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After the early calm, a `crazy' rush of buyers

Critical feedback and aggressive negotiating have driven the sales of at least 12 movies.

January 24, 2007|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

Park City, Utah — In a spending spree reminiscent of drunken sailors on shore leave, the buyers for independent film have turned the Sundance Film Festival into a free-for-all marketplace.

After virtually no business was transacted in the festival's opening weekend, the floodgates opened Monday and Tuesday, with nearly a dozen movies changing hands, almost every one for $3 million and more.

"I've never seen anything like this. It's crazy," said Cassian Elwes, the William Morris agent who brokered deals for "The Signal" (Magnolia Films), "Club- land" (Warner Independent Pictures), "Grace Is Gone" (Weinstein Co.) and "Teeth" (Lionsgate Films and the Weinstein Co.).

The most active buyers include Paramount Vantage and Fox Searchlight, which set a Sundance record last year when it bought "Little Miss Sunshine" for $10.5 million, which just snagged four Oscar nominations. Searchlight has purchased the thriller "Joshua," the bittersweet romantic comedy "Waitress" and, with the Weinstein Co., the tear-jerking immigration story "La Misma Luna."

Paramount Vantage has acquired the coming-of-age comedy "Son of Rambow" and the dance competition drama "How She Move."

Among other recent sales, Sony Pictures Classics acquired the documentary "My Kid Could Paint That," ThinkFilm bought the documentary "In the Shadow of the Moon," and the Weinstein Co. and First Look Pictures joined to buy the love story "Dedication."

United Talent Agency's Rich Klubeck says that rather than simply throwing money on the table, buyers have been negotiating aggressively, with many sales sessions lasting into the early morning. That said, Klubeck believes the volume of transactions has been astonishing.

"Not only have I not seen this kind of activity, but for it to take off this quickly -- the first two days nothing sold, and then the movies started playing, people liked them, and everything started selling," said Klubeck, whose agency worked on distribution deals for "How She Move," "Joshua" and "Dedication."

Elwes said the deals are partially driven by instant critical feedback. "The bloggers are going up with reactions in minutes, and the trades are doing instant reviews," Elwes said. "So the buyers already know what audiences are thinking."

In addition to buying "My Kid Could Paint That," Sony Classics' Michael Barker pursued both "Grace Is Gone" and "La Misma Luna" but found the bidding too rich.

"We are just responding to movies we love," Barker said. "But there are other companies where you get the impression people just have to buy a movie at Sundance for their profile."

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