Sundance sellers find strength in numbers

For better or worse, co-repping films to spread the wealth (or the blame) is all the rage this year

Buyers interested in acquiring North American rights to the Jim Carrey drama "I Love You Phillip Morris" at the Sundance Film Festival have a few people with whom they can negotiate.

Actually, a lot more than a few.

There's industry juggernaut CAA, led by Micah Green and Roeg Sutherland. There's the emerging powerhouse of Graham Taylor and Alexis Garcia at Endeavor. There's even EuropaCorp, Luc Besson's production company, which produced the picture.

All three are repping the film, one of innumerable co-repping situations this year in Park City.

Forget money, backend percentages or marketing strategies. One of the most difficult things about buying a film these days can be figuring out all the people with whom you need to talk.

"It's kind of gotten out of control; I've never seen anything like it," one buyer said. "Every agent seems to be repping every movie."

In some cases, co-repping is a legitimate result of several entities being instrumental in a film's packaging or sale.

Also, smaller sales agents like Submarine often partner with a larger outfit that has more resources.

But in a growing number of cases, reps are coming onto films despite only a tenuous connection to the movie, because they represent a producer or star or, skeptics say, because they are trying to cash in on the sale of a movie with which they had little to do.

"It's a sign of the consolidation and desperation in the business, with reps splitting increasingly shrinking pieces of the pie," one top-ranking specialty executive said. "Talent loses as a result."

Even law firms have gotten in on the action, coming on to co-rep a movie and splitting commissions with sales agents when a deal is made. (A number of films at Sundance, like UTA's quasi-documentary "Paper Heart," have movies with attorneys as reps.)

A co-rep also plays another role: If a movie fails to sell for a sufficiently high price — there have been many instances of that lately — there is someone else to blame.

Despite the advantages for sellers, buyers say the result is a labyrinth figuring out how to negotiate. Sometimes, they say, if reps don't agree, it could make a deal more difficult.

Last year, CAA and Cinetic disagreed over "What Just Happened?" even before the movie screened. Critics say that in an indie world with too few sales, one thing it doesn't need is too many cooks. (partialdiff)