Sundance: Fox Searchlight Nears Record Deal for 'Me and Earl and the Dying Girl' (Exclusive)

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directs the tearjerker, which has quickly emerged as a must-see.

Just when you thought the festival was dope for Dope, which sold for $7 million, another bigger deal has avalanched the proceedings.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is being picked up by Fox Searchlight after setting off a frenzy among buyers. By Sunday night, bidding had reached $12 million, according to one source, although Searchlight insiders are denying that the deal is for anything approaching that figure.

Searchlight insiders told THR that the studio is becoming an investor in the movie, with the investment being a portion of the cost of the film, and that the figure is in the mid-seven range. The deal is being described as being a partnership with a different structure than an outright buy.

On Monday morning, Searchlight confirmed that it is partnering with Indian Paintbrush for worldwide distribution on the film. Indian Paintbrush financed Me and Earl.

But before the dust settled, a number of studios were vying for the film including Focus, CBS Films, Lionsgate, A24 and Miramax, according to sources. If Searchlight/Indian Paintbrush did close the deal in the $12 million range, that would top previous Sundance sales records for Little Miss Sunshine and Hamlet 2, both of which went for about $10 million.

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The movie premiered early Sunday afternoon and received a five-minute standing ovation. Sources say the movie had five bidders by the time the afterparty, held at the Grey Goose Lounge on Main Street, was in session.

The movie, directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, has been compared tonally to The Fault in Our Stars, the tearjerker hit starring Shailene Woodley, as well as James Ponsoldt’s coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now (which also starred Woodley and premiered at Sundance).

THR film critic John DeFore raved about the film, calling it "film-geek friendly but thoroughly accessible and very funny," adding that it "has the makings of a mainstream hit."

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Earl features Thomas Mann as a high school outcast who is forced to spend time with a girl, played by Olivia Cooke, who is dying of leukemia. Molly Shannon and Connie Britton also star.

Jesse Andrews wrote the script. Steven Rales, Dan Fogelman and Jeremy Dawson produced the film, with Nora Skinner as executive producer. WME is representing the filmmakers.

Indian Paintbrush has teamed with Searchlight a number of times in the past. The company backed Wes Anderson’s last four pictures -- three of which were distributed by Searchlight -- including The Grand Budapest Hotel. The company also was behind Jason Reitman's Labor Day and Jay and Mark DuplassJeff, Who Lives at Home.

Jan. 26 2.15 a.m. Updated with additional details on the deal. 

Jan. 26 11:46 a.m. Updated with details on Indian Paintbrush's involvement.