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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“Why put it in a box? This is the number one problem I have—by the way it’s a fair question, I’m not saying that—with this kind of festival situation is that there’s always this temptation to classify the movie immediately and if you look at it—and I’ve tried to warn my fellow jurors of this—directors and movie critics are the worst people to judge movies! Directors are always thinking, “I could do that.” Critics are always saying, “This part of the movie is like the 1947 version and this part…” And it’s like, “Fuck! Just watch the movie and try and absorb it and not compare it to some other fucking movie and put it in a box!” So I think the answer’s both and maybe neither, I don’t know. That’s for you to see and criticize me for or not.”
~ James Gray

“I have long defined filmmaking and directing in particular as just a sort of long-term act of letting go,” she said. “It’s honestly just gratifying that people are sort of reapproaching or reassessing the film. I like to just remind everyone that the movie is still the same — it’s the same movie, it’s the movie we always made, and it was the movie we always wanted to make. And maybe it just came several years too early.”
~ Karyn Kusama