February 01, 2010 4:19am EST
The Sundance post-mortem has begun. Several deals were concluded, keeping pretty much apace with 2009's festival, but the general consensus is that no film will have the breakout success of last year's Precious.
Many felt this year's edition was more of the same. Others say there may be a strong after-market for sales. Still, now that the fest is over, The Wrap calls the indie landscape "more fragmented and confused than ever."
Critics, including The New York Times' Manhola Dargis -- who last week noted that while the "spin was hotter and the vibe somewhat warmer...the movies were much the same" -- seem to agree that much of the fare on offer was a retread of years past.
"I thought Sundance 2010 was a good year for the quality of films presented, but I doubt it will be remembered as a particularly strong acquisitions market," Tom Ortenberg, former president of theatrical films at Lionsgate and founder of the consulting firm One Way Out Media, told TW. "Given the films that were snapped up...I'm sure there will be a brisk after-market in terms of film sales."
"In many respects, Sundance is always the same," independent film consultant Mark Urman told TW. "Movies you expect to be good, disappoint; the films you shy away from because they sound bad on paper turn out to be wonderful. Half the time you feel as of you're in the wrong theater. That said, I thought the mood this year was high. Positive, not poisonous like last year. People seemed upbeat, invigorated, inspired. If the independent arena is hard - and it still is - I think people are more prepared to do the work than they were in the past few years."
Among the ten or so deals concluded at the festival were The Weinstein Co's North American theatrical and Pan-Asian satellite buy of Blue Valentine; IFC Films’ acquisition of US rights to Michael Winterbottom's controversial thriller The Killer Inside Me; Roadside Attractions’ acquisition of North American rights to Winter's Bone -- the ultimate grand jury prize winner -- Focus' pick up of Lisa Cholodenko's crowd-pleaser The Kids Are All Right; Lionsgate's acquisition of Buried; Newmarket's pick-up of Hesher; Hannover House's deal for Joel Schumacher's Twelve; and Sony Pictures Classics’ acquisition of all US rights to the Dutch film Winter in Wartime.
Still, buyers said they'd be surprised if any replicated the critical or financial success of last year’s Precious or Paranormal Activity, Deadline.com notes.
Also according to Deadline.com, buyers preferred to pass rather than overpay while sellers and filmmakers were less concerned with MGs than they were with P&A commitments.
"There's a sense of relief and comfort that the market is still pretty healthy," Micah Green, co-head of CAA's Film Finance Group, told The Hollywood Reporter. "The pace of sales is more deliberate now. If you check back in three to four months, I think you'll find more films will have sold than in previous years. The market is more fragmented, so there's less of a herd mentality. People are responding more to the films than who else is chasing them."
Titles that remain in play include documentary grand jury prize winner Restrepo and dramatic World Cinema jury prize winner Animal Kingdom.
Has the fate of "American Psycho" been sealed even before its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival?
The big-screen adaptation of the controversial, ultra-violent Bret Easton Ellis novel has been slapped with an ungainly NC-17 by the ratings board at the Motion Picture Association of America.
The film, the sophomore endeavor from Mary Harron ("I Shot Andy Warhol"), depicts the psychopathic behaviors of a Wall Street wunderkind (played by Christian Bale) who kills women in his off hours. It is scheduled to debut nationwide in theaters April 7.
Yet despite the flick's subject matter, its NC-17 apparently wasn't awarded for bloodshed, but for what the MPAA calls "explicit sexuality." While the organization today declined comment, trade-paper reports says the ratings board frowned on a scene in which Bale's character engages in a not-too-ordinary threesome with two prostitutes.
"American Psycho's" distributor, Lions Gate Releasing, meanwhile, is vowing to fight the NC-17 (which absolutely bars kids age 17 and under from buying tickets) and win an R (which lets kids buy tickets, assuming they're in the company of adults) -- with the film's entire element intact.
"While we are thrilled that the MPAA has acknowledged Mary's extraordinary sensitivity as both an artist and a woman in the choices that she made in her depiction of violence," Lions Gate Co-Presidents Mark Urman and Tom Ortenberg said in a statement, "we still feel that that the scene in question is integral to her vision and to establishing the soullessness of the film's title character."
Added Jeremy Walker, a Lions Gate spokesman: "... Recutting the film is definitely not an option at this moment."
While Lions Gate stands firm behind the final cut of "American Psycho" at this moment, many Hollywood analysts believe the studio will change its tune once -- and if -- its appeal is rejected.
"NC-17 is the kiss of death at the box office for any movie," says Martin A. Grove, Hollywood.com box-office analyst. "The problem is, it limits the ability of the distributor to market the film to TV and newspaper. And without such marketing ability, no films is able to perform well in the box office."
Adds Grove: "... Experience shows that almost any distributor in the face of a rejected appeal will back down and make whatever cut it takes to get an R rating."
Another box-office expert agrees that an NC-17 rating would eat into the almighty box-office gross and appeal of the psychodrama.
"It Lions Gate leaves the film as is, they'll definitely run into a couple of barriers," says Gutesh Panaya, editor of the box-office tracking Web site boxofficeguru.com. "(A) You can't sell your product in as many locations. (B) You can't market it in as many places as your competitor. A lot of theaters, newspaper and television networks will not accept advertisement for anything above the R rating."
Notes Panaya: "If Leonardo DiCaprio is in the film, and if they want to leave it as an NC-17, it's a different story. My guess is that Lions Gate will eventually agree to make a small cut."
Lions Gate, of course, originally announced the project as a Leo vehicle, only to see the "Titanic" star bail -- and Bale cast instead.
If the company does release "American Psycho" as an NC-17, there is the chance, of course, that the rating's notoriety could create the type of hype that even a meticulous marketing campaign couldn't. Such was the case with Larry Clark's "Kids." The 1995 flick about sex, drugs and the other illicit things kids do in New York City was a (relative) hit among teens precisely for its taboo NC-17 rating. The flick, which cost just $2.8 million to make and distribute, took in $13.8 million worldwide.
"In certain ways an NC-17 can help you out," says Panaya. "It depends on the subject matter and what the film's about. It depends on the reviews, how the studio markets the film, how it sells it to the public."
For the time being, the film, in all its uncut glory, will be shown to the deal-making, power-mongering, industry-shaking players at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday.