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Strike could spark Sundance buying frenzy

The same writers strike that transformed the Golden Globes into a news conference might bring smiles to the faces of agents and filmmakers gathered in this snow-covered ski town.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The same writers strike that transformed the Golden Globes into a news conference might bring smiles to the faces of agents and filmmakers gathered in this snow-covered ski town.

They’re hoping that studios will spend more freely than usual at the Sundance Film Festival, buying up independent movies to fill release schedules that have begun to thin as the Writers Guild of America work stoppage continues.

Combine traditionally forgiving audiences here with slowly increasing pressure for ready-to-go movies, and even a dramedy about women who scrub blood from crime scenes may not be a hard sell (though “Sunshine Cleaning” is attracting interest anyway, for its stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt).

Director Johan Renck expects the strike will help his movie “Downloading Nancy” get picked up at the festival, “and in some ways we’re happy about that. But you can’t help but feeling a bit of guilt.”

“It’s unfortunate that a lot of people ask to get what they are due in some sense,” he said, “but at the same time what happens is that the show must go on anyways.”

The question is whether the paltry box-office performance of “Grace is Gone” and “Joshua,” both big buys at last year’s fest, will be remembered as bidding begins. Some 120 films will be shown at Sundance, which opened Thursday and runs through Jan. 27.

“I think the competition is always heated. In the past, we’ve always tried to find something to buy and hope we will this year,” said Peter Rice, president of Fox Searchlight, which has had a golden touch with such Sundance acquisitions as “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and last year’s indie hits “Waitress” and “Once.”

“I wouldn’t put it down to the writers strike. There’s always competition. ... and if there are commercial movies there, it will be heated. There wasn’t a huge bidding war last year. I think it’s very film-dependent.”

‘Determined to really only buy something we love’Michael Schaefer, vice president of acquisitions for Summit Entertainment, said he does not expect the strike to prompt unusual spending.

“We are just going to try to be as focused and determined to really only buy something we love,” said Schaefer, whose company is releasing “Penelope” starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy next month. “We’re definitely not going to get caught up in any buying frenzies and pick up five movies. That’s just not going to happen.”

Renck said his movie was done in October, but his agents decided against shopping it around in hopes of attracting interest from multiple buyers at Sundance.

And Harvey Weinstein, at least, was girding himself for bidding battles.

“People are going to be looking for that commercial movie out of Sundance, which very often happens,” said Weinstein, a master at connecting with new talent at Sundance from his days running Miramax. “I think people are going to spend what they have to to get the film, because there’s going to be a paucity of films” because of the strike.

Among other top prospects: “The Wackness,” about a New York stoner who swaps marijuana for therapy; “Phoebe in Wonderland,” starring Elle Fanning and Felicity Huffman; Barry Levinson’s Hollywood insidery “What Just Happened?” with Robert De Niro and Sean Penn; an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Choke” starring Sam Rockwell; the Steve Coogan comedy “Hamlet 2”; and Brett Simon’s “Assassination of a High School President” with Mischa Barton.

Celebrity Sightings

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Celebrity Sightings

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Thursday’s opening film “In Bruges,” with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, already has a distributor (Focus Features) as does Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind Rewind” (New Line). One apparent first is the Sundance premiere of a movie that’s set to be shown on network television; the most recent Broadway cast of “A Raisin in the Sun” appears in the movie version set to air on ABC next month.

The music and party scene surrounding the festival has grown exponentially in recent years, to the point where several “lounges” catering to celebrities open their doors at midnight or later.

Among the artists and celebrities with zero-to-minimal connection to filmmaking who are expected to show up: Akon, Dr. Dre,, Paris Hilton, Paul Oakenfold, John Legend, Kim Kardashian, Reggie Bush and the bands Maroon 5 and OneRepublic.