Craig Brewer's third feature film, "Hustle & Flow," was sold to Paramount Pictures on Saturday night for $10 million.
It's a record sale for a feature debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, and even more earth-shattering when you consider that the total deal came to $15 million (including development of two more features) for producer/director John Singleton's production company.
"Hustle & Flow" concerns a Memphis pimp (Terrence Dashon Howard) who's having a midlife crisis and wants to become a rapper. It co-stars DJ Qualls, Taryn Manning and real-life rapper Ludacris.
Paramount's new chief, Brad Grey, OK'd the sale when he was awakened in the middle of the night Saturday night. Putting such big bucks into an indie film is a sign that Grey is going to reinvent moribund Paramount as an exciting new studio.
Grey and his minions are also said to have an eye on another Sundance indie, "Marilyn Hotchkiss' Ballroom Dancing and Charm School." That film debuts here today.
Paramount is really cooking, too. I'm told they are in negotiations to set up a big outside production deal with a new production company — their first such deal beyond an existing one with Scott Rudin Productions.
I already told you that a documentary about boxing, called "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story," was sold to NBC and USA Networks. More films are finding distributors as you read this. Rumors are that Miramax will try to finalize deals on Pierce Brosnan's witty comedy "The Matador" and another feature called "Brick."
The "Hustle & Flow" deal was finalized on Saturday night at Premiere magazine's cozy lounge on upper Main Street. That's the same place where last night rapper Snoop Dogg played for a packed house of mostly non-urban types despite rumors of death threats. It's not your grandmother's Sundance anymore.
Still, some of the festival's better films are not yet signed to distributors. Those would include Mike Mills' spectacular debut feature, "Thumbsucker"; Steve Buscemi's elegant "Lonesome Jim" and a Michael Keaton comedy called "Game 6" that features an excellent screenplay by award-winning novelist Don DeLillo.
Another sublime feature called "Me and You and Everyone We Know," written and directed by Miranda July, will be distributed by IFC Films, although there's talk of a partnership deal with a bigger studio. (And there should be, to give "Me and You" the wide audience it deserves.)
Certainly the big ticket of the day was "Thumbsucker," based on the novel by Walter Kirn and introducing a hot new talent in the form of 19-year-old actor Lou Taylor Pucci. Mills (who is not the Mike Mills from R.E.M., but an acclaimed music-video director) has turned Kirn's novel into a brilliant film that falls into the same genre as "Harold and Maude," "Igby Goes Down" and "Rushmore."
Produced by former Good Machine principals Ted Hope and Anthony Bregman (among others), "Thumbsucker" should wind up going to Focus Features, which is really just the descendent of Good Machine. Focus's James Schamus and David Linde were first on line to congratulate the talented director and cast at the conclusion of yesterday's screening.
Other buzzed-about films here at the festival include a documentary called "The Aristocrats," in which 100 well-known comedians reminisce about a particularly off-color joke; "Murderball," about paraplegic athletes, which ThinkFilm already owns and which looks like an award-winner for next season and the aforementioned "Lonesome Jim," with strong performances by Mary Kay Place, Liv Tyler and Casey Affleck.
There are ovations after screenings at the Sundance Film Festival, and then there are wildly enthusiastic receptions.
I would say the latter was what greeted the documentary "Inside Deep Throat" on Friday night when it premiered here to a packed audience. People are still talking about the debut of this controversial and graphic, yet witty and entertaining film.
"Inside Deep Throat" — which chronicles the making of the most profitable porno film in history — comes under the unlikely banner of Imagine Films. That's the same company that's given us "A Beautiful Mind," "Cocoon," "Apollo 13" and the rest of Ron Howard's films.
No, the former Opie and Richie Cunningham is not behind this film. Howard's partner, Brian Grazer, is the producer of "Inside Deep Throat," which Imagine will release this winter, with an NC-17 rating, through Universal Pictures.
And yes, at the center of Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey's very entertaining film is a very X-rated clip from the original "Deep Throat," in which the now-deceased Linda Lovelace performs her famous sex act upon co-star Harry Reems.
