Dealmaking Begins: Sony Classics Kicks Off Sundance Buying Season with Pre-fest Deal for "Masked and Anonymous"
by Eugene Hernandez
While trade reports in Hollywood earlier this week indicated that pre-festival tape swapping among acquisitions execs had diminished, the fact is that buyers have been busy securing and screening a number of festival titles in advance of the Sundance Film Festival, which opens tomorrow (Thursday) in Utah. January's annual independent film buying season kicked off yesterday with Sony Pictures Classics closing a deal for the North American rights to the Sundance centerpiece premiere, "Masked and Anonymous."
The film, which stars Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, John Goodman, and Jessica Lange, also features Bob Dylan in a lead role. In addition, Dylan has six songs on the film's soundtrack. It was directed by "Seinfeld" writer Larry Charles and joins Sony Classics' large slate of Sundance films, including the opening-night film, "Levity," David Gordon Green's competition entry "All The Real Girls," Richard Kwietniowski's premiere section entry "Owning Mahowny," Lisa Cholodenko's American Showcase film "Laurel Canyon" and Prince Chatrichalerm Yukol's special screening "Legend of Suriyothal."
The pre-fest deal for "Masked and Anonymous" is not a surprise. For years, SPC co-president Tom Bernard has advocated that Sundance is a better place to showcase a movie than buy one. In a conversation with indieWIRE yesterday, he continued to take Sundance organizers to task for failing to "put together a true independent film marketplace." And he feels that it is incumbent upon the festival to help its filmmakers navigate the sales reps, publicists, and distributors who they deal with after their film is accepted.
"The biggest headlines are never about the movie that won, they are about the movie that was acquired for the most amount of money," bemoaned Bernard on the eve of the festival, singling out "Happy Texas," "Shine," "Next Stop Wonderland," and "Tadpole" as past examples. He cautioned filmmakers to avoid getting sucked into the hype that will kick in when the event opens tomorrow. "Every year there's some filmmaker that makes headlines, thinking that they have won the lottery."
Buyers from big and small distributors have been trading and sharing bootleg tapes of Sundance entries in the days leading up to the festival. One buyer from a smaller distribution company told indieWIRE yesterday, "There are tapes, but not as many as last year." Agreeing with Bernard, the exec said, "It benefits the filmmaker to have a distributor in place at Sundance for promotions."
"We have many tapes," Sony Classics' Bernard told indieWIRE yesterday, "They are the same bootleg tapes that came through last year." Such statements, of course, drive sales reps crazy as they try to focus buyers on the film's Sundance screenings.
In the case of "Masked and Anonymous," while the producers didn't set out to make a deal in advance of the festival, Sony Classics relied on its corporate parents longtime relationship with Bob Dylan to pursue a pact.
"Sony chased it down and asked us if they could take the film on," producer Nigel Sinclair told indieWIRE on Tuesday. "It's always good to be in business with people who want to be in business with you." The deal for "Masked and Anonymous" was negotiated by Cassian Elwes of William Morris Independent and Sony's Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, and Dylan Leiner. [Eugene Hernandez]