Sundance Film Festival: Brisk Business, Bargain Prices

If the flurry of pre-Sundance Film Festival acquisition deals has made you wonder if Hollywood was back in an indie-film shopping mood after the recession, the New York Times’ Brooks Barnes reports that, yes, wallets are open, but they’re a little less fat.

Among other factors, the strong box-office performance of specialty films over the last six months has created optimism that the art house sector has emerged on the other side of a correction. After a glut of mediocre titles pushed as masterpieces ravaged the indie market, there came the likes of “Black Swan,” which cost $13 million to make, has sold more than $75 million and is still playing.

Similarly, the emergence over the last year of video-on-demand services as a significant revenue generator for independent films has eased the concerns of distributors about dwindling DVD sales.

“The marketplace is now equipped to understand that video-on-demand can add real value to a film’s distribution cycle,” said Kevin Iwashina, managing partner of Preferred Content, a production, sales and finance advisory company.

Then again, no one’s exactly partying like it’s 2007.

Nobody expects Sundance to return anytime soon to its freewheeling days when Fox Searchlight paid $10.5 million for “Little Miss Sunshine” and Focus Features paid an overheated $10 million for “Hamlet 2.” The buzzwords among most sales agents this year are “recalibrated expectations” and “new normal.” This essentially means that deals will get done but that prices will be confined to the mid-seven figures or less.

According to several agents, films that easily nabbed $1.5 million in minimum guarantees are now looking at about $250,000.

And even the films that are selling for less have to be top-notch to sell at all.

“The market looks strong for films that are really well done,” said Rich Klubeck, a partner at United Talent Agency, which is shopping 14 movies at this year’s festival. “The market for movies that fall into the category of ‘I’m surprised that got made’ — not so much.”

Read Barnes’ article here.

Be sure to satisfy all your festival needs with the latest buzz, top stories, and celebrity interviews from Sundance Channel’s coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.