Sundance Deals: The Weinstein Company Picks Up ‘Lay the Favorite’

Bruce Willis, Laura Prepon, Rebecca Hall and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in the movie, directed by Stephen Frears

Updated 1:58 p.m. PT Jan. 29

The Weinstein Company has made its first  and only acquisition of this year's Sundance Film Festival, acquiring "Lay the Favorite" for VOD, the company confirmed.

The movie, by British director Stephen Frears, stars Rebecca Hall as a stripper turned numbers bookie. The film received decidedly mixed reviews at the festival.

"Lay the Favorite" is based on Beth Raymor's memoir. Raymor left her stripping job in Florida to become a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. After she becomes an assistant to a professional gambler, she learns that she has a brilliant mind for numbers. When she and her boss's wife have a falling out, she moves to New York, where she goes to work for a bookie.

Rebecca Hall stars as Raymor. The movie also stars Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson and Laura Prepon.

D.V. DeVincentis wrote the screenplay based on the memoir. Anthony Bregman, Randall Emmett, George Furla, D.V. DeVincentis and Paul Trijbits produced.

Updated 3:40 p.m. PT Jan. 26

Sundance Selects Takes 'How to Survive a Plague'

Sundance Selects has acquired North American rights to David France's documentary "How to Survive a Plague," the company said Thursday.

The movie, written by France, T. Woody Richman and Tyler H. Walk, is about a group of mostly HIV-positive young men and women who became activists.

The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or ACT-UP, and the Treatment Action Group helped turn AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable condition.

"How to Survive a Plague" includes archival footage from the 1980s, putting viewers in the middle of heated meetings, terrible failures and stunning breakthroughs.

 "This is a towering film in the history of cinema about social activism," Jonathan Sehring, president of Sundance Selects/IFC Films, said in a statement. "Its astonishing use of archival material to reconstruct an era of political indifference in the face of an unimaginable health crisis helps to create a new blueprint for modern activists."

France and Howard Gertler produced the movie, which was made in association with the Ford Foundation/Just Films, Impact Partners and Little Punk.

Updated 2:30 p.m. PT, Jan. 26

Entertainment One Acquires 'Wish You Were Here'

North American rights to "Wish You Were Here," which opened the World Cinema Dramatic competition at Sundance, have been acquired by Entertainment One, the company said Thursday.

The movie — Kieran Darcy-Smith's directorial debut — stars Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price and Teresa Palmer.

The psychological thriller sold one year to the day after the movie wrapped filming.

"Wish You Were Here" is about four friends who head off Southeast Asia on vacation — but only three return home.

Angie Fielder of the Australian company Aquarius Films produced the movie, which was made in association with Blue-Tongue Films.

The movie will be in domestic theaters this fall.

Updated 11:23 a.m. PT, Jan. 26

IFC Midnight Buys North American Rights to 'The Pact'

Last year's short is this year's feature: IFC Midnight has bought North American rights to Nicholas McCarthy's "The Pact," which is based on a short the writer-director brought to last year's Sundance Film Festival.

Purchase price was not released.

"The Pact" is about two sisters, Nicole and Annie, who sense a mysterious presence in their childhood home, which they visit after their mother dies. As things get creepier, Annie starts having disturbing dreams and visions, and learns something terrible about her mother's past.

"Nicholas McCarthy makes a bold directorial debut here, and turns the vintage haunted hosue story into a modern and terrifying film," Sundance Selects/IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring said in a written statement.

The movie stars Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Haley Hudson, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Sam Ball and Agnes Bruckner.

Preferred Content's Ross M. Dinerstein produced.

Updated 10:10 a.m. PT, Jan. 26

Magnolia Pictures acquires 'V/H/S' 

"V/H/S," a gruesome found footage horror film from six directors, has sold to Magnolia Pictures for just more than $1 million, TheWrap has confirmed.

The movie got an almost immediate buzz early Wednesday morning after a man passed out during a screening.

The movie is about a group of peetty criminals who are hired to break into an abandoned house and find a rare VHS tape. They find a dead body, a bunch of old TVs and stacks of VHS tapes. To find the right one, they have to watch one horrifying video after another.

