Last year, as the industry was looking to lift itself out the pandemic’s purgatory at the box office, SXSW lit the wick on A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once, which wound up dynamiting the 18-34 hipster moviegoer set in what became the highest-grossing indie film of 2022, the best ever for the New York-based distributor, and now a potential Oscar Best Picture winner.
As such, it’s often been said that SXSW has been a place to launch big studio horror titles and comedies before genre-friendly crowds rather than sell them and discover frosh talent; it’s here where eventual Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton first made a big splash with the Brie Larson drama Short Term 12. Still, that slow rhythm has never deterred sellers from utilizing the Austin festival as place to launch fresh talent directly to a zeitgeist demographic, away from the noise of Sundance’s high-brow fare and frenzied streaming marketplace.
Last year marked a return to an in-person affair after a three-year hiatus due to Covid, and SXSW came back swinging not just with rock concert-like premieres for Everything Everywhere All at Once, but also Paramount’s The Lost City and the Nicolas Cage satire The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
This year, there’s a the world premiere of Paramount’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, a surprise sneak screening of John Wick: Chapter, Warner Bros’ Evil Dead Rise, and Lionsgate’s Asian American comedy Joy Ride.
Among the films last year finding buyers were Andrea Riseborough’s ultimate Best Actress Oscar nom contender To Leslie, which went to Momentum Pictures. That distributor also took Blumhouse’s female thriller Soft & Quiet. Shout Studios acquired the Jim Gaffigan-Rhea Seehorn comedy Linoleum, while IFC and AMC+ picked up the Aubrey Plaza-Alison Brie movie Spin Me Round as well as the social class comedy Pretty Problems.
Historically, SXSW is a cash cow for sellers with the occasional $1 million deal here and there (i.e., 2016’s Adam Scott-Nick Kroll-Jenny Slate movie My Blind Brother). High-water marks have included Roadside Attractions nabbing the 2015 Sally Field movie Hello, My Name Is Doris for $1.75M; it yielded a $14.4M domestic gross.
However, with the WGA and studios bound to square off, along with the DGA and SAG, in the next round of contract negotiations, distributors will be in need of product should there be a strike down the road — especially in a theatrical marketplace that is on the rebound from Covid. Exhibition has also been loud about the need for more titles.
“There’s a lot of commercial product for sale in a way that we haven’t seen for a few years,” one optimistic seller said. “Once you have a lot of movies up for grabs, it only creates competition.”
Depending on who you to talk with, this year’s Sundance Film Festival was feast or famine. But for some sellers it was bliss, with one seeing half their slate sold in the first 48 hours.
True, it’s a backloaded SXSW this year for some big premieres, no thanks to the Oscars falling on the festival’s first weekend. SXSW sets its dates years in advance, but some believe the annual event that encompasses film, TV, tech, comedy, music and more should have shifted in response to the Oscars.
While some sellers are griping about that, they have a solution.
“We’re making sure we’re setting screenings in L.A. and mobilizing as much as possible,” said one.
Here are some of the hot titles up for sale at SXSW 2023 (all times CT):
AMERICANA — Heads and tails, this is the glitziest grab for any buyer following HBO scooping up Sydney Sweeney’s Reality out of Berlin. But why is Americana going later rather than sooner at the fest with a world premiere March 17? We understand there was a tight a turnaround with the movie’s post-production. which is standard for any indie making a big splash at a major film festival (not to mention, it’s after Oscar weekend). Pic reps the feature directorial debut of Tony Tost (creator of Netflix period drama Damnation). In addition to starring Sweeney, Americana also stars Paul Walter Hauser and reps the feature debut of pop singer Halsey in this Southern heist-gone-wrong movie involving the mythical Native American artifact the Lakota Ghost Shirt. Heroes and villains collide in this dark, comedic crime thriller. Bron Studios financed. WME Independent and Bron are handling worldwide sales.
Section: Narrative Spotlight. First screening: March 17, 1:30 p.m., Paramount
SELF RELIANCE — Jake Johnson’s feature directorial debut Self Reliance has a sweet premiere spot on Saturday night at the Paramount, a spot typically reserved for studio fare. Johnson stars with Anna Kendrick, Andy Samberg, Natalie Morales, Christopher Lloyd, Wayne Brady, GaTa, Emily Hampshire, Mary Holland and Boban Marjanović. Logline: When a man is offered $1 million to play a game in which hunters try to kill him, he thinks he has found the perfect loophole: they can only attack when he’s alone. His only problem is that none of his friends or family believe the game is real. MRC is selling. Johnson also wrote, and he produced with Ali Bell and Joe Hardesty. EPs are Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Section: Narrative Spotlight. 1st Screening: March 11, 6:30 p.m., Paramount
IF YOU WERE THE LAST — The sci-fi romantic comedy directed by Kristian Mercado and written by Angela Bourassa stars Anthony Mackie, Zoe Chao, Natalie Morales and Goeff Stults. Adam and Jane (Mackie and Chao) are three years into a NASA mission that has gone sideways, drifting between Jupiter and Saturn. They pass the time, certain that help isn’t on its way. All of this culminates in Adam proposing that they sleep together. A debate ensues between the duo. Think When Harry Met Sally set in space. The movie has a similar vibe to Palm Springs; that movie sold to Hulu and Neon out of Sundance for $22M. Chris and Paul Weitz executive produced. UTA selling. Section: Narrative Spotlight. 1st Screening: March 11, 6 p.m., Stateside Theatre
