Toronto Wrap: How Paramount Snagged Chris Rock's 'Top Five'

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

The studio will waste no time in releasing the comedy and is planning a December release

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Every studio wanted Top Five after its Sept. 6 Toronto Film Festival premiere. So as director-star Chris Rock settled into the Soho House afterparty with his agent, ICM's Eddy Yablans, the suitors began approaching one by one. Lionsgate reps made their pitch. Open Road, which is releasing Jon Stewart's Rosewater, sent Stewart over to make an overture. The Fox Searchlight team prepped its bid across the street so as not to be overheard. Offers quickly shot up to $4 million for U.S. rights, and that figure had nearly doubled by dawn thanks to rave reviews.

Paramount worldwide president Megan Colligan quickly made plans to see Top Five the morning after witnessing the frantic Soho House scene and hearing from Paramount acquisitions executive Eben Davidson. "It was an awesome blend of heart, raunch and classic New York filmmaking. It was absolutely hilarious," Colligan tells THR.

By the time the screening ended, Paramount CEO Brad Grey already was talking to producer Scott Rudin and texting Rock, whom he has known for nearly 30 years, dating back to Rock's early days as a stand-up comedian. Grey's studio soon agreed to pay the full asking price of $12.5 million for worldwide rights, plus a marketing spend in the $20 million-plus range. Paramount and UTA's Rich Klubeck, who repped the film, were then in exclusive negotiations, knocking out the other contenders before they had a chance to counter. "I was heartbroken," says one bidder. (Lionsgate and partner Roadside Attractions didn't leave Toronto empty-handed, paying $3 million for Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy, which drew raves for Paul Dano's performance.)

The major studios don't often buy festival titles, but Paramount believes Top Five, starring Rock as a comic who wants to become a serious actor, will cross to the multiplex and is already planning a December release. The R-rated comedy, along with Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, are both from Rudin and Barry Diller's new film venture, IACF, which had plenty to celebrate upon leaving Toronto. While We're Young, starring Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, quickly closed a $4 million pact with U.S. distributor A24 Films after making its world premiere at the festival.

Top Five was by far the biggest deal at Toronto, but there were hefty surprises from three upstarts: New U.S. distributor Clarius Entertainment plunked down $4.5 million for Jennifer Aniston's She's Funny That Way, Image Entertainment (backed by BET founder Robert Johnson) paid $3.5 million for Adam Sandler's The Cobbler, while Broad Green Pictures scooped up U.S. rights to Andrew Garfield's 99 Homes for $3 million.

Among more modest deals, Saban Films picked up U.S. rights to John Travolta's The Forger for $2.5 million and to American Heist, starring Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen, for $2 million, while veteran indie executive Andrew Karpen's Bleecker Street made Tobey Maguire's Pawn Sacrifice its first buy, paying in the low seven figures.

"Everyone won in Toronto," says Tom Quinn, co-president of Radius-TWC, which paid $1 million to $1.5 million each for The Last Five Years, Adult Beginners and Before We Go. "But there was some crazy money being thrown around for movies I didn't last through."