Sales stuck in Park City

Sundance pickups have yet to gear up following fest's first deal

The Sundance sales market took a brief spin around the ballroom during the weekend, even as many of its larger players maintained their recent positions along the wall.

WMA and CAA engineered a low- to mid-seven-figure sale of Antoine Fuqua's police drama "Brooklyn's Finest," with upstart Senator Distribution and partner Sony buying North American rights to the Millennium Films project. The purchase was a rarity in the current film-fest market: a decisive offer that culminated less than 24 hours after a movie premiered.

But the "Finest" deal failed to ignite a larger sales frenzy, with some of the specialty world's biggest players, including Focus and Fox Searchlight, yet to make serious noise in Park City.

A number of the most expectation-laden titles that premiered during the weekend — including the Ashton Kutcher dramedy "Spread," Shana Feste's family-tragedy drama "The Greatest" and the Michael Cera quasi-doc "Paper Heart" — had not as of press time closed a deal after their Saturday debuts.

The lack of a major sale to follow "Finest" — which coming into the fest was read by some as a bellwether for the sales market — put some veterans in a pessimistic mood.

But the exec who bought the Fuqua film said little should be read into what followed that deal. "Not all good films have a strong identity, and those deals take a little longer to come together," Senator president Mark Urman said. "We were just fortunate to encounter on the day we arrived a film that does have an identity and fits with what we want to do."

The top titles also tend to ask for more money, and because cash-conscious specialty divisions in this climate don't necessarily want to spend, that also could delay deals.

And of course Sunday brought more big premieres with big hopes, including the Robert Siegel-penned sports-fan saga "Big Fan," the heavily touted environmental doc "The Cove" and "I Love You Phillip Morris," a drama with gay themes starring Jim Carrey.

If some of the most hyped titles aren't awash in offers, the fest is nonetheless proving a fertile ground for smaller pictures.

Lynn Shelton's "Humpday," a story of two straight men who on a lark make a gay porno, had received several offers as of Sunday afternoon, with IFC, Magnolia, Samuel Goldwyn and Sony Pictures Classics all thought to be in the mix.

"Amreeka," a slice-of-immigrant-life tale written and directed by Cherien Dabis, yielded a standing ovation at its Eccles debut Saturday afternoon, significantly boosting its prospects. Buyers from many of the bigger players were in the room, with a press and industry screening Sunday morning expecting to cement offers and lead to a deal.

Meanwhile, the psychological horror film "The Killing Room," a CAA-repped property out of the Park City at Midnight section, is fielding interest from buyers that include Anchor Bay, the Overture sister unit that's planning small theatrical runs to augment its DVD platform.

And a Friday screening for "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire," drew strong distributor interest and raves for the performance of Gabourey Sidibe; the Cinetic Media title could close a deal shortly.

"Obviously, as a filmmaker or seller, you want big sales right off the bat," one seller said of the opening weekend. "But a lot of this is what expected — good movies getting a lot of interest, if not huge sums of money."

Senator's purchase for "Finest," starring Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke, provides the brand-name film that the newly rejiggered distributor was seeking.

Urman, who said he plans to release the film in the fall, said there could be edits made to the current cut. But after a weekend of being buffeted by questions about whether the movie's content would change significantly, he said that the conversation with Fuqua has just begun and it was too early to say anything more. "I don't really want to edit the movie in the pages of the trade press," he said.

The fest, as it sometimes does, also is proving a promotional platform for movies with distribution.

The response was enthusiastic Saturday evening for Marc Webb's "500 Days of Summer," a quirky romantic comedy/break-up dramedy, setting in motion a rollout poised to follow in the steps of other offbeat hit comedies from Fox Searchlight.

And insiders around Park City were taking quietly during the weekend about a recently scheduled surprise sneak screening from Sundance fave Steven Soderbergh. Tuesday night was said to bring an undocumented showing of Soderbergh's high-class escort tale "The Girlfriend Experience," the director's second movie as part of his deal with 2929 Prods. for day-and-date films — and in so doing, offer, as Sundance frequently does, buzz from unexpected places. (partialdiff)
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