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 …
(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
IFC Films has acquired North American rights to director David Mackenzie’s romantic thriller Perfect Sense, which debuted in the Premieres section this week.
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.
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 …
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 …
(Freelancer Sharon Swart is helping Deadline’s Sundance coverage.)
SUNDANCE OVERVIEW From Mike Fleming: Is Dealmaking Avalanche In The Forecast? Handicapping The High Priority Acquisitions
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.