This year’s Sundance Film Festival (Jan 17-27) saw a flurry of pick-ups — with buyers paying a lot of money for the right films. Jeremy Kay reports

  • Scroll down for a round-up of Sundance deals

When Fox Searchlight paid what is believed to be $9.8m for The Way, Way Back [pictured] in the small hours of Tuesday, January 22, the second biggest acquisition in Sundance history sealed the 2013 festival’s reputation as one where people took out their wallets.

The Monday surge after a typically slow opening weekend is a phenomenon observers recall from last year’s Park City jamboree. What differed from 2012 is that buyers paid a lot of money.

Morgan Neville’s Twenty Feet From Stardom earned early plaudits and generated the first on-site buy the day after the opening night world premiere. RADiUS-TWC stumped up low seven figures for North American rights in a deal with busy Submarine Entertainment (see deals, below).

That is a lot of money for a documentary, but RADiUS-TWC co-heads Tom Quinn and Jason Janego know a thing or two about hybrid distribution patterns that combine the traditional clout of a theatrical release with more nimble digital and VoD strategies. Plus they have the ear of a marketing genius.

“We are in the business of coming up with the right way to distribute a film,” says Quinn. “And working with Harvey [Weinstein] is a game changer.”

By Saturday, January 20, the stakes had been raised and there were murmurs Friday’s world premiere of Don Jon’s Addiction would result in a headline-grabbing piece of business. Before that emerged, newcomer A24 used the full force of its Guggenheim Fund backing to pledge $1.5m for the highly regarded high-school tale The Spectacular Now. The Exchange handles international sales.

Don Jon’s Addiction sold on Monday, January 21. Screen International was the first to report that a deal for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s feature directorial debut was headed into $4m-$5m territory and sure enough Relativity Media forked out a $4m minimum guarantee and committed to a $25m p&a spend for a summer US release.

WME and CAA represented sales rights on behalf of the film’s financier and international sales agent Nicolas Chartier of Voltage Pictures, one of the shrewdest operators in the business who got the number he wanted. Now the pressure is on Relativity to deliver the film to the right crowd in the right way.

Monday was an avalanche. RADiUS-TWC’s corporate parent The Weinstein Company paid $2m-$3m for North American and English-speaking rights to the acclaimed Fruitvale, which won the US dramatic jury and audience prizes. Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions spent $4m-$5m on world rights to the breezy Austenland in a deal that will see Sony Pictures Classics handle for North America.

RADiUS-TWC returned to the fray with the second of five deals at time of writing on January 28, pledging around $3m for US rights to Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried.

The Way, Way Back transaction closed on Tuesday, January 22, after a marathon night-time negotiation. Fox Searchlight’s advance for North America and select international territories makes it second in size only to the $10.5m minimum guarantee it shelled out for Little Miss Sunshine back in 2006.

Many more deals ensued in the coming days. WME’s global finance and distribution group head Graham Taylor, who represented The Way, Way Back, Don Jon’s Addiction and Fruitvale and thus had a hand in the biggest sales of Sundance, dismissed speculation from certain quarters that there was an air of desperation among some buyers.

“They are pragmatic enough to know they can leave Sundance with nothing and maybe buy a festival movie several days or weeks later,” says Taylor. He attributes high asking prices to the intrinsic value of the films. “I sold Machete Kills [outside of a festival] to Open Road last October for $5m and Snowpiercer to the Weinsteins at AFM for $7.5m. When things make sense, that’s the way it goes.”

“Working until 5am is always desperate,” says Quinn with a chuckle. “We have been up every night but it’s been worth it. We have bought four movies that are extraordinary in their own way. Jason [Janego] and I feel very fortunate.”

Quinn and Janego did not target a particular number of titles and were able to move quickly and aggressively when the situation demanded it. It is believed they prevailed over rival bidder Sony in the hunt for Twenty Feet From Stardom and the documentary Inequality For All, and while Quinn declines to comment on this, it illustrates the changing landscape.

“Sometimes we are absolutely in pole position financially [in a bidding war] and sometimes our ability to release a film in the right way is the most attractive [to producers],” he says. “We are truly a multi-platform distributor in that we sculpt and tailor and plan to meet a film’s needs. It is to the credit of the film community that they understand there are multiple ways to release a film.”

