A major acquisition deal -- one of the largest in the history of the Sundance Film Festival -- was signed early Saturday morning with Cinetic Media selling worldwide rights to Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" to Fox Searchlight within hours of its rousing world premiere at the Eccles Theater. The screening was met with a standing ovation, leading to a bidding war that resulted in Fox paying a reported $10 million for the film, although neither party would publicly confirm the figure.
The film marks the feature debut for the husband and wife team known for a career of notable music videos by such bands as The Smashing Pumpkins, Jane's Addiction and Macy Gray. The film, based on the first feature script by Michael Arndt, is described as the story of six-member family traveling from Albuquerque to the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant in California.
The films stars Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, and Greg Kinnear. It was produced by Big Beach and Bona Fide Productions, with Marc Turtletaub, David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa serving as Producers, and Jeb Brody and Michael Beugg serving as Executive Producers. It is scheduled to be released in summer 2006.
Searchlight president Peter Rice told indieWIRE Saturday that he has high hopes for the picture, calling it the sort of "independent, character-driven, emotional comedy" that the company excels at releasing. "This is what Sundance is all about," Rice said in a statement, "To find this perfect gem of a movie that can be experienced with an enraptured audience. We look forward to sharing it with the world."
Rice and his team, including newly promoted Searchlight COO's Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula, met with the "Sunshine" team Friday night after the screening, one of many companies to make pitches in meetings held at the Riverhorse Cafe on Main St. in Park City. Sources said that the major deal was finalized at about 8 a.m. Saturday.
Fox Searchlight's EVP Joseph De Marco and SVP of Acquisitions Tony Safford and Big Beach's Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf and Jeb Brody negotiated the deal with Cinetic's John Sloss.
The $10 million figure for a finished Sundance feature is a mark rarely reached at the festival. Back in 1996, Castle Rock acquired the previously titled "Care of the Spitfire Grill" in a notorious deal that was pegged at $10 million by trade reports. Three years later Miramax nabbed "Happy Texas" for $10.25 million, widely considered (for those keeping track) the biggest deal in the history of the fest (in a sale brokered by William Morris' Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson). And last year -- on the first Sunday of the festival -- insiders seemed stunned to learn that Paramount Classics had spent $9 million to acquire "Hustle & Flow," in a deal brokered by Jeremy Barber, Richard Klubeck, and Jeremy Zimmer of UTA. The acquisition was part of an overall $16 million deal that included two more unmade movies for $3 million each.
This year, buyers seem to be taking the news in stride. By late afternoon, after learning of the deal, buyers and sellers had moved on and were buzzing more about the next wave of new films set to hit the fest.
But for Cinetic Media, the pact seems like an important achievement. Following the high-profile departure of key sales person Micah Green to CAA during Toronto last fall, John Sloss' Cinetic Media was shuffled slightly, with a number of new faces added to the unit. One buyer noted this weekend that making such a big sale in the early days of Sundance was an important accomplishment for the company in its new structure.