Searchlight Nabs ‘Theater Camp’ for $8 Million After Sundance Bidding War, Will Give Comedy Theatrical Release

Sundance 2023: The film premiered in the Dramatic Competition on Saturday afternoon

theater camp molly gordon ben platt
Sundance Institute

Searchlight Pitures has won a fierce bidding war for one of the buzziest Sundance crowd-pleasers. The Disney-owned distributor has closed a worldwide rights deal for the well-reviewed and well-received “Theater Camp,” with distribution rights going for around $8 million, according to an insider with knowledge of the deal.

The feature adaptation of Nick Lieberman’s 2020 short film of the same name will receive a theatrical release. It premiered in the dramatic competition on Saturday afternoon at the Eccles Theater in Park City and received a standing ovation.

The mockumentary stars comedic ensemble Gordon (“Shiva Baby,” “Booksmart”), Ben Platt (“Pitch Perfect”), Noah Galvin (“Booksmart”), Jimmy Tatro (“American Vandal”), Patti Harrison (“Together Together”), and Ayo Edebiri (“The Bear”). Penned by Galvin, Gordon, Lieberman and Platt, and based on their short film, the film was produced by Will Ferrell, Galvin, Gordon, Lieberman, Platt, Erik Feig, Samie Kim Falvey, Julia Hammer, Ryan Heller, Maria Zuckerman, and Jessica Elbaum.

In their feature directorial debut from PICTURESTART, Topic Studios, and Gloria Sanchez Productions., Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman helm this comedy about the eccentric staff running a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York. After its indomitable and beloved founder falls into a coma, they must band together with her clueless “crypto-bro” son to keep the thespian paradise afloat.

The cast is rounded out by Nathan Lee Graham, Owen Thiele, Alan Kim, Alexander Bello, Bailee Bonick, Kyndra Sanchez, Donovan Colan, Vivienne Sachs, Quinn Titcomb, with Caroline Aaron and Amy Sedaris.

“We could not possibly imagine a better home for ‘Thetaer Camp’ than Searchlight Pictures! It is an absolute dream to become a part of their incredible and rich history that includes so many of our favorite films,” Gordon and Lieberman said in a statement. “This movie is about the joy of bringing people together in a room, and for Searchlight to see the importance of sharing it in theaters means so much to us. We are beyond grateful and thrilled.”

“Making this movie with the supremely talented Ben, Molly, Nick, and Noah, the amazing Gloria Sanchez gang, and our friends at Topic Studios was a complete dream,” Feig added. “The rest of the dream was to bring the film to Sundance where we would have an incredible screening and then got bought by Searchlight, who could bring it to audiences around the world like they did with other Sundance titles including Little Miss Sunshine and Napoleon Dynamite. And NOW that dream is coming true! We cannot wait for this movie to play in theaters, with real audiences, brought to them by the uniquely gifted team of Searchlight.”

“Theater Camp” was executive produced by Jeff Valeri, Shayne Fiske Goldner, Jimmy Tatro, Jennifer Semler, Michael Bloom, Alex Brown, and Mary Bundy. The crafts team includes cinematographer Nate Hurtsellers (“Tailwhip”), editor Jon Philpot (“Hacks”, “Search Party”), production designer Jordan Janota and Charlotte Royer (“The Art of Self-Defense”), and composer James McAlister (“Love, Simon”).

The Searchlight acquisition stands as a key victory for non-streamers after Netflix swooped in and offered up $20 million for “Fair Play.” “Theater Camp” is the second big sale of the festival and a sign that this year’s big deals won’t just be about streaming platforms stocking up on content.

WME Independent brokered the deal with Searchlight execs Paul Hoffman and Chan Phung.

The sale marks PICTURESTART’s third film sale at the Sundance Film Festival, including last year’s “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which sold to Apple TV+ for $15 Million and won the festival’s Audience Award, and “Am I Ok?” which sold to HBO Max.

Deadline first reported the news.