David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West and Adam Wingard directed.  Simon Barrett, Glenn McQuaid, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Chad Villella, David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West wrote.

Updated at 8 pm Jan 25:

'Liberal Arts' is sold to IFC

“Liberal Arts,” Josh Radnor’s comedy-drama about a 35-year-old man who falls for a 19-year-old after being invited back to his alma mater, has sold to IFC, TheWrap has learned.

Radnor, best known for his role as Ted Mosby on the television series “How I Met Your Mother,” wrote, directs and stars in the movie as Jesse, the 35-year-old college admissions officer in New York who visits his old school at the invitation of a former professor.

Elizabeth Olsen stars as Zibby, the girl he falls for. Zac Efron also stars as Nat, Jesse’s upbeat stoner friend.

Radnor’s debut film as a writer-director, “Happythankyoumoreplease,” received the Sundance Audience Award in 2010.

E1 Entertainment and Magnolia were also in hot pursuit of the picture, which is believed to have sold for slightly over $1 million. The deal was negotiated by Gersh Agency's Jay Cohen.

BCDF Pictures produced the movie and is emerging as a Sundance star. In addition to “Liberal Arts,” the new production company brought “Bachelorette” and “Predisposed” to the festival and is expected to sell them both.

“Bachelorette” stars Kirsten Dunst, James Marsden and Isla Fisher.

“Predisposed” stars Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo and Tracy Morgan.

Updated 4:35 p.m. PT, Jan. 25

'Robot and Frank' North American rights go to Sony and Samuel Goldwyn 

Sony Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn have picked up North American rights to the buddy comedy "Robot and Frank," the companies said Wednesday. Additionally, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions has acquired rights for Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.

Frank Langella stars as Frank, an elderly former jewel thief, and his caretaker — a robot. Susan Sarandon stars as a librarian whom Frank tries to woo.

The movie is set in the near future.

Liv Tyler, James Marsden and Peter Sarsgaard also star.

First-time filmmaker Jake Schreier directed the movie, which Christopher D. Ford wrote.

Galt Niederhoffer, Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman Bisbee and Lance Acord produced. The movie was produced in association with White Hat Entertainment and Dog Run Pictures.

Updated 3:30 p.m. PT, Jan. 25

Millennium picks up U.S. rights to 'Red Lights'

Millennium Entertainment has acquired U.S. rights to “Red Lights,” a thriller starring Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen and Cillian Murphy, for just less than $4 million, TheWrap has confirmed.

The movie is about Margaret Matheson, an investigator who, with her assistant, studies paranormal activity. The two clash with Simon Silver, a legendary blind psychic, played by De Niro.

“We came to Sundance looking for high-concept, quality commercial fare, and Cortés’ paranormal thriller – anchored by memorable performances from an exceptional cast – fully delivers,” Millennium Entertainment CEO Bill Lee said in a statement.  “We are elated to be in business with this talented filmmaker.”



Cortes also wrote and, with Adrian Guerra, produced.

Updated 10:33 a.m. PT Jan. 25

'Arbitrage' goes to Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions have picked up "Arbitrage," starring Richard Gere, Tim Roth, Susan Sarandon and last year's Sundance star Brit Marling, for more than $2 million, TheWrap has confirmed.

The companies beat out The Weinstein Company for the thriller.

Nicholas Jarecki's movie is about a troubled hedge fund manager who, desperate to sell his empire, makes an error that forces him to grapple with the law and his personal relationships.

Updated 1:07 p.m. PT, Jan. 24

Fox Searchlight picks up 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

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 committed about $2 million for the trippy film. Most of that will go for advertising the film, which is expected to be 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.

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

Sony Pictures Classics nabs 'Celeste & Jesse Forever'

"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

Worldwide rights to 'For a Good Time, Call…' go to Focus

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

Fox Searchlight pays $6 million for 'The Surrogate'

"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:

CBS Films picks up Bradley Cooper drama 'The Words'

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.

 

Earlier: 

Sony Pictures Classics nabs 'Searching for Sugar Man'; Magnolia buys 'The Queen of Versailles'

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.

Kurt Orzeck contributed to this report.