By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire January 25, 2006 at 7:33AM
Does anyone remember "the old days" at Sundance, when the cool thing to do was arrive in Park City on the Tuesday or Wednesday of the festival? The second half of Sundance was when the fest really picked up. Some buzz had been generated from early screenings, and business seemed to intensify as the event headed into awards weekend. Not anymore. As the festival hit its halfway point this year, Main St. became much more manageable. Gone were the traffic jams of Saturday and Sunday, and while a number of films are in buyer's sights, the mega-deals of the first weekend have subsided. With many insiders leaving today, now Sundance feels much more like the sort of festival we can really enjoy a bit.
IFC Nabs "Wordplay"; Weinstein's Get Home Video
Patrick Creadon's crossword puzzle doc, "Wordplay," has been nabbed by IFC Films. The company beat out Indiewood buyers who were in pursuit, among them Picturehouse, and even Warner Independent, which also expressed interest. Fox Searchlight and Roadside were also part of highly visible meetings between the filmmakers and a number of buyers Sunday at a crowded brunch party on Main St.
IFC Films acquired North American rights to the film, with The Weinstein Company getting home video rights via its DVD deal with Genius Products (owner of Wellspring). It focuses on notable crossword fans and New York Times puzzle edtor Will Shortz. Insiders pegged Sundance '06's first doc deal at about $1 million.
"This has been one of the most rewarding Sundance experiences in the history of IFC," commented Jonathan Sehring, IFC Entertainment president, in a statement. "With our acquiring 'Factotum' at the start and announcing the launch of IFC's First Take, we felt it couldn't get any better. Then 'Wordplay' captured the hearts of the entire team, and we simply couldn't live without it. This is a special film in every way." The deal was negotiated by Sehring and SVP of acquisitions Sarah Lash, with Cinetic Media representing the filmmakers. A release date has not yet been set.
Lionsgate Goes for "Door"
Anyone who has seen Chris Gorak's Sundance '06 dramatic competition thriller about the aftermath of a dirty bomb attack in Los Angeles, "Right At Your Door," won't be surprised to learn that the film has been acquired by Lionsgate. Leaving the press screening today, journalists and film festival programmers compared the movie to Lionsgate's 2004 Sundance acquisition, "Open Water."
This afternoon, Lionsgate announced its acquisition of worldwide rights to Gorak's "Door," starring Mary McCormack and Rory Cochrane, produced by Palmer West and Jonah Smith, and co-produced by Jesse Johnston and Stephanie Lewis, with cinematography by Tom Richmond. Variety pegged the pact at $2 million.
"This taut and superbly executed thriller will prove to have global appeal," said Lionsgate's president of international Nick Meyer.
The deal was negotiated for Lionsgate by Meyer, president of acquisitions and co-productions Peter Block and SVP of acquisitions and co-productions Jason Constantine, on behalf of Thousand Words LLC, negotiations were handled by Rich Klubeck of UTA,, Alan Grodin of Weissman, Wolff, Bergman, Coleman, Grodin and Evall LLC, and Jonah Smith and Palmer West of Thousand Words LLC. The announcement indicated that Eda Kowan, Lionsgate director of acquisitions, attended the first screening and identified the film as a potential acquisition.
Sundance Channel @ 10
Each night this week, on American television cable systems and via international broadcasters, audiences can catch the 30 minute program, "Festival Dailies," offering an inside look at the 2006 festival. The high profile program, touted with outdoor advertising in big cities like New York, comes as the channel celebrates its 10th anniversary.
Near the Park City TV studios where the Festival Dailies program originates, Sundance Channel EVP of programming and marketing Laura Michalchyshyn and head of programming and acquisitions Christian Vesper chatted with indieWIRE about the network. Laura joined Sundance one year ago, just before the festival.
"The idea with the Dailies was to give an insider view," explained Michalchyshyn, "We want to be able to give people who aren't here, a bit of insider access -- coverage that is a little more grassroots and behind the scenes." The programming ties into an overall goal of the Channel of bringing many films from the festival to the network. The Channel has aired some 30 films (20 features and 10 shorts) from Sundance '05.
With a modestly increased acquisitions budget, the Channel has also increased its original programming. Jointly owned by Robert Redford, NBC Universal and Showtime Networks (owned by CBS), the network benefits from content provided by both owners. The Channel is focusing on what Michalchyshyn called factual, story driven docu- series, like "Nimrod Nation" from Brett Morgen, about a high school basketball season. Also on tap are programs from international broadcasters, like Fernando Merellies' "City of Men."
Two films with Sundance Channel funding screening at Sundance this year are "5 Days" and "Leonard Cohen."
Stil though, Michalchyshyn and Vesper emphasized that the network is about 70% features and docs, with about 25% original series and 5% shorts and interstitials. They see their core audience as being 25 - 49 in age, educated career people, who are ahead of the curve in adapting to new technologies and love cultural and news programming, including independent films.
"Our goal," Michalchyshyn stated, "Is to explore issue and tell stories from all points of view and all points of the globe."
Miramax Takes Rights to "Night Listener"
Miramax Films has acquired North American rights to the Hart Sharp Entertainment and IFC Films co-production, "Night Listener," company president Daniel Battsek announced Tuesday. Insiders are reporting a $3 million deal.
Directed and co-written by Patrick Stettner ("The Business of Strangers") "Night Listener" tackles the narrative of Armistead Maupin's story in which popular public radio storyteller Gabriel Noone (Robin Williams) develops an intense phone relationship with a young listener named Pete (Rory Culkin) and the social worker who rescued him from a life of abuse (Toni Collette). But Gabriel soon comes to the startling realization that it is quite possible that neither the boy nor his painful account of his childhood really exist.
Always an amiable fellow at parties and events, the filmmaker was sworn to secrecy in recent days, offering a warm smile to indieWIRE whenever we crossed his path, but then adding "I can't talk to you!" as he'd scurry away. The deal was negotiated at the Sundance Film Festival by Michael Luisi (EVP, business affairs) and acquisition execs Kristin Jones and Peter Lawson on behalf of Miramax and Mike Hogan and Robert Kessel of Hart Sharp and Richard Klubeck of UTA. No theatrical release date was announced.
A buyer will no doubt nab Neil Burger's "The Illusionist" soon; the film stars Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, and Rufus Sewell.
Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson" is another hot title expected to sell here in Park City based on the buzz. An Indiewood company and a New York indie are seen as leading contenders for the deal. The filmmakers are expected to make a deal in the next day or so. William Morris is selling the film.
[Brian Brooks contributed to this article.]