CANNES: Weinstein Company Near Deal For 'Wettest County' While Distribs Fret Over Buying Pics Sight-Unseen

EXCLUSIVE: The Weinstein Company, already on a Cannes acquisition spree, has emerged as the clear frontrunner for  domestic distribution rights on The Wettest County in the World, after another all-night bargaining session between Harvey Weinstein’s acquisition team and CAA. I’m told a deal is very close. Considering how many distributors showed interest going into the weekend, it might  seem surprising that the Wettest County in the World has taken this long. Relativity Media had been the favorite all weekend since posting the highest bid, north of $5 million. I heard they got word from the producers last night that it wasn’t going to happen with them. I suspect what gave TWC the edge is its awards season experience, and a relationship that is growing between Harvey Weinstein and Megan Ellison, who financed the picture with Michael Benaroya. Ellison just sold to Weinstein world rights to the untitled Paul Thomas Anderson-directed film, which starts production next month with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix starring. I believe that The Wettest County in the World will get a platform release at year end, and open wide in early 2012.

The behind the scenes drama that has been going on all weekend illustrates the predicament for distributors on the Croisette who are trying to maintain some discipline in the closest thing to a sellers market that Cannes has seen in years. Buyers in this case wanted some control over a film that is done shooting, has a talented but not necessarily mainstream director in John Hillcoat and a killer cast that includes Shia La Beouf, Tom Hardy, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman. But buyers have to move without seeing the film, beyond the few minutes contained in a sizzle reel cut for Cannes.

A lunchtime report yesterday proclaimed Relativity Media the winner. I happened to bump into Ryan Kavanaugh at the Hotel Du Cap right then. He told me he hadn’t closed, and that he was concerned about not having final cut and facing a scenario where he could pay a hefty fee for a movie that could conceivably be too long and arty for him to have the shot at mainstream business he would need to recoup.The sellers–CAA and Cassian Elwes–had worked hard at alleviating that concern, even as they pondered the prospect of pulling back, finishing the film and unveiling it at a fall festival. That would have removed any buyer doubt and probably would fetch a higher price, but it would certainly have pushed the film to 2012. Turns out that won’t be necessary.

Several other films face the same process in the last active days of the Cannes market. Cinetic Media last night showed several minutes of On the Road, the Walter Salles-directed adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal beat generation novel, whose cast includes Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams.

Buyers have told me there are a few other tempting titles that will shopped the same way over the next few days. One is the Joe Carnahan-directed thriller The Grey, with Liam Neeson  heading the cast in a survival tale about an Alaskan oil drilling team whose plane crashes in an area ruled by a deadly wolf pack. Word is that the seller–CAA is repping domestic rights pre-bought by Mickey Liddell–wants $10 million for domestic. It seems the kind of star-driven commercial premise that could justify the wide release  that  several distributors are looking for. Another is Blackbird, which stars Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde as siblings on the run who collide with the homecoming of a boxer played by Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam. Even though the market will wind down shortly, there still could be several strong sales, on top of the impressive deals that have already been made and that has everybody buzzing here.

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