Sundance buyers’ block ends

'Choke', 'Henry', 'Hamlet' deals closed Tuesday

Sundance distribs broke through their buyers’ block en masse, as deals for “Choke,” “Henry Poole Is Here” and “Hamlet 2” closed Tuesday.

“It’s as challenging and interesting a festival as I’ve seen in a long time,” said a euphoric James Schamus, prexy of Focus Features. On Tuesday morning, his company won the fest’s first real bidding war, moving aggressively to acquire world rights to the raucous Steve Coogan high school comedy “Hamlet 2” for $10 million after the pic’s Monday afternoon Library Center premiere.

Distribs lined up outside CAA’s Deer Valley condo to place their bids. Focus Features won the auction against rivals Summit Entertainment, Weinstein Co., Lionsgate and Warner Independent.

Also Tuesday, Fox Searchlight announced that it had acquired world rights, less several international territories, to the edgy drama “Choke,” adapted from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”). Deal is valued at $5 million. Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston star in the pic directed by Clark Gregg.

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Overture Films purchased U.S. rights on “Henry Poole Is Here” for about $3.5 million. The spiritual dramedy is directed by Mark Pellington (“U2 3D,” “Arlington Road”) and stars Luke Wilson and Radha Mitchell. Overture CEO Chris McGurk and prexy Danny Rosett had considered a pre-buy after reading the script; as soon as they saw the film, they called Lakeshore Entertainment’s Tom Rosenberg and David Dinerstein. The deal closed by midnight Monday at Rosenberg’s suite at the Marriott Summit Watch.

“In some ways, it’s an edgy comedy. In others, it’s a heartfelt drama,” said McGurk. “It’s inspirational, not religious. It’s about belief and hope.”

Producing for Lakeshore were Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi and Richard Wright, along with Gary Gilbert and Tom Lassally. Wilson plays a man who tries to hide out in suburbia but finds himself instead. Overture expects to mount a late-summer release.

Sony Pictures Classics, Paramount Vantage and Fox Searchlight were bidding on the Indiana high school cinema verite doc “American Teen,” but no deal had closed late Tuesday.

“There are a lot of good films here,” said SPC co-prexy Michael Barker. “They are films that require you to step back and strategize just how you are going to go out with them in the marketplace. If we hesitate or pause, it doesn’t mean the films are not good. You can lose a lot of money on a good film.”

Just as the “Hamlet 2” deal closed, the announcement came that Focus earned seven Oscar nominations for “Atonement.” Focus also opened the Sundance fest with the comedy “In Bruges,” starring Colin Farrell.

Within 10 minutes of the “Hamlet 2” screening, which played to raucous laughter at the Library Center on Monday evening, the Focus acquisitions team called Schamus in New York to get a greenlight on an aggressive bid. Rapturous reactions were already flooding the Internet, Schamus said.

“The filmmakers did a great job of downplaying the movie — It was late in the fest, not in the program, still a work in progress,” said Schamus. “The entire team went, and when they came out, they would have abducted someone’s children to get this movie. They said, ‘This is the movie we’ve been waiting for.’ ”

It took minutes for Schamus to get on the phone with CAA’s Dan Aloni. After the filmmakers listened to all the pitches, they chose Focus and sent the others home around 4 a.m. The team worked on the deal through the night.

L+E Pictures’ Eric Eisner and Leonid Rozhetskin, as well as Aaron Ryder, produced the $10 million picture, which stars Coogan as a drama teacher in a Tucson, Ariz., high school who writes a sequel to the Shakespeare tragedy in order to save his drama department. Pic was originally developed by New Line Cinema, which put it in turnaround.

Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger’s Bonafide Films (“Little Miss Sunshine”) exec produced; Andy Fleming (“Dick”) scripted with Pam Brady and directed. The film also stars Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Melonie Diaz and Amy Poehler.

(Sharon Swart and Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.)