STORY AVE — The crime drama co-written and directed by Aristotle Torres has been several years in the making. Jamie Foxx is one of the producers here. The movie follows South Bronx native Kadir Grayson, who after losing his older brother plunges himself in with a graffiti gang that is as criminal as they are artistic. He tries to rob a Latino MTA conductor on the Story Avenue subway platform. Luis will give Kadir the cash he needs if he just has a meal with him, one that could be life-changing for the teen. Luis Guzman, Asante Blackk, Melvin Gregg, Alex Hibbert star. There’s a lot of excitement around this Sundance Lab-developed project as it’s tri-repped with WME Independent, UTA and CAA and selling. Section: Narrative Feature Competition. 1st Screening: March 11, 12:45 p.m., Alamo Lamar
YOU SING LOUD, I SING LOUDER – Christine Vachon is one of the producers on this Emma Westenberg movie that stars real-life father-daughter Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor in this road trip movie. Dad is trying to save his daughter after she overdoses on benzodiazepines and opioids. He’s been absent, and in an attempt to lead her to sobriety, looks to repair their relationship. UTA selling. Section: Narrative Spotlight. 1st Screening: March 11, 9:15 p.m., Zach Theatre
SCRAMBLED — The Leah McKendrick directed and written title follows thirtysomething bridesmaid Nellie Robinson. Her weekends are spent hopping from wedding to baby shower to yet another she-said-yes engagement party, all while nursing a broken heart due to a recent breakup. She distracts herself in the shallow dating pool of bartenders and Hinge bros, but when a doctor visit reveals her fertility may be in jeopardy, she stares down the barrel of a future without options and decides to freeze her eggs. The arduous (and pricey) process sends her on a journey of self-examination, confronting past lovers, dreams, and regrets, and ultimately bringing her face to face with the one she’s meant to be with forever: Herself. Lionsgate is selling worldwide rights to this movie which includes McKendrick, Ego Nwodim, Andrew Santino, Clancy Brown,Laura Ceron, Yvonne Strahovski, June Diane Raphael, Adam Rodriguez, Brett Dier, and Sterling Sulieman. Narrative Feature Competition, March 11, 4PM, Alamo Lamar D.
LATE BLOOMERS — Karen Gillan continues to show her range beyond the Jumanji and Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Here she plays 28-year-old-Louise, a depressed musician, recently single, who breaks her hip and winds up in physical therapy with people twice her age. There she meets cranky Polish lady Antonia (Malgorzata Zajaczkowska), who speaks no English. Louise winds up caring for her. Neither loves the arrangement. UTA selling this movie directed by Lisa Steen and written by Anna Greenfield. Steen world premiered her 2019 short Sundowners at Sundance, and Late Bloomers is her feature directorial debut after five shorts. UTA selling. Section: Narrative Feature Competition. 1st Screening: March 10, 6:45 p.m., Alamo Lamar D
MUSTACHE — Imran J. Khan wrote and directed this smart, adolescent title that has the charm we hear of Eighth Grade and Ladybird. Set in the mid-1990s in Northern California, 13-year-old Ilyas, a Pakistani American, has been pulled out of his Islamic private school by his parents and sent to public school where he faces the embarrassment of his inescapable, prepubescent “mustache.” Ilyas hatches a plan to return to his old school. Khan was an editor on Space Jam: A New Legacy and Minions: The Rise of Gru. Christopher Storer, creator of The Bear, was an early champ for this project and was involved in developing it as one of the producers. UTA selling. Section: Narrative Feature Competition. 1st Screening: March 12, 4:15 p.m., Alamo Lamar D
BLOODY HELL — Molly McGlynn’s second directorial feature after 2017’s Mary Goes Round (which went to TIFF) is a semi-biographical coming-of-age traumedy that traverses sexuality and womanhood. It centers on 16-year-old Lindy (Maddie Ziegler), who is diagnosed with MRKH syndrome, a reproductive condition, which upends her plans to have sex, and her relationship with her mother (Emily Hampshire) and most importantly herself. Janelle Monáe is an EP here. WME Independent selling. Section: Narrative Spotlight. 1st Screening: March 13, 9 p.m., Stateside Theatre.
CORA BORA — Cora (Megan Stalter) senses her open relationship is on the rocks. When the struggling musician and messy millennial goes home to Portland to win back her girlfriend, she realizes it’s much more than her love life that needs salvaging. Cast includes Hannah Pearl Utt directs off a script by Rhianon Jones. Chelsea Peretti, Jojo T. Gibbs, Manny Jacinto, Ayden Mayeri, Thomas Mann, Chrissie Fit, Andre Hyland, Margaret Cho, Darrell Hammond. CAA selling. Section: Narrative Spotlight. 1st Screening: March 12, 8:30 p.m., Stateside Theatre.
FRYBREAD FACE AND ME — Taika Waititi is the executive producer on this feature written and directed by Billy Luther and set in the 1990s. Benny is a Native American boy growing up in San Diego who plays with dolls and listens to Fleetwood Mac. Everything Benny thinks he knows about himself and his family is turned upside down when his parents force him to spend the summer at his Grandma Lorraine’s sheep ranch on the reservation in Arizona. There he meets his cousin Dawn aka Frybread Face, a pudgy 11-year-old vagabond, tough-as-nails tomboy. Benny has never met anyone like her, and he is equally intimidated and impressed by her knowledge of Navajo language and tradition. Together, Benny and Fry create a memorable summer. Macro and Riverraod are on board here. CAA selling this pic that stars Kier Tallman, Charley Hogan, Martin Sensmeier, Kahara Hodges and Sarah Natani. Section: Narrative Spotlight. 1st Screening: March 11, 6 p.m., Alamo Lamar B
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