By Gregg Goldstein gcgoldstein@yahoo.com

Sony Pictures Classics Nabs North American and Latin American Rights to An Education in $3 Million Deal

By Gregg Goldstein
Sony Pictures Classics has nabbed North American and Latin American rights to An Education in a $3 million deal, following a winding series of deal moves since its Sunday premiere that had Miramax and Fox Searchlight in play.
With all the buzz about Searchlight’s low bid on the 60s coming-of-age saga An Education — first from Anne Thompson‘s blog late Sunday, then from THR late Monday — two important players were overlooked: Miramax and Sony Pictures Classics.
As every big indie exec attended the Sunday night screening of I Love You Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, at least two titles were in play: the Saturday premiere sex comedy Spread (also co-repped by CAA and Endeavor – read about the possible sales impact from Ashton Kutcher‘s bodacious back end here – it’s expected to close soon) and the CAA-repped Education, which gained unexpected heat from a strong debut that afternoon.
Less than halfway through Morris, Miramax president Daniel Battsek and one of his execs bolted from their seats in the Eccles to pow-wow about Education. Like Searchlight (whose topper Peter Rice was also in the screening), they felt the high-seven-figure asking price was way too high.
By the time the Eccles screening ended, Miramax and Searchlight had backed off. But it was clearly a high priority if they were interested enough to leave one of the biggest marquee-name films of the fest (and a recipient of some great reviews, despite concerns over graphic gay sex scenes and drastic switches in tone).
By Monday night, the film’s agreed-upon market value was now back down to a Sony Pictures Classics-level price range. The company made some uncharacteristically early Sundance moves last year in similar situations when bidding wars failed to erupt, and Education is similar to several period/pedigree films they’ve handled before.
Any of the distributors could do a great marketing job – both Battsek and Rice know the film’s British milieu, that’s for sure – but all have to overcome having a talented cast with no boxoffice pull, taking a bit of a risk on quality. The last Sundance film led by its star Peter Sarsgaard, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, just sold to Peace Arch… a year after its premiere here. But Nick Hornby’s script and Lone Scherfing’s script have drawn acclaim, and young newcomer Carey Mulligan’s breakout performance as a 16-year-old London girl swept off her feet by a British playboy could be marketed well in the right hands.
After buying stayed in a holding pattern, SPC swept into the lead, willing to outbid competitors that usually sign bigger checks. Endgame Entertainment (which recently sold its Chorus Line doc Every Little Step to Sony Classics) and BBC Films produced the film, which is expected to open this fall.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas