Teen film sparks Sundance bidding war

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 It might be the next tiny Sundance film embraced by Oscar voters.

Bids for Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, a witty coming-of-age story from a director primarily known for television, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, reached US$12 million (S$16 million) in the hours after its Sunday premiere, according to two people with knowledge of the offers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the auction was private.

In the end, Fox Searchlight walked away with worldwide rights for about US$5 million, a person familiar with the terms said, pulling off the coup by agreeing to give the film-makers a greater than usual cut of the box-office profits.

Earl is reminiscent of The Fault In Our Stars, the young-adult tearjerker that was a smash hit for 20th Century Fox last year.

In Earl, an awkward teenager played by Thomas Mann is prodded by his mother to befriend a girl at his school who is dying of cancer. While resistant at first, the teens develop a strong bond.

The intensity of the Earl bidding pushed the film towards a new Sundance record.

The biggest transaction ever was of Little Miss Sunshine in 2006, which Searchlight got for US$10.5 million, according to reports then. The indie film about a frazzled family's road trip to a children's beauty pageant generated more than US$100 million at the worldwide box office and won two Academy Awards.

Distributors are snapping up Sundance movies with a fervour not seen in years, a reflection of the quality of this year's lineup and the improving economics - fueled by video on demand - of independent film.

At least six distributors chased Dope, another offbeat high school tale, directed by Rick Famuyiwa and produced by Forest Whitaker. It sold to Open Road Films and Sony for US$7 million, with a guarantee of millions of dollars in advertising.

Selling for US$3 million apiece were The Bronze, a crude comedy about a fading Olympic gymnast in a small town, and The D Train, starring Jack Black as the needy head of a high school reunion committee. The Orchard, a relatively new buyer, on Monday paid about US$4 million for The Overnight, another R-rated comedy.

Other films changing hands since Sundance began on Thursday include The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, which follows a girl in 1970s San Francisco and shows signs of turning into a critical darling.

Before the festival even began, Searchlight snapped up Noah Baumbach's Mistress America for US$6.5 million.

The majority of movies bought at Sundance last year failed to crack the US$1 million mark at the North American box office. But digital downloads and video-on-demand sales have now grown to a degree that distributors are more willing to write cheques.

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