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Toronto: Dealmaking Kicks Off With 'Bad Words,' 'Locke'

Bad Words
"Bad Words"

Focus pays $7 million-plus for Jason Bateman’s raunchy directorial debut as Tom Hardy’s "Locke" sells to A24 and hungry buyers zero in on several hot films.

It didn’t take long for the Toronto deal spigot to turn on. Nearly 24 hours after acquisition titles began screening here, a pair of significant pacts closed Saturday morning. Focus Features plunked down more than $7 million for worldwide distribution rights to Jason Bateman’s directorial debut Bad Words. And just hours before, A24 Films paid $1.25 million for U.S. distribution rights to the Tom Hardy star vehicle Locke, which marked the first major deal on the ground at the festival. Both titles sold quickly, boding well for sellers looking to move finished films.

By contrast, last year’s sales got off to a more cautious start with the first big buy — Focus’ $2.5 million deal for A Place Beyond the Pines — taking place a full day later on the morning of Day 3 of the festival. In fact, Toronto 2012 never escalated into a buying spree, with such bigger players as CBS Films, Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, Relativity Media and FilmDistrict largely staying on the sidelines.

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But Focus and Universal may have set the stage for Toronto 2013 when they made a big play for the raunchy Bad Words, which stars Bateman as a forty-something misanthrope who uses a loophole to compete in a national spelling bee, less than 12 hours after its Ryerson Theatre premiere Friday. The CAA-repped film, which was financed by Sean McKittrick’s Darko Entertainment, received an immediate strong reception from buyers.

Bad Words plugs a hole in Focus’ 2014 slate, with the specialty label eyeing it for release next year. Focus Features International and sister company Universal will handle the film overseas. After all-night negotiations, IM Global and CAA closed the Locke deal with A24 in the early morning hours of Saturday. Written and directed by Steven Knight, Locke centers on a man whose life unravels in real time while he is at the wheel of his car. A24 beat out multiple rivals for Locke, which entered Toronto with positive buzz from its screenings at the Venice Film Festival. (A24 is owned by Guggenheim Partners, parent company of THR.)

The next Toronto title poised to sell is the crime comedy Life of Crime, which drew strong buzz following a last-minute screening Saturday afternoon (the film officially closes this year’s fest). Despite the heavy rain, every major distributor was in attendance including Lionsgate, Sony Classics, Focus, Relativity and Searchlight. WME and CAA are handling the title, which stars Jennifer Aniston and is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, who died Aug. 20. One buyer who was at the Life of Crime screening says Toronto 2013 already looks busier on the deals front than last year’s incarnation. “It seems like titles are going to be selling,” says the buyer. “Prices are going to be higher than I anticipated.”

STORY: Toronto: IFC Films Takes North American, Latin American Rights to 'The Duke of Burgundy'

Meanwhile, Friday premieres like the Daniel Radcliffe horror pic Horns and the Colin Firth drama The Railway Man still are in play and generating heat. And a stacked Saturday and Sunday is expected to tempt buyers with such titles as Can a Song Save Your Life?, starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo; You Are Here, directed by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner; comedian Mike Myers’ documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon; The F Word, starring Radcliffe opposite Zoe Kazan; the horror-thriller The Sacrament; and Atom Egoyan’s Reese Witherspoon-Firth starrer Devil’s Knot.

“There are a lot of higher-profile films this year and buyers are hungry for good product,” says UTA’s Rena Ronson. “And if warranted, buyers will pay top dollar. Several box office successes this year prove there is a strong market for a good indie film. [There] seems to be several of those here this year.”