Sony closes deal on ‘Wackness’

Studio buys rights to Sundance feature

Sony Pictures Classics closed their third deal of the Sundance Film festival Saturday, after other distributors had gone home empty-handed and many sellers were still trying to unload titles.

SPC acquired North American rights for Jonathan Levine’s “The Wackness” for under $2 million, the company said. The deal included a small minimum guarantee against a substantial P&A commitment and back-end participation. SPC won over the filmmakers and nabbed the pic for less than other bidders, including Netflix, had offered. Weinstein Co. and Goldwyn Co. were also chasing “The Wackness.” Pic is produced by Occupant Films.

The coming-of-age story about a teenage drug dealer (Josh Peck) who sells dope to his shrink (Ben Kingsley) in exchange for psychological advice was in the Sundance dramatic competition. CAA sold the film, which won the fest’s audience prize Saturday night.

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“It’s a movie that hits the 20-something generation,” said Bernard, who has chased this audience in the past with such pick-ups as “Slacker” and “SLC Punk.” “We’ve always had these movies with a cultural connection.”

SPC had already acquired Sundance’s dramatic jury-prize winner “Frozen River” and the Duplass brothers’ “Baghead.” “We went shopping the day after Christmas and it worked out,” said Bernard, who thinks other buyers paid attention to the bigger titles. “They were looking at too many movies and lost focus,” he said. “They didn’t pay attention to the smaller movies.”

Another reason why the buyers didn’t go crazy this year, Bernard suggested, is that they all boasted “established management. Nobody needed to make a statement with a big buy and lots of publicity.”

The scorecard at fest 2008’s end reveals that buyers spent about half the $53 million they paid out last year: about $27 million.

Focus Features: world rights “Hamlet 2” $10 million

Fox Searchlight: world rights “Choke” $5 million

Overture: U.S. rights “Henry Poole is Here” $3.5 million

Paramount Vantage world rights (excluding U.K.) American Teen $1 million

Sony Pictures Classics North American rights “The Wackness” less than $2 million

HBO Documentary U.S. rights “Polanski: Wanted and Desired” $1 million

Sony Pictures Classics North American rights “Baghead” high six figures

Weinstein Co. foreign rights “Polanski: Wanted and Desired” $600,000

Sony Pictures Classics U.S. rights Frozen River low-to-mid six figures

Liberation Entertainment and Netflix’s Red Envelope U.S. theatrical and DVD rights Kicking It

ESPN world TV rights “Kicking It”