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Distributors Pay Top Dollar at Sundance, Has Indie Film Recovered? Plus a Complete List of Acquisitions

01.25.13 @ 11:31PM Tags : , , ,

Another year of Sundance is coming to a close, with the awards ceremony taking place on Saturday night. We’ve featured interviews with a number of creatives who have films playing at the festival, including two that were recently acquired, Austenland and Concussion. There were quite a few distribution deals made at the festival, some for very large sums of money, and it certainly looks like it’s going to be an even better year than last for the independent film market. Click through for a list of all of the movies that have received deals.

Here is a list of the acquisitions so far:



While we don’t know right now the amounts that were spent to acquire a number of the films on the list, it’s safe to say the market is very strong. Last year was really a rebound year, and this year things have improved dramatically, with at least a dozen films going for well over $1 million — and that includes four documentaries hitting seven figures, compared to only one doc hitting that number at the 2012 festival. Sundance often sets the tone for the rest of the year’s distribution deals — not only because it’s one of the biggest festivals but also because it’s right at the beginning of the year — so we very well could have an excellent year for independent films as there are a number of festivals still to come where such deals are usually made, like South by Southwest, Tribeca, Cannes, and Toronto.

Here is The Hollywood Reporter on the Sundance deals:

“The hills are alive with film sales,” says Graham Taylor of WME Global, which in addition to Don Jon’s Addiction also handled the The Way, Way Back, Fruitvale and We Are What We Are sales. “Sundance has curated a great crop of films this year, hence the dealmaking.”

One buyer said the escalating prices reflect a market correction from the past few recessionary years. “It goes in cycles,” this person says. “These high prices come after last year’s relatively low minimum guarantees. More importantly, many mini-majors are in dire need of product and have big staffs — they need the churn.”

The festival isn’t only about those looking for a deal, however. We’ve also seen filmmakers like Shane Carruth (Upstream Color) use the festival as a jumping off point to self-distribute, something we may see a lot more of in the future. Here is what he said to the LA Times:

Carruth hopes by releasing the film himself, he can position it as he sees fit. “It’s not necessarily about revenue or that I don’t think it will sell; it’s that I get to frame this thing exactly the way I think it needs to be framed,” said Carruth, who recently moved from Dallas to New York City. “I get to continue narrating through marketing, releasing teasers and artwork that you could make the case aren’t the most commercial ways to sell this but they absolutely are in tune with the way I think of the film and what I want to communicate.”

It will be interesting to see what happens through the rest of the year, and if 2014 continues this trend, but there is no question right now that the market is very strong, and many companies are fighting hard to acquire titles.

Do you think we’ll continue to see these kinds of numbers throughout the rest of the year? How about the independent market in general, do you think this is an anomaly or will things continue to get better for filmmakers trying to sell their films?


Correction: A previous version of this post read < $1 million, those amounts were actually greater than $1 million.


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  • Jonathan Graham on 01.26.13 @ 2:11AM

    Shane Carruth shot upstream color with a GH2, which is the camera I have right now, and he is from Dallas, which is where I live.

    I really should see Primer.

    • Yeah we’ve actually got a post coming up about that.

      • Nooo!!!!

        We’re trying to keep the GH2 our little secret for as long as we can.

        • Well. Looks like he doesn’t want to talk about it. You’re secret is safe.

          “There are a few things I’m trying my best not to talk about,” said Carruth, “and that’s the tech specs on the camera and the workflow and the budget. Last time around, I was grateful to have some praise for ‘Primer’ but they would say, ‘it’s a great movie for the budget.’ And I don’t ever want to hear that phrase again. It would be shocking I think, if people knew, but I’m not going to tout it and I hope it doesn’t ever get out.”

      • Tyrannosaur on 02.4.13 @ 1:51AM

        Did you guys get an exclusive interview or something? Didn’t he say he didn’t want the info to get out? (I would love to know more about the production of the film).

    • john jeffreys on 01.26.13 @ 3:27AM

      Tiny Furniture was made with a 7D and it got a Criterion release. Anything is possible

      • ModernDemagogue on 01.26.13 @ 8:03PM

        Tiny Furniture was terrible, so that’s not saying much.

        • john jeffreys on 01.27.13 @ 3:15AM

          It’s actually saying a lot, because most Criterion distributed films are a) not “terrible” and b) certainly not low-budget indie films shot on DSLRs

    • Primer is a really great movie. We are very lucky now that nearly anybody with an idea as great as that can make their movie and make it look pro. But you still need a great idea, no shortcut for that!


    • yeah dude, primer’s pretty awesome. if the story behind that film isn’t inspirational then idk what is.

  • They seem impressive figures, but can anyone elaborate further eg I see that Lovelace was bought for $3 million, but imdb says the budget was $10 million – did they lose $7 million ?

    • It completely depends on how they funded the film. But it is true that many, many films do not make a profit for the initial investors.

      • Dave Mueller on 01.26.13 @ 11:31AM

        I was just reading about that the other day: how a lot of these films purchased with $2-$3 million all rights deals are probably losing money (and I think of the upcoming film ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ which stars Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling-and sold for $2.1M at Toronto). I don’t think its Hollywood accounting as suggested-especially with an all rights deal. It really hammers in the point from the recent post about the importance of keeping your budget down. That $1M mark seems to be the magic number for long term viability.

    • Could also be a case of Hollywood Accounting.

      It’s not only done in Hollywood, I’ve seen this in normal businesses too with the R&D and launch of new ventures.

    • The selling figure is only for part of the rights within a certain territory. So when a film sells at Sundance for say 3m, that would be for the rights to Nth America for an X period. The producers would also still retain an interest up to 33% of income within that territory.
      So a film may recoup up to say 50% of its initial budget through these territorial sales. If the star power is right they can recover all of the production monies from Nth America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Sometimes a distributor will but a pic for the world, but this is unusual.
      The rest will come from profit. This is not studio net profit but distributor profit – rip offs still happen but more rarely.
      As to the investors, the federal tax credit for films under 25m was just renewed. If you then apply local tax credits it is feasible to make a return before the film is finished. Worse case they aren’t actually out a cent.
      That’s how most films are funded.
      So to sum up: while most films ‘fail’, the reason people keep writing checks to make them is that the downside for high income people is low.

  • Whats interesting is the 3/4 of the films listed above originated on FILM!

  • on 01.26.13 @ 9:59AM

    I’m not an economist, so I can’t comment on the potential of Hollywood carrying these kinds of acquisitions. I was somewhat offended by the use of “chum” to describer the purchases of one company. It’s clearly indicative of one facet of the mentality pf these companies. It’s not that they may dislike the film or something, but the language suggests that they are out to keep their own interests afloat, which isn’t necessarily bad; just telling (and not new).

  • “and that includes four documentaries hitting seven figures, compared to only one doc hitting that number at the 2012 festival. ” — but according to the list all docs were less than $1000000?

  • I’d like to see Fruitvale, acquired by Weinstein.

    It was shot on 16mm, BTW.

  • like crazy- shot on 7d, sold for 4 mill in 2011, remains the most significant dslr film imo.

  • Travis Jones on 01.27.13 @ 10:26AM

    Joe and Guys:

    Does anyone know about the deals that are made at smaller festivals like Slamdance?

  • I’m so motivated to be on the list! Fruitvale Rocked