy. Shortly afterwards, Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate closed a US deal for JC Chandor's widely admired financial crisis thriller Margin Call.

The action barely let up as buyers headed into an anticipated evening session. Fox Searchlight made the first of at least four buys in Sundance, taking most of the world to Homework, while the Weinsteins and Ron Burkle - the man who unsuccessfully tried to help the brothers buy back Miramax - stumped up $6-7m for My Idiot Brother, the Paul Rudd comedy from Big Beach and Likely Story that was regarded as the most obviously commercial film heading into Park City, although in the end it drew mixed reviews.

The next day Searchlight added two more to its war chest, taking the world on Martha Marcy May Marlene and global remake rights to documentary The Bengali Detective. There were nine deals on Monday [24] and six in the next two days. HBO took remake rights to bare-knuckle fighting documentary Knuckle, which was at the centre of a feeding frenzy before the festival even started after a screener leaked out. Magnolia and Participant teamed up on the New York Times documentary Page One; Sundance Selects took the wildly popular doc Buck and IFC bought David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense and The Ledge.

On Sunday night [23] Kevin Smith delivered the moment of the festival when he duped buyers into attending the premiere of his horror film Red State with rumours of a rights auction to follow the screening. There was an auction, but it lasted less than 30 seconds as Smith "bought back" his own film for $20 (yes, that's $20, not $20m) and revealed plans to self-distribute after talking emotionally about his desire to help filmmakers make money from their work.

Buyers continue to be cautious and the instant bidding wars of yesteryear are gone. The reps are prepared to take less up front if the marketing plan sounds smart, while savvy buyers are generally reluctant to pay a lot. There are exceptions: a flush Weinstein Company paid a lot for My Idiot Brother and two days later shelled out an $7. …

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