Negotiation drama over 'Education'

Sellers want a lot more than Fox Searchlight's offer

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PARK CITY -- When it comes to hot Sundance property "An Education," someone may be giving someone else a lesson.

The only question is: Who's the teacher, and who's the student?

In the festival's first negotiation drama, an offer from Fox Searchlight for the Lone Scherfig coming-of-age dramedy met with a notably higher counteroffer from seller CAA.

The Peter Rice specialty division is said to have made an offer in the $1 million range for the British period pic shortly after the movie played like gangbusters at its Sunday afternoon Park City premiere.

But CAA, believing they had a bigger commercial play on their hands, turned down the offer and countered with an amount in the high-seven figures, with some pegging the number as high as $10 million.

The exchange scotches for the moment hope for a sale to Searchlight of the Nick Hornby-penned tale about a young woman (Carey Mulligan) and her older suitor (Peter Sarsgaard) in 1960s London, keeping the hot title in play.

The Egyptian Theater premiere of fewer than 300 people was packed with specialty execs from Miramax, Overture and of course Searchlight, among others. The audience gushed over the film, with many saying that it was both absorbing and funny and citing Mulligan's breakout performance.

Jim Stern's Endgame Entertainment, which is on a festival hot streak after landing sales for a group of films in Toronto, produced the picture.

The exchange highlights how far apart buyers and sellers can be at a festival, particularly in the current market, where filmmakers and financiers still want to recoup their often significant investments, but buyers are counting their dollars more carefully than ever.

Depending on your role in the indie business, it also points up another lesson: either the outsized expectations of sellers (if you're a buyer) or undue stinginess of distributors (if you're a seller).

And it solidifies the reputation of Searchlight, led by indie and Sundance veteran Tony Safford, as fierce and savvy negotiators.

The back-and-forth is reminiscent of negotiations the division had last year at Sundance with reps over Nanette Burstein docu "American Teen," in which the studio offered a firm expiration date for its offer on the film.