The first major acquisition has happened at the 2010 Sundance film festival: Lionsgate has picked up distribution rights to the Ryan Reynolds-starring, Rodrigo Cortes-directed Buried, whose entire running time notoriously takes place within a coffin that Reynolds’ character has been buried alive in. The studio quickly picked the film up at a price somewhere between $3 and 4 million, according to Variety, following a lot of positive buzz from the festival. This quick of an acquisition would suggest that distributors are getting less antsy about picking up risky independent films than they were a year ago.
At the 2009 fest, because of the economic climate, many of last year’s films were picked up late into the fest or after the fest if picked up at all, but Sundance 2009 films like (500) Days of Summer or Precious turned out to be quite profitable, which could possibly motivate a greater sense of adventure on the acquisitions side this year. However, besides Buried there is not much fast movement in acquisitions so far, and the current business model is light years away from the bidding wars and eight-digit acquisition deals that characterized Sundance ten years ago.
Buried looks to be a good pick for Lionsgate, a studio with a reputation for selling low-to-medium budget thrillers and a proven penchant for delivering niche entertainment. Years before becoming the home of Tyler Perry and the Saw franchise, Lionsgate distributed the types of foreign films, indies, and docs that only major studio subsidiaries like Fox Searchlight or Focus Features can risk handling today. Lionsgate found success with niche marketing while fellow indie distributors unaffiliated with major studios fell by the wayside (ex., Artisan).
Buried is a film that seems to perfectly balance the old Lionsgate with the new, as it is both an original, innovative work of American independent filmmaking that characterizes the best of what comes out of this festival as well as the type of modestly-budgeted thriller Lionsgate is now known for. With the success of no-budget suspense filmmaking like last fall’s Paranormal Activity, Lionsgate rightly sees profit potential in Buried. My guess is that they’ll give it a summer release date in hopes of it being the sleeper indie of Summer 2010, quickly rolling it out from a few weekends of limited release to a wide release.
Buried was written by Chris Sparling, and for years was considered one of the best unproduced scripts floating studio to studio. Check out Neil’s review here.