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Buying is Back at Sundance

Buying is Back at Sundance

Has the tremendous success of “Winter’s Bone” — box office plus Oscar nominations — boosted the business here at Sundance this year?

In the old days, I voraciously tracked Sundance sales. Now, from my new vantage point at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, it’s been fun to watch the dealmaking from the sidelines. Twitter has kept me connected, offering an entertaining play by play during a busy fest this year.

Film industry sales veteran Cassian Elwes, a man who brokered many deals over the years at the Sundance Film Festival, summed up the biz side of things in a Tweet overnight:

“This Sundance will go down in history as the one that pulled the independent film business out of the economic recession.”

Perhaps the snow storm on the East Coast will make matters even better. Industry folks hoping to get back to New York City were stranded at Sundance. In fact, I chatted with one buyer who flew halfway to New York yesterday, only to return to Salt Lake City because of the big storm in NYC. He headed back to Park City last night to hang out at an impromptu IFC Films gathering at a Main St. pub.

Buyers and sellers were buzzing at the bar last night, bolstered by the boost in sales that has reportedly seen more than two dozen deals according another Tweet. I’m not tracking pacts this year being that I’ve left the daily biz beat, but hanging out with industry folks last night the buzz about the buying was hard to ignore.

IFC Films, Sony Classics and Magnolia have been the big buyers at fests in recent years, but now deals are coming from the big guys again. Fox Searchlight made a number of deals for indies that might have gone to a smaller company just last year, including “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Another Earth.” Paramount even got in on the action, quickly nabbing a Sundance movie.

Meanwhile, Magnolia has been active, besting other buyers to get popular doc, “Page One.”

Last year’s breakthrough docs from Sundance were the Joan Rivers movie from IFC Films and Banksy’s “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” which was self-released by seller John Sloss. This year it’s “Page One” with rock star journo David Carr in the spotlight. The New York Observer has already branded him this year’s Sundance ingenue, handing him the mantle carried for a year by “Winter’s Bone” star Jennifer Lawrence. Magnolia and Participant beat out other buyers and nabbed the film in an overnight pact after the film’s first screening. Josh Braun showed the film to buyers before the fest and then capitalized on buzz once the film hit Park City, selling it swiftly. It will be in theaters in June.

Sony Classics may have missed out on “Bone” last year, but struck early this time around, grabbing Jeff Nichol’s “Take Shelter,” one of the dramatic competition hits of this year’s fest. They also honed in on Morgan Spurlock’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” months ago, finalizing the deal, holding it and then announcing the pact just ahead of the film’s first weekend debut.

Buying and selling should continue through the close of the festival, according to insiders at last night’s informal industry gathering. One seller was over the moon, telling me that deals that took months to close just last year at Sundance are happening in a matter of just days this year.

Keep an eye on Miranda July’s “The Future,” folks were buzzing about a deal last night. I’m hearing that a pact could be announced soon.

Even Variety rounded up the action in a front page story today, saying, “As the indie biz struggles to find its equilibrium, the types of deals and the way they’re made is changing.”

Above iPhone photo from this year’s Cinetic party at Sundance. The cover of The Economist magazines displayed throughout Zoom read: “The rich and the rest.” Upstairs at the bash, Sloss just said to me, “Welcome to the rest!”

For more, feel free to follow me on Twitter @eug, find me on Facebook and/or post a comment below.

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