Lionsgate buys Sundance title 'Buried'


PARK CITY -- Lionsgate on Sunday pulled off the first pickup at Sundance, acquiring North American rights to the Ryan Reynolds-toplined man-in-a-coffin thriller "Buried" for slightly less than $4 million.

Lionsgate also has made a mid-to-high eight-figure P&A commitment on the film. Plans are to release "Buried" this year.

Rodrigo Cortes' thriller launched the first bidding war in Park City after its Saturday midnight premiere. Screen Gems and Fox Searchlight were in an overnight race with Lionsgate for the film; Searchlight pulled out late Sunday afternoon.

Some were concerned about the claustrophobic nature of the thriller, which aims its camera at Reynolds as he attempts to break out of a coffin for 90 minutes.

The deal was negotiated by Lionsgate trio Jason Constantine, Eda Kowan and Wendy Jaffe with UTA's Independent Film Group.

The deal broke the ice on acquisitions at the festival. While there are plenty of reasons for lack of deals, the main one is that few films have unspooled to overwhelming praise.

The word "mixed" has been heard on the streets of Park City as often as "where's the next party?" The few that have fostered major goodwill -- "Winter's Bone," for instance -- present marketing challenges that have buyers taking their time.

The low-fi documentary "Catfish" has seen interest from multiple parties, as has the horror film "Splice." But such other name-brand titles as "Hesher," "The Company Men," "Welcome to the Rileys" and "HappyThankYouMorePlease" have provoked muted responses.

One feature that has engendered warm word-of-mouth is Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give," but that already has distribution through Sony Pictures Classics.

"There is no urgency on the part of any buyer," said one sales agent whose film already had screened.

The "Catfish" groundswell echoes a similar slow-starting festival in 2008, when enthusiasm for the small doc "American Teen" drew attention from more high-profile titles. Notably, "Teen" was snared and released by Paramount Vantage, which now survives merely as a label for a few small releases (Paramount picked up the Davis Guggenheim doc "Waiting for Superman" for the label on Thursday).

"It seems all the companies are here, willing to buy and go for it," Paramount senior vp worldwide acquisitions Matt Brodlie said. "But they're all kicking tires and figuring out how and when to release each film. That's a necessity now, because it costs so much to take a movie out."

"Blue Valentine," a drama starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, screened Sunday at 3:15 p.m. at the Eccles. It's likely that buyers were waiting to see this last of the more high-profile weekend premieres before gunning for their first choice.

Other wild cards in the mix yet to unspool were the Banksy doc "Exit Through the Gift Shop" on Sunday night and the premieres Monday night of "The Extra Man" and "The Kids Are All Right."

"Company Men" has reportedly fielded at least one studio offer. The Park City at Midnight horror-comedy "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil" delighted audiences and has interest from Lionsgate, Summit and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group.

Like "Buried," "Splice" is a genre offering from the late-night section drawing interest. The road-trip dramedy "Douchebag" also has buyers curious.

"There are a lot of decent movies, but sales may take a few days because they're all films that require a lot of thought on how to market," SPC co-president Michael Barker said. "Also, a lot haven't played yet."

Adding to the sluggishness are the multiple distractions for buyers over the weekend, including Saturday's SAG Awards, which drew execs like SPC's Tom Bernard back to L.A. for the day. Some hadn't yet come to Park City, prompting Sunday and Monday screenings on titles to await final approval before any deal closes. Sales reps also are repeatedly being asked to set up additional screenings in L.A. to accommodate those who couldn't fly in.

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And don't discount the ability of the NFL to turn eyeballs away from movie screens to condo TVs.

And while new players have emerged -- or re-emerged -- like Apparition, there's also the simple math of having fewer distribution reps at the screenings.

"There aren't as many soldiers as there used to be," one major agent with clients in the fest said. "The back three rows of every screening used to be filled."
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