By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 23, 2012 at 12:21PM
So the first weekend of Sundance is done (the key weekend, really), and we're already starting to get a sense of how the festival is turning out to be, acquisitions wise. While last year was fairly healthy, with a number of big deals being struck, buyers seem to be a little more cautious, perhaps due to none of last year's Park City grads -- films like "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Pariah" -- really breaking out at the box office. Nevertheless, the sales market has started to kick off, with a couple of high-profile films selling to buyers over the weekend.
The biggest was "The Words," the closing night film of the festival, which screened to buyers and critics on Saturday. The drama, the debut of writing/directing team Brian Klugman and Lee Sternhal, involves a struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) who plagiarizes a found manuscript, only to be confronted by its original author (Jeremy Irons). The pic stars Dennis Quaid, Zoe Saldana and Olivia Wilde, and Deadline reports it was picked up by CBS Films for around the $2 million mark, plus a $1.5 million minimum P&A commitment. This seems on the low side for such a starry drama, but then again, if our review of the "emotionally distant" film is anything to go by, it may not be the most marketable film to come out of the festival.
Also going for north of seven figures was "Black Rock," the festival's midnight horror flick from Katie Aselton ("The Freebie"), who co-wrote the script with husband Mark Duplass. Starring Aselton, Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell as three friends on holiday who find themselves being stalked by strangers, the project, as per Deadline, has been acquired by LD Entertainment, the new distribution label of Liddell Entertainment, who will release it in theaters. Our review hasn't arrived yet, but word on the film wasn't terribly positive, most calling the film a weaker cousin of Duplass' "Baghead," but clearly LD think they can make a quick buck off the project.
Perhaps the buzziest project to emerge over the weeked was Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild." The film centers on a six-year-old girl living at the edge of the Southern delta whose life is thrown out of whack when father becomes ill. Variety reports that Fox Searchlight is ready to tame the film, looking to snare it from The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features who have all been circling. For Zeitlin, this is a big boost as his feature debut comes of the heels of his celebrated short, "Glory At Sea."
They're not the only festival sales, with one film being bought just Sundance kicked off. Deadline reported Friday that "The Queen of Versailles" the documentary by Lauren Greenfield, was picked up by Magnolia for a theatrical release in the summer. The well-received film follows millionaires David and Jackie Siegel, who set out to build the largest home in America, only for the economy to collapse as they begun construction. It's not the only documentary to find a home either as Sony Pictures Classics picked up the crowd favorite "Searching For Sugar Man," which we called "entertaining, touching and revealing" in our review.
And though it didn't screen festival, there's been one more buy for a film that's yet to go before cameras. Guns'N'Roses guitarist Slash is moving into producing, helping to back the horror flick "Nothing To Fear," about a family menaced by a priest, which will star Anne Heche and Willa Holland, and mark the directorial debut of storyboard artist Anthony Leonardi III. And being a horror flick, it's, of course, ended up at genre specialists Anchor Bay Films, who've picked up rights to the project, according to Heat Vision. Filming starts soon, and Slash willl also co-produce the score. Stay tuned for more acquisitions news from Park City in the next few days.