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Sony Pictures picks up ‘Defendor’

Dealmaking continues to trickle at Toronto

Fest dealmaking continues to trickle on as the third U.S. distribution pact was inked in Toronto midweek.

Despite the dearth of U.S. pickups, a flurry of deals for prominent international territories shouldn’t be underestimated, say reps.

And film critics apparently still have some credibility, according to producers, as buyers are carefully scrutinizing reviews before pulling out their checkbooks.

Though so far without a theatrical commitment, comedy “Defendor” was picked up in a seven-figure deal by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group for all U.S. rights and most of Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Pic, which stars Woody Harrelson as a self-made superhero, had its fest bow in Toronto on Saturday. Helmed and written by popular Canuck thesp Peter Stebbings, it was produced by Toronto- and L.A.-based Nicholas Tabarrok of Darius Films.

Tabarrok had pre-sold Canadian rights to Alliance Films as part of the movie’s financing mix. Alliance also nabbed Canadian and Spanish rights (through subsid Aurum) to Toronto’s most high-profile pickup so far this week — Tom Ford’s directorial debut, “A Single Man.”

The Weinstein Co. and various foreign bidders vied for the film deep into Monday night.

“We pretty much sold most of the world in five hours on Monday night,” foreign sales agent Stuart Ford of IM Global said. “We intentionally didn’t pre-sell the film, and I’m glad the gamble paid off.”

Among the territorial buyers were Icon in the U.K. and Oz, Mars in France, Svensk Film in Scandinavia, Sun Distribution in Latin America and TWC for Germany along with the U.S. rights.

Ancillary and territorial deals may not be as sexy as a big-advance theatrical deal for the U.S., but they beat the alternative.

“How heartbreaking is it to see movies that cost $20 million with no distributors?” asked attorney and sales agent John Sloss, who along with Jeff Sackman worked on the “Defendor” deal. “The smart approach is to divide up … deals, whether those deals come with advances or not. That’s not a consolation prize, in my mind.”

Deals also have been extremely review-driven, according to producers and sellers in Toronto. Strongly reviewed films that first bowed in Venice had a better chance of making deals in Toronto, as reviews hit and buzz from both fests crescendo — as last year’s “The Hurt Locker” and “The Wrestler” and this year’s “Single Man” proved.

“Buyers aren’t chasing films that trade paper critics don’t like,” CAA agent Micah Green said. “Distributors are wary of relying only on audience reaction. The power that critics have with buyers who are following the critical consensus is undeniable.”

Up next, potentially, is Venice winner “Lebanon,” which unspooled at a packed press and industry screening in Toronto Wednesday and remains among the titles expected to lock a deal.

In other U.S. deals, IFC bought Nicolas Winding Refn’s Viking saga “Valhalla Rising” earlier this week.

(Jennie Punter contributed to this story.)

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