The demand for titles from an increasingly populated acquisitions field made for an unusual dynamic at Sundance 2013. “You have all of the sellers concentrated into a few agencies plus Cinetic,” says head of acquisitions Matt Brodlie of Exclusive Media’s new US distributor Exclusive Releasing, which bought US, UK and CIS rights to Two Mothers. “It is very concentrated and not spread out among 30 or 40 sales agencies as it is in Cannes. It makes it tough.” 

Buyers reported, for example, that shortly after The Way, Way Back sold, CAA sales agents were encouraging buyers to return to theatres and watch the 9am Tuesday show of another film on its sales slate, The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman.

There was also a fair amount of on-site international trading. Elle Driver picked up international rights to Twenty Feet From Stardom from Submarine; IM Global and Canana Films’ joint venture Mundial acquired Who Is Dayani Cristal?; Content bolstered its EFM portfolio with Concussion; and QED International took sales rights to Toy’s House

Next stop, Berlin. 

Sundance deals

Jan 3

  • Open Road buys US for jOBS (CAA). Pre-emptive

Jan 17

  • Anchor Bay buys North America, UK, Australia for The Rambler (XYZ). Pre-emptive

Jan 18

  • RADiUS-TWC pays low seven figures for North America for Twenty Feet From Stardom (Submarine)

Jan 19

  • Sundance Selects buys North America for The Summit (Submarine) n Showtime buys exclusive broadcast rights for History Of The Eagles

Jan 20

  • Sundance Selects buys North America for Dirty Wars (Submarine) n IFC buys North America for The Look Of Love (StudioCanal)
  • A24 pays $1.5m for North America for The Spectacular Now (UTA)

Jan 21

  • Mundial buys international rights for Who Is Dayani Cristal? (Submarine)
  • Relativity pays $4m minimum guarantee and $25m p&a for US rights to Don Jon’s Addiction (WME/CAA)
  • Elle Driver buys international rights for Twenty Feet From Stardom (Submarine)
  • HBO Documentary Films buys US TV rights for Pussy Riot — A Punk Prayer (Goldcrest Films)
  • TWC pays $2m-$3m for North America and English-speaking territories for Fruitvale (WME)
  • Madman buys Aus/NZ rights for The Summit (Submarine)
  • SPWA pays $4m-$5m for worldwide on Austenland (UTA); SPC to distribute in North America
  • RADiUS-TWC pays seven figures for North America rights for Concussion (Paradigm)

Jan 22

  • Fox Searchlight pays $9.75m for North America and select territories for The Way, Way Back (WME/CAA)
  • RADiUS-TWC pays around $3m for US rights to Lovelace (Millennium Films)
  • Magnolia and CNN Films buy North America for Blackfish (Submarine)
  • SPC buys US and select territories on Kill Your Darlings (UTA and Elevated Film Sales)
  • CBS Films buys US rights on Toy’s House (Cinetic)

Jan 23

  • RADiUS-TWC buys North America on Inequality For All (WME)
  • Magnolia buys North America on Prince Avalanche (Cinetic)
  • Exclusive Releasing buys US, UK and CIS on Two Mothers (CAA)
  • eOne buys US on We Are What We Are (WME)

Jan 24

  • Content buys international rights to Concussion (Paradigm)
  • Madman buys Aus/NZ for Blackfish (Submarine) 

Jan 25

  • SPC buys North America and UK for Before Midnight (Cinetic)
  • QED International takes international rights for Toy’s House (Cinetic)
  • Magnolia buys domestic rights for S-VHS (WME); Memento has picked up international
  • IFC buys domestic rights for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (WME/Elevated Film Sales)
  • Phase 4 buys North American rights to Newlyweeds (Circus Road Films)
  • King Records buys Japanese rights to Cutie And The Boxer (Submarine)

Jan 26

  • Oscilloscope Laboratories buys North American rights to Mother Of George (Paradigm)
  • RADiUS-TWC buys North America and France on Cutie And The Boxer (Submarine)