The elaborate tango to acquire the Sundance breakout "The Kids are All Right" continued into this morning and stretched into the afternoon, as Focus Features and Summit Entertainment remained the two leading contenders to acquire the Lisa Cholodenko comedy, while specialty-division powerhouse Fox Searchlight waited in the wings contemplating an eleventh-hour move.
A deal between one of the companies and the filmmakers' representative, Cinetic Media, was likely by the end of the day, though acquisitions executives cautioned that a cooler sales climate ("Buried" has been the only big Sundance sale so far) meant buyers could take their time instead of jumping quickly into a deal while sitting in the sellers' condo, as has been the case in past years.
One buyer remarked that the sales deal wouldn't be wrapped up in some lock-the-doors-until-dawn marathon negotiating session, as was the case when Fox Searchlight bought "LIttle Miss Sunshine" in Park City four years ago.
Negotiations could also be slowed today by the fact that a number of executives were in transit back to their Los Angeles offices as the pace of high-profile premieres at the festival begins to slow. There are only two must-see screenings set for today: Gurinder Chadha's serial killer comedy "It's a Wonderful Afterlife" and the 3-D environmental documentary "Cane Toads."
Both Focus and Summit -- two of the bigger non-studio entities in the film universe -- could bring marketing muscle and dollars to the release of "The Kids are All Right," and were carefully making their case, as well as their offers for the various available rights. As the specialty division with the best track record, a third interested contender, Fox Searchlight, could afford to hang back, confident that any seller would consider them before making a deal elsewhere.
"The Kids Are All Right," which premiered to deafening laughter Monday night in Park City, involves a lesbian couple's two children (Joshua Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska) who seek out their biological father (Mark Ruffalo), and the dramatic and comedic consequences that ensue when they meet. While potential buyers are still mapping their respective distribution plans, the movie would likely be released in 2010 with an awards-season run in mind.
Several distribution experts noted that the winning bidder could open the film as a counterprogramming choice in the summer, as Searchlight did with its Sundance coup "Little Miss Sunshine," or slot it into a more traditional fall awards slot.
While Cholodneko's film played to a hyper-enthusiastic audience Monday night, the morning after saw potential buyers debating an age-old Sundance question: Did this have the makings of a broad hit or was it, given the subject matter and some graphic sex scenes, more of an art house release that would struggle to gross more than $15 million?
Sundance hits don't often materialize into mainstream blockbusters, though the examples of those that do -- like the $45-million grossing "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and the $60-million grossing "Little Miss Sunshine" -- are enough to raise both hopes and prices.
--Steven Zeitchik and John Horn
Photo of "Kids are All Right" director Lisa Cholodenko and child courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.