Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that CBS Films is closing the first 7-figure deal of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, paying a minimum guarantee of around $2 million with a $1.5 million P&A commitment for The Words. The Brian Klugman/Lee Sternthal-directed drama stars Bradley Cooper as a struggling writer who discovers a lost manuscript, claims it as his own and becomes a literary sensation. All good until a man claiming to be the real writer (Jeremy Irons) shows up at his doorstep.

Bidding went through the evening, and I heard that Mickey Liddell’s new distribution company LD Entertainment and Lionsgate were among those in the mix. While The Words is the festival’s closing-night film, sellers set up a private screening Saturday morning at the Holiday III. Reaction was strong and distributors began circling right away. The film has the perfect elements that make it catnip for distributors looking for films that have a shot at a real theatrical release: Cooper is hot, after The Hangover Part II and Limitless, and starring as Lucifer later this year in the Alex Proyas-directed big-scale adaptation of the Milton poem Paradise Lost. Besides Irons, the cast includes Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana and Ben Barnes. The film was repped by CAA and Cassian Elwes, with CBS exec Scott Shooman. Parlay Films is handling foreign sales and is almost done.

CBS Films, which has made acquisitions a priority, made the big deal of last fall’s Toronto Film Festival, when it paid $5 million for Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, which it releases March 9.

The Words is produced by Michael Benaroya, Jim Young, and Tatiana Kelly, with Laura Rister and Elwes exec producing under their Waterfall Media Banner, with Cooper and Lisa Wilson.

Sometimes that first deal leads to a flurry of them. I will not be surprised if deals start falling in place shortly for Celeste And Jesse Forever, Lay The Favorite, Arbitrage, Robot And Frank, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, The First Time, Red Lights, Filly Brown, and The First Time. And today’s premieres include the Spike Lee-directed Red Hook Summer and Safety Not Guaranteed. The latter film falls into the Kevin Smith slot. Last year, Smith debuted Red State during the Jets-Steelers AFC Championship Game; this year, Safety Not Guaranteed premieres today while the Giants play the 49ers for the NFC Championship. Those New York-based distributors who trudge to the Library Center Theater and miss the game are earning their money today.

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