As the Sundance Film Festival marketplace gets underway this morning in frigid Park City, here’s the forecast from buyers and sellers: strong accumulation of deals, low minimum guarantees, and potentially an avalanche of multi-platform sales. There is much to be excited about here, even if buyers say they won’t let the thin air get to them and nudge them to spend drunkenly.
Here’s what’s encouraging:
* New buyers led by indie stalwarts like Bob Berney and Daniel Battsek, joining companies like A24 and LD that were new last year and come back hungrier. Add them to the perennial players who all have holes in their release schedules this year and especially 2014. That includes The Weinstein Company, whose Sundance appetite often dictates whether a festival sales market will be boring or dazzling. “We are looking for a film or two for all three of our divisions, TWC, Dimension and Radius,” said TWC COO David Glasser. “We’ve come to buy, if the right product presents itself.”
* Spectacular success stories from last Sundance: Beasts Of The Southern Wild was a home run in the traditional theatrical release space; Arbitrage was so successful as a multi-platform release that it has made that release strategy no longer feel like a consolation prize.
Largely unheralded as the 2012 fest opened with no stars and a first time director and a $1.8 million budget, Beasts is the breakout success that Sundance filmmakers dream of, grossing north of $11 million and Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Arbitrage is that $12 million-budget film with seasoned but not hot actors, the kind of film that once fell into that no-man’s land between theatrical distribution and straight to video. Released simultaneously on VOD and in theaters, Arbitrage grossed $8 million theatrical and a whopping $12 million on VOD. Once all the receipts are counted, Arbitrage should get close to $50 million worldwide in its first revenue cycle, its writer-director Nicholas Jarecki told me.
Related: Sundance: Five Directors To Watch
These positive factors collide with the very thing that makes Sundance a singularly special festival: the films here rarely fit anyone’s definition of mainstream, and the filmmakers are a defiant bunch, tackling dark, squishy subjects and caring far more for art than commerce (give them time).
So while you have up-and-coming star Joseph Gordon-Levitt making his directing debut in a film he stars in with Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, Don Jon’s Addiction casts him as a porn addict, torn between two women; Like Crazy‘s Drake Doremus is back with Breathe In, with Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan and Felicity Jones, in a story about a teacher falling for one of his young students; Lovelace has Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard in a true story about a woman forced by her manipulative boyfriend to degrade herself and become the biggest porno film star in the world. And there’s The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, with Shia LaBeouf so smitten with a woman that he comes back for more and more when her violent ex-boyfriend regularly pulverizes the romantic rival.
Thee is also the sobering reality that only a handful of Sundance films in the past five years have been breakout hits that exceeded $10 million in domestic grosses. That means one, maybe two per festival will justify the 7-figure marketing spends distributors will gamble on theatrical releases. (more…)