Ironically, Reems — who was paid $250 to appear in the original movie, and then had to stand trial for obscenity — is now a born-again Christian and a respected realtor right here in Park City, Utah. He did not attend the premiere screening.
"Inside Deep Throat" is about more than just the original movie, of course. It also charts the birth of the porn business, crediting "Deep Throat" for launching the billion-dollar industry. What's kind of funny now is to watch a lot of people who are well into their senior years recall this wild moment from their youths.
One couple in their 80s is particularly amusing. The husband distributed "Deep Throat," and the nagging wife has never forgiven him for it. This duo just about steals the movie and almost makes you forget the subject at the center of this documentary.
Bailey and Barbato have made the kind of movie you would not find out of place late at night on cable TV. It will be interesting to see if the excitement about it at Sundance, though, will carry over to mainstream audiences.
Considering the number of people who've come to Park City for parties, and the number of parties they've attended already, you'd think there wasn't much time or interest in seeing movies. I mean, it is the Sundance Film Festival, is it not?
One drive down Main Street, a steep hill marked by restaurants, pubs, souvenir stands and art galleries of varying quality, and you see them: hordes of young folk queued up in front of nightclubs.
Why are they here? What does this have to do with filmmaking? These are questions we ask every year. There is no answer.
Of course, there are the "real" parties: dinners for the casts of films and larger bashes for those in the industry and a few hangers-on.
Last night, Entertainment Weekly pulled out all the stops with a real A-list event.
Set in an old building next to the Park City library, EW used the same locale as the producers of "Inside Deep Throat" from Friday night. The main difference was that the latter party featured dancing go-go girls wearing just pasties and G-strings, with lots of colored balloons to adorn the room and phallic-shaped hors d'oeuvres.
Entertainment Weekly converted the space last night, with Danny Masterson of "That '70s Show" playing DJ. (His girlfriend, Bijou Phillips, daughter of the late Mamas and Papas founder John Phillips , was on hand, although balance-deprived.)
The stars poured in, as did massive numbers of industry types, perhaps all too happy to finally be beyond the reach of the Main Street wannabes.
The magazine expected, and got, most of the stars of films being shown here, but they were not ready for the likes of a real icon in the person of Sidney Poitier.
What was he doing here, I asked?
"My kids wanted to see it," he said as he waded into the sea of beautiful people awaiting him.
In various corners, and in no particular order, you could find Marisa Tomei, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Casey Affleck, Mary Kay Place, one of the Backstreet Boys, David Schwimmer, Jesse Bradford, Michael Keaton, Kevin Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Paul Walker, Jenny McCarthy, Jason Ritter, Tom Arnold, Steve Coogan, David Sutcliffe, Sharon Lawrence and scads more well-known faces roaming around amid the hubbub.
The party was almost like a roll call for the A-list so they could check in. Only Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Costner and Pierce Brosnan opted to skip the festivities.
I had a particularly nice conversation with Amy Redford, the smart, beautiful blonde actress daughter of festival founder Robert Redford.
You'll be interested to know that she doesn't get a free, all-access pass to all the movies being shown here. Instead, she explained, she gets a regular pass — just like mine! — that has almost no meaning.
She cadges tickets to movies she wants to see from producers and publicists. Hey, join the club!
And where, you might ask, are Paris and Nicky Hilton? Don't worry, the duo that gets paid for acting dumb is here.
I saw them late last night at the Motorola cattle-call party for 800 people in Deer Valley. In the middle of a hugely crowded room, Paris was making cell phone calls while one of her entourage was screaming for Nicky to join her.
According to my sources, the girls have already been to the Volkswagen center, where they picked up a free car for their use during their stay at Sundance. They've also been spotted at the innumerable swag spots, where the heiresses have been able to get lots of free stuff they really, really need!
What will they think of the documentaries? Will they notice new trends in independent filmmaking? Do they have an opinion about shooting in mini DV vs. film? I doubt these subjects will cause Paris and Nicky many sleepless hours.
When I last saw her, Paris was sidling up to the Motorola bar while actor Griffin Dunne and his 14-year-old daughter (not drinking, don't worry, nothing like that), each clearly amused, studied this anthropological oddity from afar.