Sundance: MoviePass, The Orchard Buy ‘American Animals’

MoviePass Ventures and The Orchard are partnering to buy North American distribution rights to “American Animals,” an art heist drama that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The deal was for $3 million and involved a significant P&A commitment, according to a knowledgeable source.

It’s a unique pact, combining the resources of a subscription ticketing service that’s been likened to the Netflix of the exhibition space with the indie studio behind “Cartel Land” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” At the start of the festival, MoviePass announced that it was looking to buy films and was hoping to partner with a more traditional distribution company. It had talked to studios about partnering on a deal to purchase “Blindspotting,” but that film ultimately sold to Lionsgate. MoviePass’ subscriber rolls currently exceed 1.5 million people, so theoretically it has access to data on consumer habits that could help the companies pitch the film to consumers.

American Animals” hit the mountainside festival with a lot of buzz for its colorful plot, kinetic direction by Bart Layton, and the performances of stars-on-the-rise like Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan. The film unfolds in 2004 and follows childhood friends Spencer (Keoghan) and Warren (Peters) as they rebel against their suburban upbringing in a posh corner of Kentucky. The two plot to steal priceless Audubon prints and rare books from Transylvania University’s special collections library. Their exploits rank as one of the most audacious art thefts in recent history. But reality proves to be very different than fantasy, and while they had visions of pulling off a grand caper, Spencer and Warren are eventually forced to grapple with the moral consequences of their criminality.

Reviews for the film were strong. Variety’s Guy Lodge called the picture “wildly entertaining,” and wrote that it works as “a riveting college-boy crime caper that tiggers along on pure movie-movie adrenaline, before U-turning into a sobering reflection on young male privilege and entitlement.”

“American Animals” was co-financed and developed by Film4, which previously backed Layton’s first feature debut “The Imposter,” and “I, Tonya” maker AI Film. It is a Raw production, and was produced by Katherine Butler, Derrin Schlesinger, Dimitri Doganis, and Mary Jane Skalski.

The deal was negotiated by Danielle DiGiacomo, VP of acquisitions for The Orchard. Khalid Itum, VP of business development, Zac Bright, director of business development at MoviePass, represented the subscription service. Vince Holden at AI Film and UTA Independent Film Group represented the filmmakers.

Sierra/Affinity will handle international sales on “American Animals.” Those rights are still available.

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