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Box Office Be Damned: For Buyers, Optimism Rules at Sundance 2012

Box Office Be Damned: For Buyers, Optimism Rules at Sundance 2012

For most of last year’s Sundance titles, box office receipts ranged from modest to dreadful. However, to look at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival acquisitions market, prior performance is not an indication of future results.

“Last year was a record year, so I think it’s probably a high bar to reach,” says sales rep Josh Braun, whose company Submarine has sold “Me @The Zoo” (HBO) “The Queen of Versailles” (Magnolia), “Searching For Sugar Man” (Sony Pictures Classics) and “Black Rock” (LD Distribution) so far. “But it might turn out the same way. I feel there’s pressure building [among buyers] to get deals done.”

Over the last 24 hours alone came news of four new deals: Fox Searchlight bought two of the most-coveted Sundance films so far, buying Helen Hunt/John Hawkes-starrer “The Surrogate” (at $6 million, the biggest seller so far) and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Focus acquired worldwide rights to the comedy “For A Good Time, Call…;” and Sony Pictures Classics took their second film of the fest, comedy “Celeste and Jesse Forever.”

CBS Films has already bought this year’s closing-night film, “The Words,” and Scott Rudin will team with HBO to adapt World Competition Documentary entry “Indie Game: The Movie” into a TV series.

“There’s a lot out there to see this year,” says IFC Films’ SVP of acquisitions and productions Arianna Bocco. “I’m seeing eight films a day.”

And there are still a lot of titles out there that have buyers’ attention.

Monday premieres were highlighted by anticipated titles like documentary “The Imposter” and Julie Delpy’s “2 Days In New York,” while romantic comedies like “Safety Not Guaranteed” starring Mark Duplass and “Bachelorette” with Kirsten Dunst are getting buyers’ attention. (Searchlight has reached out to journalists for their reactions to “Safety.”)

And Midnight section titles like “The Pact,” “Excision,” “John Dies At The End” and “V/H/S” premiered to ecstatic reactions and top the lists for distributors with VOD concerns.

There’s even interest in New Frontier film “Room 237,” as this unique documentary about the would-be hidden messages of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” could turn out to be the festival’s most surprising deal.

Though there seems to be a lot of attractive goodies to offer at, Roadside Attractions’ co-president Eric d’Arbeloff says it best in regards to being forward-thinking with buys. “There are challenges along the way after you leave Sundance,” he says.

Indeed, Roadside Attractions illustrated the highs and lows of last year’s acquisitions frenzy, bookended by the disappointing performance of the critically lauded “Project Nim” while “Margin Call” was all but ignored at Sundance and went on to become a massive success with ample post-festival acclaim and, today, an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay. 

“Any company that’s trying to make a living out of theatrical distribution has to know that whatever deal you make here you have to live with going into the real marketplace,” said d’Arbeloff. “You can’t lose your head.”

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