When Amazon Studios won “The Big Sick” with a $12 million bid, it was no surprise: it came to the festival very aware of the film and what it could offer, and were ready to pay. Netflix plopped down $12.5 million on “Mudbound” just to lay claim to the festival’s biggest buy; no one else was in the running.
This year brings a different set of expectations. Top dog Fox Searchlight lost its $9.5 million investment in “Patti Cake$,” which barely scaled $1 million worldwide. Weinstein Co. and Broad Green are gone, and Amazon is under management duress, having lost leader Roy Price to a sex scandal. It will look for the right buys with an Oscar predigree — but may not be willing to take huge risks.
Of course, others are here to fill the gaps. These include Annapurna’s new distribution company, which has an exclusive output streaming deal with Hulu, as does Tom Quinn and Tim League’s Neon, which is feeling its oats with hit Toronto pickup “I, Tonya,” and could partner again with financier 30WEST. There’s Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, and Open Road’s merger with foreign sales machine IM Global has yielded Global Road (owned by Tang Media Partners); former Summit/Lionsgate executive Rob Friedman and his team will scout in Park City.
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To see the sky-high prices of last year, all it takes is one of those competitive auctions. “A trend that started two years ago is the films that are obvious and great and marketable will create a huge amount of excitement, and those will sell for bigger numbers,” said Submarine principal Josh Braun. “It’s in the DNA of the process. You have everyone ready to buy, and they’re all up there and they know all their competitors are there… you can’t take any chances. If you want something, you better buy it. Who’s going to go to sleep and hope that it’s available the next morning? Anyone who does is playing with fire.”
CAA, Endeavor Content, ICM and UTA dream of landing an old-school theatrical buy after an all-night bidding war, but many smaller entries will wind up at Amazon Video Direct, which is throwing its own big Sundance party. AVD now offers filmmakers in the Premieres, U.S. Dramatic, NEXT and Midnight sections a cash bonus of as much as $200,000 for exclusive streaming rights — double the $100,000 ceiling last year. Movies could also go to streaming services YouTube Red or Hulu. Many are curious to see if Apple and Facebook will also step up to acquire full-length films.
Submarine and Cinetic are selling strong documentary slates, from buzzy four-hankie “The Sentence,” about a fractured family broken up by our prison system (it reduced even veteran Cinetic chief John Sloss to tears), to Laura Nix’s tonic for surviving our toxic future, “Inventing Tomorrow.” HBO is back with new leadership, and Netflix has been making so many documentaries that it may not need to buy any. Buyers may want to check out poignant Slamdance family documentary “Pick of the Litter” as a potential follow-up to cat documentary hit “Kedi.” Said Braun: “2018 could be the year of the dog.”
Check out our top 20 Sundance sales titles, in alphabetical order.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition
BAFTA-winner Bart Layton (documentary “The Imposter”) directs this “mostly” true fiction feature for Film4, “American Animals,” about a quartet of audacious college student art thieves starring Evan Peters (“X-Men”) and Barry Keoghan (“Dunkirk”). Past and present intersect in this complicated existential heist narrative as the four men tell the story of ripping off a college special collections library. Think “I, Tonya” as much as “Now You See Me.”
Sales Contact: UTA
Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Steve Cosens.
Section: U.S. Dramatic Competition
While his songs have been covered by Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and the Kings of Leon, Blaze Foley – the Texas country musician born Michael David Fuller – never made a record or became a household name (even after Kevin Triplett’s documentary “Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah” made the 2009 South by Southwest slate). Helming his third narrative feature, Ethan Hawke hopes to change that. Hawke, a fellow Texan also at Sundance for playing a legendary singer in “Juliet, Naked,” wrote the screenplay with Foley’s former girlfriend, Sybil Rosen, based on her decade-old memoir, “Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley” (Hawke penned its forward; Rosen appears in the film). First-time actor Benjamin Dickey assumes the role of Foley, who was shot dead at age 39 in a friend’s living room; his supporting cast includes Alia Shawkat (“Search Party”), Josh Hamilton (representing “Eighth Grade” at Sundance as well), and 2018 Best Supporting Actor Oscar favorite Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).