By Gregg Goldstein gcgoldstein@yahoo.com

Day Four of Sundance: Spread-ing the Wealth as Sales Sail Into Sunday (news)

Bitter cold may have finally settled on Park City, but film execs were basking in the afterglow of Senator’s $5 million Brooklyn’s Finest pickup Saturday night, and warmed by the heat that could make Ashton Kutcher’s sex comedy Spread one of the biggest sales of the festival. On the flip side, a gay panic comedy with unknowns, Humpday, was in talks to make a deal with (rumor had it) Sony Pictures Classics or another small-scale specialty distributor.

After fest upon fest of disappointing big-name projects, Spread almost seemed too good to be true: a Sundance comedy with name actors (and nudity!) that seemed to live up to its commercial promise. Kutcher plays a wannabe gigolo with a variety of clients who seemingly meets his match (Anne Heche). The very indie director David Mackenzie (Young Adam) delivered a less-than-indie movie, and while Sundance purists could balk, in this economy it was cause for celebration. Any number of new distributors (Summit, Senator, Overture) looking for mainstream films on the cheap would be a good fit.
William Morris Independent’s Cassian Elwes, whose company co-repped the Finest sale with CAA, said “we were very conscious about getting our sale done within 24 hours of its premiere,” in part to give the market a much-needed psychological boost. The unfinished film was rushed into Sundance because the sellers didn’t want to wait until Cannes, he said, and to capitalize on having many key buyers assembled together. Senator president Mark Urman tracked down Elwes’ hotel room Friday night and knocked on his door at 2am, convincing sellers his new distribution firm was right for the film.

While it’s too early for buyers to be singing Happy Days are Here Again, the sale of Finest (despite some harsh criticism) and the appeal of Spread gives hope that the Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor gay prison love comedy “I Love You Phillip Morris,” will live up to the same commercial expectations, even if it needs a little tweaking in the edit room. (Late-night Lil’ Wayne doc The Carter may also benefit from the up-with-stars mood). But even before the Sunday night Eccles premiere of Morris, buyers will have a host of films to scout.

An Education, Arlen Faber and World’s Greatest Dad are just some of the films showing promise. Check out the full list at the 10 Days of Sundance Sales Chart, and check it again late, late Sunday night to see which films beat the odds to score a sale.

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The Atlantic: You saw that the Academy Awards recently held up your 2001 acceptance speech as the Platonic ideal of an Oscar speech. Did you have a reaction?

Soderbergh: Shock and dismay. When that popped up and people started texting me about it, I said, “Oh, it’s too bad I’m not there to tell the story of how that took place.” Well. I was not sober at the time. And I had nothing prepared because I knew I wasn’t going to win [Best Director for Traffic]. I figured Ridley, Ang or Daldry would win. So I was hitting the bar pretty hard, having a great night, feeling super-relaxed because I don’t have to get up there. So the combination of a 0.4 blood alcohol level and lack of preparation resulted in me, in my state of drunkenness crossed with adrenaline surge. I was coherent enough to know that [if I tried to thank everyone], that way lies destruction. So I went the other way. There were some people who appreciated that, and there were some people who really wanted to hear their names said, and I had to apologize to them.
~ Steven Soderbergh

 

“I have made few films in a way. I never made action films. I never made science fiction films. I never made, really, very complicated settings, because I had modest ambitions. I knew they would never trust me to have the budget to do something different, so my mind is more focused on things I know. So they were always mental adventures I wanted to approach and share. Working for cinema with no – not only no money, but also no ambition for money. I was happy and proud [to receive the honorary Oscar] because of that, that [the Academy] could understand what kind of work I have done over 60 years. I stayed faithful to the ideal of sharing emotion, impressions, and mostly because I have so much empathy for other people that I approach people who are not really spoken about. I have 65 years of work in my bag, and when I put the bag down, what comes out? It’s really the desire of finding links and relationships with different kinds of people. I never made a film about the bourgeoisie, about rich people. about nobility. My choices have been to show people that are, in a way, more common and see that each of them has something special and interesting, rare and beautiful. It’s my natural way of looking at people. I didn’t fight my instincts. And maybe that has been appreciated in the famous circle of Hollywood.“

Agnes Varda