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Sundance Update: Roadside Attractions Acquires ‘The Future’

Mike Fleming

UPDATE: Roadside Attractions closed the deal for The Future. It’s the third deal for Roadside, which teamed with Lionsgate to acquire the JC Chandor-directed financial crisis drama Margin Call, and will release the documentary Project Nim for HBO, which acquired all rights to the film by the team behind the Oscar-winning Man on Wire. Roadside will release The Future theatrically through its North American rights deal, and Lionsgate will handle ancillary territories. Filmmaker Miranda July won the Camera ‘Or with her debut film Me And You And Everyone We Know.

EARLIER, JANUARY 26, 8:22 PM: Now that The Devil’s Double has closed at Lionsgate, the next Sundance picture in play is the Miranda July-directed The Future. It’s down to the wire, with IFC and Roadside Attractions battling it out. Narrated by a cat, the pic tells the story of a thirty-something couple that plans to adopt a terminally ill shelter cat. Before taking on that responsibility, they quit their jobs to discover new interests. She makes dance videos and he knocks on doors for a tree-planting environmental group. They engage in some trippy, existential adventures.  UTA is brokering. Developing…

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Sundance: 2011 Actors-Actresses To Watch

(Sharon Swart is assisting Deadline’s Sundance coverage)

Sundance has a reputation for putting new acting talent in the spotlight. Recent years have yielded more break-outs on the distaff side, such as Carey Mulligan (2009′s An Education and The Greatest) and Jennifer Lawrence (2010’s Winter’s Bone). Both went on to receive Oscar nominations. This year’s festival films again showcased multiple talents poised to find wider recognition. While slightly more established actors such as Felicity Jones (in Like Crazy), Juno Temple (in Little Birds) and Olsen twins’ sibling Elizabeth Olsen (in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Silent House) made a big impression this year, following are a few other names that are emerging:

Corina Calderon: She stars as a willful South Texas teen gunning to win a powerlifting championship in Sundance competition film Benavides Born. The role isn’t far from her own life experience, says the young Latina, but she did have to learn how to pump iron. She trained with high school women’s powerlifting teams outside of Austin and in San Diego, and can now bench her own weight. Festival-goers have been comparing Benavides Born to Girl Fight, which played at Sundance in 2000 and launched Michelle Rodriguez’s career. The film is Calderon’s first lead; prior to this film, Calderon only had a bit part in Robert Rodriguez’s Machete and worked in short films. She trained with Ben Taylor at the Austin Playhouse. Director Amy Wendell says, “Her audition was amazing. She did something specific and determined, and I liked that. She’s passionate and goes the extra mile. She had the pressures of the shoot resting on her shoulders: she had to carry the film, and she did it. In the editing room, I was amazed that she never over-acted. She was really real. This is someone who will go on to show the world something interesting.” Calderon has an Austin-based agent and has had a few nibbles from Hollywood agents at Sundance.

Brit Marling: As a co-writer and lead actress of two films at Sundance this year – competition entry Another Earth and the Next category’s Sound of My Voice – Brit Marling is one of the most talked-about new talents emerging at the festival. With director Mike Cahill, she helped craft the story and script for the inventive sci-fi drama Another Earth. In Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice she plays a mysterious cult leader who is being investigated by a couple who try to unmask her as a fraud. “Brit possesses both an authenticity and an integrity that is highly watchable,” says Batmanglij. “When I was watching Mike Cahill’s Another Earth, the grace of Brit’s performance makes it easy to forget that she’s shaping the material on the screen as not only an actor but as a writer as well.” She made shorts with Cahill and Batmanglij at Georgetown University, where she studied Economics and Studio Art. She worked as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, but quickly realized it wasn’t for her. So she traded it in for a film career. Cahill and Marling went to Havana to co-direct documentary Boxers and Ballerinas, about young artists and athletes in Cuba. She then moved to LA and started writing screenplays to generate material for herself. Just before Sundance started, Marling signed with UTA.

Ezra Miller: He plays a rebellious son who’s just out of rehab in Sam Levinson’s directorial debut Another Happy Day, a U.S. Competition title at Sundance. Though not a complete unknown, Miller is on the verge of wider acclaim according to various talent pros at the festival. “On screen, Ezra is simply a magnetic force: A raw and present actor,” says Levinson. “He can be hard and soft, simultaneously. With the wheels visibly spinning behind his eyes, he is that actor the one that comes along once a generation. I really never knew Ezra wasn’t actually Elliot until after filming.” Miller has had a few TV gigs (in Californication and The Royal Pains), and has acted in a handful of indie films so far. His acting debut was a lead role in Antonio Campos’ Afterschool, which played at Cannes and Berlin. Miller also had roles in Raymond De Felitta’s City Island and Richard Levine’s Every Day, which both showed at the Tribeca and Deauville film festivals. This past spring Miller worked with British director Lynn Ramsey and has the title role in her drama We Need to Talk About Kevin, alongside Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly. Miller is repped by Scott Metzger at Paradigm in New York.

Adepero Oduye: This New York-based actress puts in a raw and realistic performance as a shy lesbian teen who’s struggling to come out to her parents in Dee Rees’ competition film Pariah. Oduye honed her craft in theater and TV before responding to an ad for the 2007 short film version of Pariah which played at Sundance in 2008. The feature version was workshopped at the Sundance labs before heading to the fest this year. “Adepero was perfect for the role of Alike because, as a first generation Nigerian immigrant growing up in New York City, she’s had the outsider experience and understood the struggle of trying to define her identity,” says director Rees. “Also, she exudes this beautiful quality of innocence and vulnerability that fits with the core of [the character].” Among the Cornell grad’s theater work is The Bluest Eye (Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre) and Fela! (AEA workshop). Her TV jobs have included roles on FX’s Louie and Law & Order. She studied acting with Wynn Handman, Austin Pendleton and Susan Batson. She’s currently without representation but has been approached by agents at the festival.

Alex Shaffer: In his first film role, Alex Shaffer plays surly high school wrestler Kyle Timmons in Fox Searchlight’s Win Win, which screened in Premieres at Sundance. Director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) took a gamble on Shaffer, whose only acting experience had been a 6th grade production of The Pirates of Penzance. But Shaffer’s extensive wrestling experience – he became the 119-lb New Jersey-state wrestling champion just before Win Win went into production — was key to the role. “I knew that if the kid we cast had never wrestled, he Read More »

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Sundance: Lionsgate Near ‘Devil’s Double’ Deal

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Lionsgate has entered into exclusive negotiations to acquire The Devil’s Double, the Lee Tamahori drama about the man who was forced to become the body double of Saddam Hussein’s thuggish son, Uday. Lionsgate team has been pursuing the film since it first aired last Saturday at the Eccles Theater, as had Summit and Relativity Media. The subject matter is rough, but festival goers have been talking about the breakout double performance by Dominic Cooper, who plays both Uday and the body double. The picture marks Tamahori’s first independent film since his breakthrough Once Were Warriors, another viscerally-shot drama with disturbing moments. The film seems a good fit for Lionsgate, which has been mentioned as competitive in several festival films. CAA and Paradigm worked together on the deal.

The Devil’s Double is one of the last titles that were on the priority lists of major buyers, in what has been a most satisfying festival for acquisition deals.  Developing…

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Sundance: IFC Acquires ‘Perfect Sense’

IFC Films has acquired North American rights to director David Mackenzie’s romantic thriller Perfect Sense, which debuted in the Premieres section this week.

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Sundance: Ex-Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Slash Tunes Up Trio Of Fright Films

Mike Fleming

Musicians spiced up the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last weekend, with films involving Lou Reed, James Taylor and the Grateful Dead. And then there was iconic ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, who spent the weekend meeting potential studio partners for three new horror films he has  set under his Slasher Films producing label.

Slash  launched Slasher Films last fall by setting up the Jonathan W.C. Mills-scripted fright film Nothing to Fear. He has partnered with Scout Productions’ Michael  Williams and Rob Eric to acquire three horror film packages. Jay Russell is attached to direct Wake the Dead, a contemporary re-imagining of Frankenstein. It is adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles, whose work has been turned into such films as 30 Days of Night.

A deal is being made to produce Theorem, to be helmed by Splice director Vincenzo Natali from a script he wrote with Mike Finch. Pic is about a genius college professor who, trying to break down the genetic compound of an ancient artifact, discovers it’s a relic from hell and that he has unwittingly unlocked the equation for evil. Steve Hoban is producing. Read More »

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Sundance Hot Trailer: Josh Radnor’s ‘Happythankyoumoreplease’

Mike Fleming

The road for Sundance films is often paved with adversity, but worthy films usually find their way through. Here’s a trailer for Happythankyoumoreplease, the directorial debut of How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor. I met Josh when he launched the film at 2010 Sundance. Though the film won last year’s Audience Award, its first distribution deal made on the heels of the festival fell through. A new one was made with Anchor Bay last August. It has taken Radnor longer than most 2010 Sundance filmmakers, but he finally gets his day in theaters March 4. Here’s a trailer:

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Sundance: ‘My Idiot Brother’ Heats Up; Kevin Smith Bummed, Morgan Spurlock Sells Out; Roger Corman Blows Up

Mike Fleming

In other Sundance news… The action on the Paul Rudd comedy My Idiot Brother began right after the premiere screening finished. The two parties chasing it hardest were Relativity Media and The Weinstein Company, with talk of a third bidder as well. The discussions were still taking shape around 2 AM, and the feeling was the film had a good shot to reach $5 million. Reaction to the film was that it was more heartfelt than broad comedy, and some of the players looking for a can’t miss wide release weren’t biting…

The unfortunate timing of Sunday’s Red State premiere –it starts right around the beginning of the fourth quarter of the New York Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship game created misunderstanding between director Kevin Smith and partner Jon Gordon over a football viewing party organized by Harvey Weinstein, but Harvey was quick to make it clear he was there to show love for the filmmaker he launched with Clerks. Smith and Gordon, who named their Harvey Boys banner for Weinstein, felt this way, according to an insider: “Kevin and Jon feel like the kids whose dad doesn’t show up for their baseball game because he went to a strip bar with the guys from the office instead.” Weinstein told me that despite the party, he never planned to miss Smith’s … Read More »

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Sundance: Screenings Start Very Sloooow; Buyers Circle ‘The Guard’ With Don Cheadle

Mike Fleming

On the second day of Sundance, buyers were beginning to get antsy. The first screenings generated moderate interest, but buyers haven’t loved anything and only liked a few films. So far, the consensus is that the unveiled crop of films can’t be released on a high screen count. Deals will be made on these initial films, but not rich ones. The most promising reaction so far came opening day for John Michael McDonagh-directed Irish film The Guard, which stars Brendan Gleeson as a cranky village cop who’s mismatched with a visiting FBI agent (Don Cheadle) because the drug smuggling ring the fed was chasing had taken up residence in the Irish town. By Friday night, three buyers were circling the film. The director is the brother of In Bruges helmer Martin McDonagh. The Guard isn’t quite In Bruges (which also starred Gleeson) but it is a crowd-pleaser.

Several buyers said that Margin Call, the JC Chandor-directed drama about the financial meltdown of 2008, was compelling but long.

The pic Martha Marcy May Marlene has the buying crowd talking about its star, Elizabeth Olsen, who’s the younger sibling of the infamous Olsen Twins and also appears in Silent House, the thriller directed by Open Waters team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau. But respect for a performance doesn’t necessarily mean a buy. Silent House is a haunted house story told in one continuous shot, which meant the cast had to perform it all the way through, like a … Read More »

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Will Kevin Smith’s ‘Red State’ Auction Be Tackled By Jets-Steelers?

