By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 23, 2011 at 4:54AM
In the first major deal of the festival, one of the more commercial-looking prospects of the Sundance market, rookie director J.C. Chandor's Wall Street drama Margin Call, went to Lionsgate and its subsidiary Roadside after an all-night negotiation at Roadside's Deer Valley condo. The movie is a testament to what can be done on a shoestring--the $3.5 million film was shot in 17 days in New York City.
That makes a modest minimum guarantee for U.S. rights that is slightly less than $2 million, combined with foreign sales, a decent deal. Meanwhile Chandor has already landed a two-picture deal at Warner Bros. UPDATE: In Sundance's biggest deal to date, Paramount picked up worldwide rights to long-distance romance Like Crazy for $4 million. Next deal is likely to be the shaggy-dog Paul Rudd comedy My Idiot Brother.
UTA and Cassian Elwes negotiated the sale of the film; its script was on the top ten Black List for 2010--after it had been made. IFC and Magnolia were also in the hunt. Why didn't the bigger distribs pick up the film? One key buyer looking for wide-release pictures figured the movie--which has a strong ensemble cast to sell, led by Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto and supporting actors Simon Baker, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci--would require a platform release.
The movie was financed by young producer Michael Benaroya and Robert Ogden Barnum, and Quinto, Neal Dodson, and Corey Moosa of Before the Door Pictures and Joe Jenckes. Elwes, Laura Rister, Randy Manis, and Joshua Blum are exec producers. Elwes, who consulted with Quinto and his management company Untitled, agrees that a slow theatrical release was the way to go. Quinto helped to round up the cast, who worked for very little on the promise of a decent back end--which precluded their approval of a VOD release by IFC or Magnolia.
This reveals how much resistance there still is to a VOD release when there are back-end deals with stars involved. IFC and Magnolia usually make these deals with smaller indie and foreign projects--but when CAA sold Flawless, also starring Demi Moore to Magnolia, the movie made millions. (In that case the stars were presumably paid up front.) A 2011 release is planned; the filmmakers carry hopes for a fall Oscar campaign, and according to Elwes, believe that a theatrical release is necessary for that to happen. "We'll see what have; we love the story," says Roadside co-president Eric D'Arbeloff. "We'll put it out in the world and see how people react to it. "
Set in 2008, the film shows the financial world on the edge of collapse; risk analyst Tucci is just figuring this out when he gets canned after 19 years. He passes his charts onto one of his staffers, Quinto, who turns out to be a trained rocket scientist who plays with numbers—why not make more money on Wall Street? The movie follows the 24 hours before the Crash as the players at an ancient investment bank (Lehman Brothers), decide how they are going to get out of the coming shitstorm alive. "It's not a typical Sundance movie; it has a bigger cast and bigger ideas," says D'Arbeloff. "It's rooted in what really happened; the insider account really appealed to us. It gives you a sense of what the financial world feels like. The ticking clock feels organic."
Stay tuned for more updates.