The mood pre-Sundance was one of optimism. People heading to Park City expected to see a strong slate and to see those movies find comfortable homes among an ever-widening array of distributors. But the fervor with which buyers snatched up titles — and their attendant financial commitments — speaks to renewed energy in the independent film world.
“It’s felt healthy for a couple of years. It’s encouraging,” says WME Global head Graham Taylor. “There’s optimism and there’s positivity and there’s hope. The reality is there were some excellent movies, and I think we saw a little bit more of a commercial slate of movies, which I think you can see in the P&A commitments.”
From Relativity’s hefty deal to procure Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon’s Addiction” as a wide release to Fox Searchlight’s near-$10 million final bid for Jim Rash and Nat Faxon’s star-heavy comedy “The Way, Way Back” and The Weinstein Co.’s multi-million-dollar purchase of the small fact-based drama “Fruitvale,” companies seemed especially eager to get the movies they wanted. RADiUS-TWC, the Weinstein Co.’s hybrid label, found much of its 2013 slate as it grabbed rights to the documentaries “Twenty Feet From Stardom” and “Inequality for All,” the lesbian drama “Concussion” and the biopic “Lovelace.”
“I really appreciated the programming this year,” says RADiUS-TWC co-president Tom Quinn. “The look into human relationships — from sex to love and monogamy. It was cumulatively profound.”
One of the benefits in the current variety of distribution possibilities is that buyers have begun gravitating toward only those films that work best for their specific model rather than everyone scrabbling over a handful of top-tier pictures that look smartest on paper. As a result, this year Magnolia Pictures grabbed David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche” and the documentary “Blackfish” (with CNN Films); CBS Films took the small coming-of-age drama “Toy’s House;” Exclusive Releasing launched itself by picking up the sexy drama “Two Mothers;” Sony Pictures Classics plucked the light comedy “Austenland” and period drama “Kill Your Darlings;” A24 grabbed teen romance “The Spectacular Now” and IFC Films stayed in the Michael Winterbottom business with “The Look of Love.”
As in the previous few years, the deals that closed during the 10 days of the festival (which doesn’t end until Sunday) are just the first volley of acquisitions in what is typically a months-long process.
“On the whole, I found the sellers the same as always — bullish and absolutely convinced that their films will make a fortune — which we know isn’t true,” says Paladin topper Mark Urman. “The buyers, clearly, have been active, but the measured pace at which films have sold indicates that people took their time, thought about what they were doing and weren’t acting in a reckless and spendthrift manner. I believe that many more deals will be made in the days and weeks to come, on films of all shapes and sizes, once the dust settles, the press responses are in and, most importantly, the crop is thinned out and the prices are stabilized.”
So any buyers that felt priced out of negotiations during the festival or have other titles in mind than those already picked clean still have plenty to choose from, with deals yet to close on “Very Good Girls,” “Escape From Tomorrow,” “C.O.G.,” “God Loves Uganda,” “In a World…” and more. Word is that Magnolia and Lionsgate continue to spar over horror sequel “S-VHS,” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is equally certain to find a home, especially if it ends up chosen for the grand jury prize Saturday.
While no one knows how any of these films will do in release during the coming year, the majority of the players clearly have faith that on balance the system is working just fine and that the growing options for financing and delivery are likely (though not guaranteed) to benefit everyone — including, ultimately, audiences.
“I’m glad everyone’s selling,” says Taylor. “I’m glad that we’ve had a kick-ass market and it continues, but in the bigger picture, I want everyone to, because I want people to write checks and finance movies and get their money back. That keeps [all of us] employed.”