This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Are you ready for some hot deals in the cold snow? Heading into the Sundance Film Festival, sales agents and distributors agree that the 2015 incarnation will be a seller’s market, with prices expected to hit dizzying heights. In fact, Fox Searchlight set the tone by nabbing worldwide rights to Noah Baumbach‘s Mistress America ahead of the festival, a deal that sources peg at nearly $7 million. Supply is limited, and demand is at an all-time high thanks to such new distributors as Bleecker Street, Broad Green Pictures and a still-unofficial-but-very-real Relativity specialty label as well as nontraditional outlets such as Amazon Studios and WWE Studios, both of which will be eager to buy at the festival. “New players in the marketplace will keep prices up for domestic,” says Lia Buman, president of acquisitions at Focus Features, which picked up Zach Braff‘s Wish I Was Here last year. “And the Sundance films are in line with what they’re looking for.”
The Weinstein Co., which was fairly inactive last year, is expected to be on the prowl. There’s also speculation that Robert Simonds‘ new studio STX Entertainment will be on hand looking for films with wide-release potential. Ditto for Tom Rothman‘s TriStar Productions. Buyers also are expected to be more aggressive given that no one wants a repeat of 2014, when Boyhood wasn’t deemed commercial enough. (IFC Films, which financed the Oscar frontrunner, wound up releasing the film itself by default.) “Every buyer is motivated by the fear of passing on the big thing, and last year, every major label had a shot at Boyhood,” says one top sales agent. “We will feel the reverberations of that this year.” The documentary space is poised to be competitive, with hungry outlets — both small- and big-screen — vying for the buzzworthy titles. “It used to be just HBO and PBS,” says Vinnie Malhotra, senior vp at CNN, which bought Blackfish at Sundance two years ago and Dinosaur 13 last year. “Now, it’s also Netflix, Showtime, CNN, all the indie labels.” As for finding his next Whiplash or crowd-pleasing documentary like Searching for Sugar Man, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard says it’s impossible to pinpoint ahead of the festival. “You really can’t draw a map of what you’re going to see and what you’re going to buy,” he says. “A lot of the movies we buy were not on our radar at all going in.”
THE BRONZE (WME Global)
Director: Bryan Buckley
Buzz: Buyers are clamoring for a look at the opening-night film, a raunchy comedy about a washed-up former Olympic gymnast who lives in her father’s basement. The film features a star-making turn by actress Melissa Rauch, who co-wrote.
THE D TRAIN (UTA/WME Global)
Directors: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel
Buzz: Former producing partners Jack Black and Mike White reteam for a comedy about an insecure man facing his 20th high school reunion. Still, it’s not all laughs as Black’s performance hits dramatic notes rarely seen from the comedian.
THE HALLOW (ICM/WME Global)
Director: Corin Hardy
Buzz: This supernatural horror film, which screens in the increasingly fertile Midnight section, is seen by buyers as having franchise potential. Hardy, who is signed to direct The Crow remake for Relativity, is generating a lot of buzz.
LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT (WME Global)
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Buzz: Ewan McGregor plays Jesus (and the devil) in this biblical drama that already has word-of-mouth spreading in the faith-based community. Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot the indie epic.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (WME Global)
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Buzz: Buyers are calling the tearjerker from Emmy-nominated Gomez-Rejon (American Horror Story) a cross between The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars. Jesse Andrews‘ Black List script chronicles the relationship between a high school outcast and the girl with terminal leukemia he befriends.
MISSISSIPPI GRIND (WME Global)
Directors: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden
Buzz: Fleck, who directed Ryan Gosling to a best actor Oscar nomination in Half Nelson, and Boden tackle the world of poker. Ryan Reynolds‘ performance is said to be so strong that no one will remember Jake Gyllenhaal originally was set to star.
SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (CAA)
Director: Leslye Headland
Buzz: Buyers are calling this comedy from Bachelorette‘s Headland the film with the greatest commercial potential. Her script about sex addicts retools the traditional romantic comedy, but much will depend on the chemistry between stars Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis.
STOCKHOLM, PENNSYLVANIA (CAA/ICM)
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Buzz: Beckwith wrote and directed the drama about a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) who is reunited with her parents after having been abducted 17 years earlier. Cynthia Nixon, who also is drawing interest for her performance in the festival’s James White, plays the distraught mother.
Director: Kim Farrant
Buzz: Nicole Kidman stars in this World Competition entry as a mother whose two teenage kids go missing just before a massive dust storm hits their Australian Outback town. Buyers will pounce if the film’s thriller element is strong.
A WALK IN THE WOODS (WME Global)
Director: Ken Kwapis
Buzz: Dubbed the geriatric Wild, the film stars Sundance founder Robert Redford as an aging travel writer who sets out to hike the 2,100-mile-long Appalachian Trail with a long-estranged high school buddy (Nick Nolte). Buyers see the film, which also stars Emma Thompson, as having added value given that it appeals to the underserved older audience at the box office.