Execs scramble for Sundance titles

Industryites queue up to lock in fest pix

Late on Thanksgiving eve, indie insiders had other things on their minds than cornbread vs. oyster dressing — namely, how to track down a tape of an unknown film called “Police Beat.”

The Sundance lineup was leaking out of Park City, and while most of the slate had been accounted for, the list still included a few under-the-radar filmmakers for agents and acquisitions execs to woo before the slate became public knowledge.

The majority of Sundance’s slate — from Steve Buscemi’s “Lonesome Jim” to Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” — has been tracked by industryites from script stage through Sundance Labs, agency packaging and so on.

In the tightly knit — and ever-consolidating — indie sector, execs and agents lose sleep imagining the competition pouncing on that unknown entity that has found its way into the heart of Sundance topper Geoff Gilmore.

“If you discover what’s going on at Sundance when that list comes out, you’ve already lost the race,” points out UTA’s Jeremy Barber, who is repping such films this year as “Thumbsucker,” “Junebug” and “Hustle & Flow,” with colleague Richard Klubeck.

“We get offered everything and we try to sift through all of it,” says William Morris Independent’s Cassian Elwes, who last year signed Shane Carruth after receiving a tape of his $7,500 sci-fier “Primer,” which eventually won Sundance and sold to ThinkFilm.

“Movies do come out of left field,” adds Elwes, who will rep “The Dying Gaul” among other films this year with Rena Ronson. “You have to have your antennae up at all times. That’s the beauty of Sundance, you just never know.”

When “Police Beat” leaked as a Gilmore fave, the film sent execs scurrying for reconnaissance.

Two other unknowns are Georgina Garcia Riedel’s “How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer” and Travis Wilkerson’s “Who Killed Cock Robin?”

“It’s super cut-throat to get movies this year,” said one seasoned rep. “There are a bunch of ways to get movies, and everyone is looking for leaks at Sundance. You need to find someone in the press office, an intern, someone who is exposed to the filmmakers they are considering. It’s a pretty intense process.”

Up in Seattle, “Police Beat” producer Jeffrey Brown’s phone began ringing.

“Industry execs have already been in touch with us over the last few weeks,” he said. “But today, I’ve gotten a dozen more phone calls,” he says.

“Beat” follows the story of a conservative, African-born Seattle bicycle cop over one week.

“When they announce that list, it can become such an awful situation for filmmakers,” says Cinetic Media’s Micah Green, whose firm is repping nine films at Sundance, including “Lonesome Jim” and “Brick.”

“For filmmakers without representation it can be a free-for-all, a barrage of experienced and novice sales representatives calling at the same time with a similar pitch. Further, because most filmmakers don’t study the independent film business, they only know the success stories. Part of why we try to get to a filmmaker so early is to educate them about this process.”

Cinetic screens between 800 and 900 films a year and last Sundance sold “Napoleon Dynamite” to Fox Searchlight for about $4 million. That pic has grossed more than $43 million and became the poster child for edgy youth pics.

Brown — who produced “Beat” with Alexis Ferris through non-profit Northwest Film Forum — is now trying to keep a lid on screeners so as not to kill any buzz.

“That first screening is very important,” said one Sundance vet. “If you are not in negotiations by the time the second screening comes along, the price of the film is going down.”

While acquisitions execs vie for tapes, savvy agents know the value of keeping them waiting.

“In today’s independent film market it is better to premiere your movie within a festival showcase screening,” says ICM’s Shaun Redick, “That’s where the crowd consists of media, an excited general audience and the top acquisition, distribution and marketing execs from the studios and independent distributors. Any other route is a much more difficult route.”

Brown said that by year’s end, his team plans on hiring a firm to rep the film and a publicist.

ays Brown: “I think we’re in a very good position in holding the film tight to our breasts. We are being courted, but one advantage that we have is that we’re not pros at this. We’ll decide what we want and we won’t really know whose feelings we might hurt.”

For the full Sundance selection, click here.

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