Major Pre-Fest Buy Blooms; Summit Makes Blind Eight-figure Deal for Rian Johnson’s “Brothers”

A script and just two minutes of footage were enough to sell upstart distribution company Summit Entertainment on North American rights to the unfinished sophomore feature from filmmaker Rian Johnson (“Brick”). In one of the most aggressive acquisitions ever, Summit poached “The Brothers Bloom,” a movie that many expected would go on the market at the Sundance Film Festival early next year. The unspecified eight-figure deal would have made major headlines had the sale played out in Park City early next year. In a swift move, Summit simply pulled the anticipated project from an acclaimed emerging filmmaker off the market.

“Brothers” stars Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz, as well as Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi, in the story of what happens when a young heiress enters the lives of two sibling con men. Describing the project during a conversation with indieWIRE on Saturday, producer Ram Bergman called it a “globe-trotting adventure” playing out in eleven countries. The film was made for $20 million after CAA, representing Bergman and Johnson, secured financing through Endgame Entertainment when the filmmakers decided to make the movie independent of the Indiewood system in order to guarantee complete creative freedom. The agency later brokered the deal with Summit. Bergman produced the film along with Endgame’s James Stern and it is being executive produced by Endgame’s president of production Wendy Japhet and president & COO Doug Hansen.

“Don’t make any offers,” Bergman says he told domestic distributors after this year’s Cannes market, where buyers saw a brief sales reel with less than two minutes of footage from the project. Bergman had enlisted the support of The Weinstein Company’s Glen Basner, whom he worked with on “Brick” back when the executive was at Focus International. The project was still shooting at the time, but Basner began pursuing inernational deals for the film in Cannes and Bergman hoped to shop “The Brothers Bloom” at Sundance in January.

“If you don’t sell the movie at Sundance, then where do you sell the movie?,” Bergman rhetorically asked indieWIRE on Saturday, emphasizing the challenges facing the increasing number of producers who are making bigger budgeted films outside the studios and their Indiewood divisions. He added that beyond Sundance, he could have taken the film to Berlin, but worries that the fest doesn’t draw top company decisionmakers. And waiting for a Cannes debut is equally unreliable, he added, given the challenges of gaining a coveted fest berth.

With a potential industry strike looming on the horizon and distributors becoming increasingly competitive, some in the business have already begun to speculate about another robust market being in the cards for Sundance ’08, but worries about an incredibly overcrowded theatrical marketplace have created counter speculation. So, “The Brothers Bloom” team pondered the path for their project when Summit ambitiously emerged two weeks ago. During a marathon ten-hour negotiating session at CAA’s Los Angeles headquarters, the company laid out a comprehensive distribution plan for the unfinished film that quickly convinced the filmmakers that they should immediately reconsider putting the film’s North American rights on the market at all.

Rinko Kikuchi in a scene from Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom.” Photo provided by Endgame Entertainment”Smart, sexy, and fun,” Summit production president Erik Feig praised director Rian Johnson on the unseen project via an official statement. “Rian is a deeply talented director, the cast is stellar, and the producing team top-notch,” he said. “Landing this film now is a perfect example of our ability and willingness to move quickly and aggressively.”

One insider echoed the sentiment but detailed the acquisition only as “an aggressive eight-figure deal.” The pact is understood to include a major eight-figure minimum guarantee with even more millions of dollars committed to the P & A for the film’s theatrical release — and significant financial bumps based on its performance at the box office. Its a whopping acquisition that, taken altogether, may ultimately be valued at more than $20 million. Though no one involved will give exact figures on the record, this is clearly a bigger deal than any other acquisition seen at a film festival.

Financier James Stern called the deal a “perfect storm” during a conversation with indieWIRE Saturday, but declined to specify the financials explaining that a distributor paying such a large sum for an unseen film shouldn’t surprise the industry. Companies already spend millions to acquire and package scripts with talent, Stern noted, adding that the film business is simply getting more and more de-centralized and will continue to do so.

“The whole deal kind of caught us by surprise,” added producer Bergman in the separate conversation with indieWIRE Saturday, also declining to discuss the contractual details. But commenting on the decision to sell the film in the post-production stage, he admitted, “It relieves the pressure of finishing it for Sundance,” also adding that he and Rian Johnson can now focus on “making the best movie possible.” The group is aiming to complete the movie by February, Bergman said.

After leaving the CAA offices following the long negotiating session two weeks ago, Endgame’s James Stern joked to Summit COO Robert Hayward, “You stole one from us.” Indeed, if Summit planned to put itself on the map with this acquisition, they have no doubt succeeded.

Unveiled back in April by Patrick Wachsberger’s sales company Summit Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based production and distribution studio is a new, well-financed outlet headed by former Paramount COO and vice-chairman Rob Friedman with plans to release 10 – 12 films widely annually.

Backed by more than $100 million in operating capital, Endgame Entertainment is about to unveil Killer Films’ “I’m Not There,” the new film from Todd Haynes that will be released in the U.S. by The Weinstein Company next month. Since its launch four years ago, Endgame has co-financed some two dozen films, including “Hotel Rwanda,” “Proof,” “White Noise,” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.”

Following a number of pre-sales from Cannes, Ram Bergman told indieWIRE that there are still deals to be done on “The Brothers Bloom” at this week’s American Film Market (AFM) in California, citing available territories in Japan, Australia, Italy and the U.K. But, “the movie is already profitable,” he added. “There is no need to rush, unless we get the right price or the right distributor.”

“Someone can say, ‘how can someone pay so much without seeing the movie’,” Bergman concluded, echoing that in a time when scripts are bought and packaged for big money, such a big, blind acquisition is ultimately unsurprising. “The reality is, they did.”

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