By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 25, 2012 at 9:14PM
Park City, Utah...Marking their first acquisition of the Sundance Film Festival, Lionsgate and Roadside acquired U.S. distribution rights for about $2 million to Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage," starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth and Brit Marling. There had been some speculation that the recent Lionsgate/Summit merger would have some impact on the company's buying appetite, but they were in the hunt, and Roadside Attractions' Howard Cohen, celebrating three Oscar nominations for "Albert Nobbs" and one for "Margin Call" (partnered with Lionsgate), was in good spirits at the Cinetic party at the Bing Bar Tuesday night.
The Summit team now running motion pictures for Lionsgate was roaming the fest looking at potential buys and talent, led by Patrick Wachsberger, Rob Friedman, production exec Erik Feig and acquisitions exec Michael Schaefer; so was the Lionsgate acquisitions group led by Jason Constantine. They will presumably have to whittle down the now unwieldy number of staffers from both companies. Lionsgate and Roadside have two more films coming up, "Everything Must Go" and "Friends with Kids."
Unlike "The Words," starring Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid and Jeremy Irons, which sold to CBS Films on the basis of a 15-city well-marketed theatrical release, this movie is likely to follow the template Roadside used so effectively for Oscar original screenplay nominee "Margin Call," with a VOD as well as theatrical release, which works well for films with name actors. As bankable as Gere is overseas, it's still tricky to sell a stateside wide release on movie stars these days. "Gere is a draw for women and men," says producer Laura Bickford ("Traffic"). "This is the kind of film the studios used to make. It's an emotional family story, a suspense thriller, and a policier."
"Arbitrage" producer Bickford helped first-time feature director Jarecki, 25, the youngest of the Jarecki brothers, to land his name cast, led by Gere, who made it possible for sales company Parlay to raise enough pre-sales to get bank loans for a $15 million budget. Gere happened to be getting on a plane when he got the script, read it and immediately wanted to meet Jarecki, who directed the James Toback documentary "The Outsider" and wrote the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation "The Informer," which flopped at Sundance 2008 after he and Ellis were thrown off the movie. Ellis introduced Bickford and the filmmaker in 2009, who was developing the "Arbitrage" script with Kevin Turen. The filmmakers met with Gere at his upstate New York restaurant; it didn't hurt when "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones came over to urge Gere to do the movie.
The filmmakers let go of one financeer who wanted the Wall Street movie to be shot in New Orleans, but Bickford took to the phone and found five more equity investors; Yorick Le Saux, Director of Photography of "Carlos" and "I Am Love," shot the film in New York, where Jarecki's parents were commodities traders. "Nick knows that world," says Bickford.
Susan Sarandon joined the cast for her second film with Gere, playing his wife, while the filmmakers cast former investment banker Marling just after her Sundance success last year. "You could believe she was running her father's company," says Bickford, "not the bimbo playing the brain surgeon." Up-and-comer Nate Parker, 32, stars in "Red Tails" as well as another festival film, Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer."
After the film was accepted in rough form by Sundance, Jarecki went back into the editing room, working to make it a little better. Thus Bickford hand-carried two wet reels on the plane to Salt Lake City. "I'd never done it by myself," she admits. "I was nervous."
“We are thrilled that we’ve found another film that is such a perfect fit for a Lionsgate / Roadside partnered release,” said Lionsgate’s President of Acquisitions and Co-Productions Jason Constantine. "The film is an intense thriller set against the backdrop of a very specific time and place on Wall Street, but it’s also more than that-- it shows so poignantly how interconnected we all are, and how a series of choices by a few people can affect so many.”
Graham Taylor at WME Global negotiated the deal for the filmmakers with attorney Linda Lichter of Lichter Grossman Nichols Adler & Feldman. Lionsgate was repped by Beeks and Constantine with Eda Kowan, SVP of Acquisitions, Wendy Jaffe, EVP Business and Legal Affairs, and Ron Schwartz, General Manager and EVP of Home Entertainment Distribution.
Sundance reviews were largely positive, but not the sort of raves that would lead to an Oscar contender. "The right partner has to be passionate about marketing the film in the right way," said Bickford the day before the sale closed.