Big Toronto payment for 'Bill'

Late fest action has First Look grab film's U.S. rights

As the curtain fell on the Toronto International Film Festival during the weekend, a final flurry of activity saw First Look Studios pick up the GreeneStreet Films comedy "Bill" in the heftiest sale of the fest.

The Weinstein Co. acquired North American rights to the music documentary "Joy Division" for a price in the low- to mid-six figures. And IFC Films acquired U.S. rights to Guy Madden's "My Winnipeg," which earned the fest's award for best Canadian feature film.

First Look paid more than $3 million late Thursday for U.S. rights to "Bill," starring Aaron Eckhart and Jessica Alba. Maple Pictures snapped up Canadian rights in a mid-six-figure deal.

There was a widespread perception at this year's 32nd festival that sales weren't as robust as those of the past two years. These saw multi-million deals for movies such as "Thank You for Smoking" and "El Cantante." But festival Sales and Industry Office head Giulia Filippelli said she's tracked more than $50 million in business this year, around the same amount as last year. "A lot of films were sold for many countries, not just North America," she said.

The "Bill" deal marks First Look's biggest sale under a new management structure headed by First Look Holdings co-chairs Avi Lerner and Henry Winterstern. The pair, joined by First Look executive vp acquisitions Gary Hirsch, negotiated with filmmaker reps Endeavor Independent and Cinetic Media.

Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack directed the feature, which stars Eckhart as a disillusioned man who, after finding his wife (Elizabeth Banks) is cheating on him with a local news anchor (Timothy Olyphant), begins mentoring a rebellious teen (newcomer Logan Lerman). He starts getting his life back on track with the help of a lingerie salesgirl (Alba).

The film was produced by GreeneStreet's John Penotti, Fisher Stevens and Matthew Rowland and executive produced by Tim Williams and Eckhart. Wallack wrote the original screenplay.

"Bill" was widely considered to be one of the few available titles with wide commercial appeal, which made it an attractive buy for distributors faced with fest pickings many saw as tough sells due to their harsh subject matter or political nature. Instead of following the pattern typical at January's Sundance, where the biggest buys were usually the result of a frenzied overnight bidding war, Cinetic, Endeavor and GreeneStreet kept sales interest in the film percolating long after its Sunday night premiere.

Cinetic also handled one of the biggest deals of the festival, selling North American rights, including Mexico, to "George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead" for well over $2 million to the Weinstein Co.

In addition to "Bill," Endeavor repped "Battle in Seattle" — ThinkFilm paid more than $2 million for U.S. rights — and "Joy."

"Joy," director Grant Gee's chronological account of the influential late 1970s English rock band, screened early in the fest. From Katapult Films, Hudson Prods. and Brown Owl Films, it was produced by Tom Astor, Tom Atencio and Jacqui Edenbrow.

"My Winnipeg" is a documentary study of Madden's home town, which blends images of the city with an account of its history and re-enactments of scenes from Madden's own childhood. Madden also wrote the screenplay for the film, which was produced by Jody Shapiro and Plyllis Laing and exec produced by Michael Burns. Charlotte Mickie of Maximum Films handled the sale to IFC. Soda Pictures took U.K. rights.