Sundance Deals: Fox Searchlight Snags 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

Tue Jan 24, 2012 5:30pm EST

Updated 1:07 p.m. PT

Fox Searchlight has closed its deal to “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” one of the most talked about films at Sundance.

According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, the company paid about $2 million for the trippy film. Most of that will go for advertising the film, a tough sell.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild," which premiered Friday, won the Sundance Institute's Indian Paintbrush Producer's Award and has had the festival buzzing.

The film is about Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl who lives with her father Wink in "the Bathtub," a southern Delta community in an apocalyptic state.

IFC and Oscilloscope also vied for the project, which features an army of prehistoric creatures.

Searchlight, which has bought a number of daring films in the past year including the NC-17 "Shame," sees the film in the vein of magical realism and will position it that way, one insider said. 

Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar wrote "Beasts," which Zeitlin also directed.

Earlier:

Updated 10:35 a.m. PT, Jan. 24

"Celeste & Jesse Forever," Lee Toland Krieger's comedic drama about two high school sweethearts who attempt to remain friends as they divorce, has sold to Sony Pictures Classics.

The company said Tuesday that it has acquired North American, Latin American and Eastern European rights to the film.

"Celeste & Jesse Forever" stars Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Chris Messina, Ari Graynor, Will McCormack, Emma Roberts and Elijah Wood. Jones and McCormack wrote the movie.

Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd and Lee Nelson produced the movie. Nelson's Envision Media Arts financed the film.

The deal was negotiated by UTA's Independent Film Group.

Earlier:

Updated 9:58 a.m. PT, Jan. 24

Focus Features has acquired worldwide rights to "For a Good Time, Call ...," a comedy from director Jamie Travis, for around $2 million.

The movie is about two roommates, the reserved Lauren and the gregarious Katie. When Lauren learns that Katie works as a phone-sex operator, she spots a business opportunity and the two start their own phone sex line.

Lauren Anne Miller and Katie Anne Naylon -- names sound familiar? -- wrote the screenplay. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Miller and Naylon produced with Josh Kesselman, Jenny Hinkey and Jennifer Weinbaum.

Daniel Miller, an executive producer, financed the movie through his AdScott Pictures.

James Schamus, the CEO of Focus, said in a statement that Miller and Naylon "crafted that rarest of combinations -- a wildly funny comedy that's also a genuine and heartfelt celebration of friendship and love."

Updated 9:05 p.m. PT Jan. 23

"The Surrogate," a drama starring Helen Hunt and John Hawkes as a man who hires a professional sex surrogate, has sold to Fox Searchlight for $6 million in the largest acquisition of the Sundance Film Festival so far, TheWrap has confirmed.

The independent studio also is in final negotiations to buy  “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” another hot film at Sundance.

Ben Lewin wrote and directed "The Surrogate," which is based on the true story of Mark O'Brien, a poet and journalist who spent much of his life confined to an iron lung. When O'Brien decides to lose his virginity, he turns to a sex surrogate, played by Hunt.

William H. Macy plays Father Brendan, a priest who counsels O'Brien.

The trippy "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which premiered Friday, won the Sundance Institute's Indian Paintbrush Producer's Award and has had the festival buzzing.

The film is about Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl who lives with her father Wink in "the Bathtub," a southern Delta community in an apocalyptic state.

The film has been one of the most talked-about narrative features at the festival, and a number of exhibitors have circled it. But many also see it as a challenging sell to audiences (among other things, the film features an army of prehistoric creatures).

Searchlight, which has bought a number of daring films in the past year including the NC-17 "Shame," sees the film in the vein of magical realism and will position it that way, one insider said. 

Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar wrote "Beasts," which Zeitlin also directed.

Numerous other films were in deep negotiations and several more sales were expected to close in the next day or two.

Earlier:

Buying activity ramped up on Sunday after late-night negotiations on Saturday. CBS Films announced that it had acquired "The Words," a drama starring Brad Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons. 

The movie stars Cooper as a writer who at the peak of his literary success discovers the price he must pay for stealing another man’s work. The film was co-written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, who also co-directed the film. 

Mickey Liddell's LD Distribution bought North American right to the midnight entry, "Black Rock."

And there was plenty of noise continuing around the hottest film in the feature competition, "Beast of the Southern Wild," which insiders said had Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and others seeking the rights through WME. 

"Filly Brown," a fierce hip-hop drama, handled by WME, was also said to be in play. 

Also on Sunday:

Julie Dash, who directed the television movie "The Rosa Parks Story," is in final negotiations to direct Angel Entertainment's feature "Tupelo 77," Angel's Bob Crowe said Sunday.

The movie is set in a small town in Mississippi in the summer of 1977. It tells the story of a group of women of various ages and races who are regulars at a roadside diner. The summer of 1977 -- the year Elvis Presley died -- is the hottest on record in Mississippi.

Casting for the film is under way. Crowe and Sean Hewitt are producing the movie, which begins shooting this summer.

Rich Mancuso wrote the screenplay, which shows the women as they struggle to "transcend the obstacles of poverty, racial and religious differences, and the persistent wounds of war."

Dash's "Daughters of the Dust" was selected as one of the "From the Collection" screenings at the Sundance Film Festival. That film first screened at the 1991 Sundance festival, where it earned the Excellence in Cinematography Award.

 

Previously: 

In an early sign that this festival will be full of documentary acquistions, Sony Pictures Classics acquired North American rights to "Searching for Sugar Man," Malik Bendjelloul’s directorial debut, while Magnolia bought "The Queen of Versailles."

"Sugar Man" is the story of an obscure folk singer called Rodriguez, writing and singing about the hard streets of Detroit in 1970, who disappeared after a couple of albums despite a rare talent.

Also read: 40 Years Later, Detroit's Bob Dylan Is Discovered in 'Sugar Man'

Sunday update: Ben Roberts, the CEO of Protagonist Pictures, also struck deals with Studio Canal for UK distribution and with Madman for Australia and New Zealand. 

Earlier Friday, the film sparked a standing ovation -- with the audience both crying and cheering -- when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. It premiered at the festival on Thursday night, as the Opening Night Film of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the festival.

Sony Pictures Classics' "passion for this film combined with their stellar track record makes them the perfect distributors for it," producer Simon Chinn said in a statement.

"Searching for Sugar Man" is produced by Chinn of Red Box Films and executive produced by John Battsek of Passion Pictures in association with Canfield Pictures and The Documentary Company.

See video of Rodriguez performing at the Sundance Film Festival:

 

Meanwhile Magnolia Pictures acquired North American distribution rights to "The Queen of Versailles," the documentary that premiered to a sold-out crowd on opening night at the Sundance Film Festival, the studio announced Friday.

The Evergreen Pictures documentary is directed by Lauren Greenfield and executive produced by her husband, executive producer Frank Evers. It is based on timeshare developer David Siegel, his wife Jackie and the construction of their 90,000-square-foot mansion in Florida.

Related Articles:  40 Years Later, Detroit's Bob Dylan Is Discovered in 'Sugar Man' Spike Lee's Sundance Tirade: Hollywood Execs 'Know Nothing About Black People'

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