Mike Fleming

Kevin Smith is already challenging established acquisition protocol by trying to auction distribution rights in the Eccles Theater right after Sunday’s Sundance premiere of Red State. Some buyers say that gimmicky play isn’t what’s annoying them most. They’re especially peeved that the film’s 6:30 start coincides with what will likely be the beginning of the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. A lot of indie distribution executives hail from New York and New Jersey (as does Smith),  and they’ve waited a long time to see the Jets get into a Super Bowl. How’s that for bad timing?

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SUNDANCE OPENING DAY: Robert Redford Has “Not Thought About Retirement”

SUNDANCE OVERVIEW From Mike Fleming: Is Dealmaking Avalanche In The Forecast? Handicapping The High Priority Acquisitions

(Freelancer Sharon Swart is helping Deadline’s Sundance coverage.)

Sundance officially kicked off this evening in Park City with the festival’s first screenings of films, many with various rights available. Irish cop comedy The Guard has just started screening at the Egyptian Theatre, with buyers including Harvey Weinstein in the house. Other films showing tonight are the Harry Belafonte documentary Sing Your Song, documentary Project Nim (which HBO just picked up), U.S. competition drama Pariah, and midnight screening Silent House, a horror thriller from the filmmakers behind 2003’s beyond-scary Open Water.

Earlier at the Egyptian today, Sundance founder Robert Redford, Sundance Institute exec director Keri Putnam, and festival director John Cooper held their annual opening day press conference. Redford wanted to talk about the Sundance Institute, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. “We usually focus on the festival,” Redford said in the conference’s opening remarks, but “I want to talk about why we are here… What’s our point.” He gave a quick recap of why he started the Institute and how the festival sprung from it five years later. Redford underlined its ongoing mission to support emerging artists with labs and workshops, as well as through the festival platform and several newer programs … Read More »

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SUNDANCE OVERVIEW From Mike Fleming: Is Dealmaking Avalanche In The Forecast? Handicapping The High Priority Acquisitions

Mike Fleming

PARK CITY, UTAH: The acquisitions crowd rolls into the 2011 Sundance Film Festival today with a sense of optimism that dealmaking could pick up where it left off at the Toronto Film Festival last fall. On paper, the signs are encouraging: new buyers and hungry established distributors; plenty of titles with name casts and intriguing plot lines; and a sense of urgency created by sellers bold enough not to prescreen titles for buyers. Several that did screen early wound up with pre-festival deals. Roadside Attractions bought the Grateful Dead-themed drama The Music Never Stopped; Sony Pictures Classics’ bought Take Shelter, sight unseen, as SPC read a script and gambled on the elements; OWN acquired the documentary Becoming Chaz; HBO bought the documentary Project Nim and will sell feature rights; and A&E IndieFilms bought TV rights to Corman’s World. Not to mention that Knuckle, a documentary about two families in Ireland that periodically engages in bare knuckle brawls because of a long simmering dispute, has more than one suitor circling remake rights after CAA sent DVDs because bootlegs already were making the rounds.

There is optimism about the indie business in general right now. Indie films have made a strong awards season showing, with 2010 Sundance films The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone and Blue Valentine in the mix for acting categories at least. Buyers and sellers said the indie business is past its painful bottoming-out phase of the last few years. A leaner, smarter model has emerged and while minimum guarantees and P&A commitments are smaller than years past, filmmakers are keeping their budgets at sensible levels. They’re still drawing stars attracted to provocative material. There were also enough success stories from last year to stoke the fire. “You had this period of too much financing, and over production that left too many movies looking for distribution,” said WME Global’s Graham Taylor. “We saw things stabilize in 2010 and we will see growth in 2011. Demand has definitely picked up, and there are new distributors and players coming in.” Added UTA’s Rena Ronson: “We’ve gone through the slates of the major buyers, and there are major holes. Every major buyer has told us they need films.”

There could well be bidding battles on several fronts this year. There is a bumper crop of buyers looking for product that can open on between 1,500 to 2,000 screens. After absorbing Overture Films, Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media, and Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney’s FilmDistrict fall in step with a reinvigorated Weinstein Company, Fox Searchlight, Summit, Lionsgate, Focus and CBS Films. The question: will any of the Sundance films justify spending the $20 million or more in P&A required to support that kind of release? Dark Castle thought it had such a candidate last year when it committed $25 million in P&A to the horror film Splice, only to see it gross about that much, worldwide. Despite this, several horror titles are high priorities for distributors because they can be opened wide.

