Toronto catches ‘Fever’

Lions Gate wins bid war; Sony, NL, M'max involved

TORONTO — In by far the largest deal of the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, Lions Gate Films late Friday night committed seven figures, along with roughly $12 million toward P&A, for Midnight Madness horror entry “Cabin Fever.”

The pic generated a frenzied bidding war, with such distribs as Revolution Studios/Sony, MGM/United Artists, New Line and Miramax making frenzied phone calls, and an array of competing offers just as the fest was on its last legs. After Lions Gate, highest offers were said to be in the $4 million-$5 million range but without any P & A commitment.

“They got themselves a potential franchise,” said William Morris Independent’s Cassian Elwes, who negotiated the pact. “They were on the ground running and very smart about the deal.” Elwes added that the deal was one of the best he has seen for the producers, as far as its back-end terms. Lions Gate plans to release the pic next summer on as many as 2000 screens.

A midnight screening Saturday elicited a wild and appreciative reaction from attendees.

Pact, good for all North American rights to the film, ended a festival that started with a whimper of activity but seemed to grow busier as the days passed.

There are still several high-profile pics in play with distribs, including Sept. 11-themed “The Guys,” and “The Secret Lives of Dentists,” both of which were near deals.

In all, there were 11 domestic acquisitions, with Lions Gate, Miramax and Newmarket appearing the hungriest of distribs. UA’s $1.5 million pact for Chinese lingo pic “Together” was the second largest of the fest.

In a far smaller deal, Palm Pictures bought domestic rights to Hong Kong pic “The Eye,” directed by Oxide and Danny Pang. Palm, which may release the pic in conjunction with Magic Lamp (as they did with “Sex and Lucia”), negotiated with Fortissimo Film Sales.

For “Cabin Fever,” Lions Gate negotiated with DownHome Entertainment, Tonic Films, Black Sky Entertainment and Deer Path Films, the producers of the film.

“Cabin Fever” follows five friends and recent college grads as they embark on a vacation deep in the mountains. When one of the friends contracts a virulent flesh-eating disease, the group dynamic devolves into survival of the fittest, as the rest slowly turn on one another.

“Eli Roth has crafted an instant horror classic with ‘Cabin Fever,’ ” Lions Gate Film Releasing prexy Tom Ortenberg said. “We are delighted to be associated with such an exciting new filmmaker and look forward to a long- term relationship with Eli.”

An elated Roth added, “The most important thing to me is that the film is distributed by a company that is passionate about the material and truly understands it. Lions Gate acquiring ‘Cabin Fever’ is beyond my wildest dreams. This is a true Cinderella story.”

Ortenberg, Peter Block and Jason Constantine negotiated the deal on behalf of Lions Gate, with executive producer Susan Jackson of Turtles Crossing and Elwes negotiating on behalf of the filmmakers.

Roth makes his directorial debut with “Cabin Fever,” which he co-wrote along with Randy Pearlstein from a story by Roth. Pic was produced by Lauren Moews, Sam Froelich, Evan Astrowsky. The film stars Jordan Ladd, Rider Strong, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern and Arie Verveen.

Lions Gate’s upcoming releases include “Secretary,” directed by Steven Shainberg, starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal; and “Rules of Attraction,” written and directed by Roger Avary.

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