An update was made to this article at 7:51 p.m.
Though some expected a Sundance hangover following an all-night bidding war over “Little Miss Sunshine,” the fest woke up Monday morning to see a handful of pics in play and a flush deal by Warner Independent Pictures to snap up writer-helmer Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep.”
Marking the second major buy of this year’s fest, WIP made a bigtime bid just 20 minutes after the pic’s preem Sunday.
Warner specialty arm paid $6 million for U.S., U.K. and Canadian rights to the sci-fi drama, starring Mexican thesp Gael Garcia Bernal.
Lionsgate supposedly had forged a deal to pick up Robin William starrer “The Night Listener,” but it had not yet closed. Lionsgate said it had not placed a bid however. An acquisition of Edward Norton starrer “The Illusionist” was imminent, with New Line, Sony, Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co still circling.
Buying activity seemed brisk based on the number of titles so far being snapped up at the frontloaded fest so far, but indie execs said the pace would likely be slower ultimately than in the past couple of years.
They added that there are few surprises so far. The same titles identified before the fest as perhaps the most appealing to studio subsids have been the ones in play. For all the fest’s talks of going back to its roots, it has offered up many acqusitions exec’s prime targets over the first few days. Execs said that their final high priority screenings were wrapping tonight.
Of course, Sundance is also known for its potential in breaking left-field sensations, and smaller distribs were forging pacts on pics that will close after the fest shuts down.
Buys have come, so far, from companies that need product to round out slates. WIP came into Sundance specifically looking for one or two titles to add to its roster. Searchlight has also been ramping up its slate, with pick-ups recently in Toronto and now at Sundance.
High-priority pics that had yet to screen for hungry buyers Monday include “Right at Your Door,” which bowed Monday night, and “The Darwin Awards,” which plays Wednesday night.
Focus Features and Paramount Classics were also in the hunt for “Sleep,” but people close to the deal said that WIP was willing to take fewer territories from French financier Gaumont than the other bidders as part of the pact.
Coming into the fest, it seemed that Focus might have had the inside track on the film: The Universal subsid distribbed Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and also bought the Gallic helmer’s docu “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” in Toronto. Garcia Bernal’s production banner, Canana Films, has a pact at Focus.
“Sleep” deal closed 48 hours after Fox Searchlight paid more than $10 million dollars, plus 10% of the gross, for “Sunshine.”
“Sleep” was described as more experimental than even the hip helmer’s previous projects.
WIP prexy Mark Gill — who crafted the deal with WIP acquisitions exec Paul Federbush, UTA and CAA — said “Sleep” is one of the most “inventive” films he’s seen in recent times. “It also has heart and cleverness, which are very hard to come by together,” Gill said. “It’s very imaginative visually.”
The film follows Bernal as a withdrawn man who returns to his childhood home, where his fanciful and disturbing dream life threatens to take over his waking world.
WIP is planning to release the pic later this year as a platform rollout to minimize marketing costs.
But while “Sunshine” and “Sleep” were sold off within hours of their screenings, other films were being re-screened Monday by circling suitors, with pacts imminent before the fest’s end.
“The Illusionist” — being sold here by the Yari Film Group — was juggling four offers after its preem Sunday night, and the movie’s reps expected to have a deal in place overnight.
Pic drew a positive reception, and one potential buyer said that indie film execs were looking twice: “It’s not really a Sundance film,” he said. “It’s a commercial movie. Sometimes that throws people, and they need to see what to do with it.”
“Sleep” was produced by Georges Bermann. United Talent Agency and Creative Artists Agency were co-reps on the deal. UTA’s indie unit packaged the film, but CAA boarded the project when Dan Aloni left UTA for CAA. Aloni reps Gondry, whose last film was “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Another film getting attention after its preem this weekend was the Ryan Gosling-Anthony Mackie starrer “Half Nelson,” following an idealistic inner city teacher who is caught in a compromising situation by a student. Miramax Films was said to be circling the pic but was far apart on the buying price with the pic’s reps, WMA and Traction Media.
In non-acquisition news, IFC Entertainment announced a new distrib banner, IFC’s First Take, that will release indie films simultaneously in theaters and through its video-on-demand service. First Take will release at least 24 such films this year, including “CSA: The Confederate State of America,” exec produced by Spike Lee; “I Am a Sex Addict”; “Russian Dolls,” with Audrey Tautou; and “Sorry, Haters,” starring Robin Wright Penn and Sandra Oh.