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Toronto: Singing A Robust ‘Song’ As Solid Sales Highlight Festival

Deal pace and price tops 2012

The 38th Toronto Intl. Film Festival will end Sunday on a robust note with more than two dozen deals completed.

Both “Bad Words” and “Can a Song Save Your Life?” (pictured above) sold for $7 million — prices that were double last year’s top sale at Toronto for “The Place Beyond the Pines.”

The sales pace at Toronto underlined the growing importance of independently financed films to Hollywood, where the six major studios continue to focus their resources on big-budget franchises.

“People were definitely in a buying mood,” noted Tobin Armbrust, producer on “Song.” “It reconfirmed that buyers like to be aggressive, particularly when they can buy commercial and art-house titles. I think the programmers at Toronto did a nice job — you would not get the same selection at Cannes.”

The first deal closed on Sept. 6 with Magnolia buying U.S. rights to Ryan Kwanten’s romantic comedy “The Right Kind of Wrong” nearly a week before its Toronto screening. A24 led off the next day with a $1 million plus purchase of North American rights for Tom Hardy’s “Locke,” followed by Focus playing $7 million for worldwide rights to Jason Bateman’s “Bad Words.”

Harvey Weinstein stepped in the next morning to close a deal for John Carney’s “Can A Song Save Your Life?” with a $20 million P&A commitment — less than 12 hours after the well-received world premiere at the Roy Thomson Hall. TWC and Lionsgate were the final bidders for U.S. rights from seller Exclusive Media with CAA and UTA co-repping U.S. rights.

Alex Walton, president of international distribution for Exclusive Media, said he was unworried about getting a good deal for “Song,” starring Keira Knightley.

“It was the calmest that I’ve ever been at a premiere,” Walton noted. “It was always going to be a very launchable film. The P-and-A commitment is the most important thing because it really validates ‘Can a Song Save Your Life’ as a modern musical that’s going to play well for a long time.”

TWC has not set a release date. Walton believes “Song” could replicate the long-term playability of “Silver Linings Playbook,” which also debuted at Toronto, then opened last November in limited release, moved into wide release on Christmas and wound up with a $132 million domestic cume.

Dealmaking kicked into gear after the weekend with John Turturro’s Woody Allen vehicle “Fading Gigolo” selling Monday to Millenium along with Midnight Madness entry “The Station” selling to IFC — amid the distraction of Adam Fogelson’s ouster from Universal.

On Tuesday, TWC bought specialty drama “The Railway Man”; A24 made its second deal for “Under the Skin,” a sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien; and CBS Films, which made the biggest buy at the 2011 fest with “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” bought the Daniel Radcliffe-Zoe Kazan romantic comedy “The F Word” for $2.5 million.

Scott Shooman, exec VP of acquisitions for CBS Films, noted that his banner also handled 2012’s “The Woman in Black,” Radcliffe’s first non-Harry Potter film role.

“We absolutely fell in love with ‘The F Word’ when we saw it — we all wanted to give each other a hug,” Shooman siad. “Once the other half of our team saw it, we knew that we’d make an offer. If you wait when you’re in Toronto, you’re going to get left behind.”

Shooman said CBS Films had considered Radcliffe’s fantasy-thriller “Horns,” which was also for sale at Toronto. “We had worked with Daniel on ‘The Woman in Black,’ so we know how versatile he is,” he said.

Shooman said that there was no specific goal for CBS Films at Toronto, adding, “We are not beholden to having a specific number of pictures for our slate.”

Shooman also said he was impressed with the pace of dealmaking, adding, “I think a lot of movies wound up in the right home such as Bateman’s ‘Bad Words’ going to Focus, since his deal is at Universal.”

Wednesday saw four deals close: Well Go USA acquired U.S. rights to police drama “McCanick,” one of Cory Monteith’s final roles; Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions paid $2 million for closing night film “Life of Crime;” Open Road bought Eli Roth’s “Green Inferno” after its Midnight Madness screening; and TWC paid about $3 million for U.S., Canadian, UK and French rights to the two-film package “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her,” starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy.

On Thursday, a pair of deals closed, both via partnerships as Relativity teamed with Blumhouse Prods. to buy “Oculus” following its Midnight Madness screening and Open Road and XLrator partnered on Jimi Hendrix biopic “All Is by my Side.”

Three deals closed on Friday with A24 in its third acqusition for Toronto-set drama “Enemy,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal; Roadside Attractions took “Words and Pictures,” a romancer starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche; and Ti West’s “Sacrament” — touted as the genre director’s move to mainstream fare — sold to Magnolia.

The festival saw an impressive sales performance by CAA, which sold “Bad Words” and co-repped “Can a Song Your Life?” with UTA. The agency was solo rep on “All Is by My Side,” “Felony,” “Green Inferno,” “Joe,” “Locke,” “Made in America,” “Railway Man” and “Words and Pictures.” It co-repped “Devil’s Knot,” “Life of Crime,” “The Sacrament,” “Third Person,” “Tracks,” “Under the Skin” and “You Are Here.”

Roeg Sutherland, co-heads of CAA’s Film Finance and Sales Group, said, “The festival exceeded our expectations in terms of market energy. Even when we were doing all-nighters until 7:30 a.m., it was fun.”

Co-head Micah Green said the projects on the slate were designed to suit the current market, adding, “Even the smaller, more specialized titles feature established stars and are of commercial genres.”

Sutherland noted that CAA sold seven films between Cannes and Toronto, including “12 Years a Slave” to Searchlight and “Dallas Buyers Club” to Focus. “The success of those films with critics and audiences at Toronto was critical, as it further validated the investments that had been made by the financiers, as well as the talent,” he added.

Green and Sutherland said they expected to close at least 13 deals by the end of Toronto and that all 18 films being represented by CAA will be sold within the next two weeks.

“Despite all of the activity at Toronto, many great distributors are leaving the festival without a single acquisition,” Green added. “Hopefully, this will result in a continued trend of strong sales activity at AFM and through Sundance in January.”

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