Toronto pickups pick up pace

Raft of deals close for U.S. distrib rights

Domestic indies are back in the acquisitions saddle as companies find their footing during a difficult time for the specialty biz.

Wednesday saw a raft of deals close for U.S. distrib rights to films playing at the Toronto Film Fest. A number of other titles are in heavy play, including Nicole Kidman-Aaron Eckhart drama “Rabbit Hole.”

A reinvigorated Weinstein Co. has arguably made the biggest splash here. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning following a heated bidding war, company picked up North American rights to Richard Ayoade’s British coming-of-age comedy “Submarine,” marking its second buy of the fest after a multi-territory deal for “Dirty Girl.”

Lionsgate and specialty subside Roadside also closed a key deal Wednesday in nabbing U.S. rights to Robert Redford’s historical drama “The Conspirator,” produced by entrepreneur and Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts.

And IFC Films made its second acquisition of the fest, picking up U.S. rights to Werner Herzog’s 3D docu “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” repped by Submarine’s Josh Braun. Over the weekend, IFC inked the first deal of Toronto, grabbing genre pic “Super.”

Throughout the downturn in the indie biz, IFC has remained one of the more prolific players, thank in part to its near-simultaneous theatrical-VOD release program.

What’s notable about Toronto this year is the level of buyer activity from the Weinstein Co. and others.

No one was sure how immediate the effects would be of the Weinstein Co.’s recent restructuring and new infusion of coin. At Toronto, Harvey and Bob Weinstein company’s has been active both with acquisitions and the successful premiere of Colin Firth starrer “The King’s Speech,” which also played at Telluride.

On the acquisitions front, Weinstein COO David Glasser is said to be a deliberate dealmaker, working with Harvey Weinstein to make sure a film meets the company’s goals, and has a specific marketing and release plan. (“Dirty Girl” and “Submarine” will be released next year.)

Graham Taylor and Mark Ankner of WME Global, along with Protagonist’s Ben Roberts, fielded a handful of other offers for “Submarine,” culminating in an all-night bidding session that ended just before sunrise Wednesday.

At one point, Harvey Weinstein ran into another bidder as he was leaving a meeting with Ayoade, who makes his feature directing debut with “Submarine.”

“Submarine” and “Dirty Girl’s” quick sales are especially seen as a good sign indie biz because neither film has stars that are well-known to U.S. auds, and both are from emerging directors. “Submarine” toplines Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins.

“Walking out of this festival with these two films is reminiscent of the old days of Miramax. Both are the kind of movies that Harvey is great at marketing, and come from amazing new voices,” Glasser said.

Weinstein Co. paid just shy of seven figures for “Submarine,” plus a major marketing commitment.

Glasser brokered the deal with for the Weinstein Co. with colleagues Peter Lawson and Laine Kline.

Brit-based Warp Films produced “Submarine.” Ben Stiller, a fan of the script from early on, exec produced. Stiller presented “Submarine” at the Toronto premiere on Sunday.

Producers are Andy Stebbing, Mark Herbert and Mary Burke. It is backed by Film4, the UK Film Council’s New Cinema Fund, Wales Creative IP Fund and Film Agency Wales. Executive producers are Stiller through his Red Hour Film, Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Kramer, Tessa Ross, Peter Carlton, Will Clarke, Linda James, Pauline Burt and Paul Higgins.

“All of us at Film4 have loved working with Richard on Submarine and the film is that rare and special pleasure — the introduction of a new voice on the world’s film stage,” Ross said.

International sales rep Protagonist Pictures is in negotiations for other major territories. Optimum Releasing will release the film in the U.K.

Other buyers who circled “Submarine” included Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, Fox Searchlight and IFC Films.

IFC is likely to pick up other Toronto titles in addition to the Herzog docu and “Super.”

Herzog’s pic, which also played at Telluride, explores the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc caves of southern France, home to the oldest known visions of mankind. Access to the caves is limited, but Herzog was granted permission to film using special lights that emit no heat.

Creative Differences produced “Forgotten Dreams” in partnership with History Films and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication as a co-production with Arte France and in association with More 4.

Producers are Erik Nelson and Adrienne Cuiffo. Dave Harding, David McKillop, Julian P. Hobbs, Molly Thompson and Tabitha Jackson exec produced. Erik Nelson produced Herzog’s previous two feature documentaries “Grizzly Man” and “Encounters at the End of the World.”

“We were completely blown away by this tour-de-force from Werner Herzog. This is what great 3-D technology was created for,” said IFC prexy Jonathan Sehring.

Deal was negotiated by Arianna Bocco and Betsy Rodgers for IFC, and Submarine’s Braun on behalf of the filmmakers. with Marc Simon of Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard providing legal services

Another docu in play is Errol Morris’ “Tabloid,” also repped by Submarine’s Braun.

Other titles in being buzzed about at Toronto for a domestic deal on Wednesday included the UTA-repped “Beginners” and Will Ferrell drama “Everything Must Go,” co-repped by CAA and ICM.

Action at Toronto is good news for indie agents. WME Global has had a prosperous fest, also selling rights to “Super,” which it co-repped with Klubeck and Rena Ronson’s UTA indie group (UTA led the deal). WME Global has further used the fest to close financing on at least two films, “Rampart” and Mickey Rourke mob pic “The Ice Man: Confessions of a Contract Killer.”