All of those players but FilmDistrict will be on the prowl for the specialty films that most of the festival films fall into. Sony Pictures Classics, IFC, Anchor Bay, Roadside Attractions and others that stepped up at Toronto last fall are also expected to be aggressive on films that can be platformed, and widened if audiences respond. “There is clearly a strong market for platform films,” said CAA agent Micah Green. “Those titles can bring their distributors both prestige and profit. Also, the lower cost of entry into platform distribution makes it attractive for independent companies who lack the capital to open films wide.‬‪ ‬We have seen a surge in ancillary value for star-driven specialty films. That was the primary driver for the quick pace of business in Toronto — star talent is very attractive for buyers focused on VOD, DVD, digital distribution and cable outlets. There’s a bullishness on the distribution side of the market. You can feel it‬.”

After checking with several major buyers, here are the films most often identified as priority targets:

MY IDIOT BROTHER - The  Jesse Peretz-directed comedy stars Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer.  Rudd plays a guy who, after serving time for pot dealing, moves in with each of his three sisters as he tries to get back on his feet. His best intentions quickly bring the family to the cusp of chaos and ultimately the brink of clarity.

THE SON OF NO ONE - The Dito Montiel-directed drama stars Channing Tatum, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Tracy Morgan, Ray Liotta and Juliette Binoche. Two men in post-9/11 New York are forced to relive two murders they committed as young boys. Their lives start to unravel by the threat of the revelation. Read More »

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Sundance: Sony Pictures Classics Buys Michael Shannon-Jessica Chastain Drama ‘Take Shelter’

Mike Fleming

Sony Pictures Classics has made a preemptive acquisition of North American, Australian and Latin American, Australian and New Zealand rights to Take Shelter, a drama that stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. It’s directed by Jeff Nichols, who previously worked with Shannon on Shotgun Stories. The film debuts in the dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival.

The drama chronicles a man’s descent into madness. He fears an apocalyptic cloud he believes will engulf his town, and builds a storm shelter in his yard. It has the paranoia and delusional elements of Black Swan, where it’s unclear what is real and imagined. Shannon’s Boardwalk Empire castmate Shea Whigham also stars, along with Katy Mixon and Kathy Baker. The film’s produced by Tyler Davidson of Strange Matter Films and Sophia Lin, and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones is executive producer along with Sarah Green, Richard Rothfeld, Chris Perot, Christos Konstantakopoulos and Hydraulx partners Greg and Colin Strause. Latter duo provided the film’s visual effects. CAA sold the film.

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2011 Sundance Fest’s Films In Premieres

PARK CITY, UT — Sundance Institute announced today the lineup of films selected to screen in the out-of-competition Premieres and new Documentary Premieres sections of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The Festival runs January 20-30 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. The complete list of films is available at www.sundance.org/festival.

“2011 sees the majority of films in the Premieres section coming from outside the studios, illustrating that independent film is both robust and broadening its scope,” said John Cooper, Director of the Sundance Film Festival. “The decision to create a Documentary Premieres section was a natural evolution to shine a light on films with prominent filmmakers or anticipated subjects without distracting from documentaries in competition. Sundance Institute has since its inception been one of the leading organizations in the world in support of nonfiction film, and our Festival remains a platform for both first-time and established documentary filmmakers.”

PREMIERES

To showcase the diversity of contemporary independent cinema, the Sundance Film Festival Premieres section offers the latest work from American and international directors as well as world premieres of highly anticipated films. Presented by Entertainment Weekly, the Festival’s first and longest-standing corporate sponsor. Each is a world premiere.

Cedar Rapids / U.S.A. (Director: Miguel Arteta; Screenwriter: Phil Johnston) — A wholesome and naive small-town Wisconsin man travels to big city Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent his company at a regional insurance conference. Cast: Ed Helms, John C Reilly, Anne Heche,

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