Notes From Sundance

01.24.12

Sundance Dealmaking Kicks Into Overdrive

Fox Searchlight broke out as the festival’s leading dealmaker, snapping up rights to the hottest title of the year, The Surrogate, and winning a bidding war for the magic-realistic Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Although a series of blizzards has battered the festival, dumping several feet of snow throughout this winter-sport wonderland at the base of the Wasatch Mountains and making the schlep from screening to swag suite to open bar tricky to navigate, Sundance dealmaking heated up Tuesday with Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features acquiring the distribution rights to festival entries. And Fox Searchlight has emerged as most purchase-happy of studio suitors so far, picking up two movies here in Park City, Utah.

On Monday, Searchlight paid $6 million for the North American distribution rights to what has arguably broken out as Sundance’s hottest title this year: The Surrogate, an uplifting drama about a middle-aged man (Oscar-nominated John Hawkes of Winter’s Bone fame) confined to his bed by an iron lung who hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to finally relieve him of his virginity.

Then on Tuesday, Searchlight prevailed in a bidding war for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a dreamlike drama starring a cast of nonprofessional actors that juxtaposes gritty scenes of bayou poverty with nature-based magical realism to tell the story of a 6-year-old girl trying to find her way in the world. Although Beasts’ Friday premiere was greeted by rapturous audience and critical response that had acquisitions agents reaching for their checkbooks, no dollar-amount announcement was made concerning how much the studio paid for the movie.

Also Tuesday, the distribution rights for two of the most overtly commercial movies screening at Sundance were sold. Focus Features picked up the raunchy phone-sex lark For a Good Time, Call…, written and costarring Lauren Anne Miller (a.k.a. Mrs. Seth Rogen), for a reported $2 million. And Sony Pictures Classics acquired Celeste and Jesse Forever, a comedy-drama starring Rashida Jones and SNL’s Andy Samberg as high-school sweethearts who decide to divorce while attempting to remain friends.