25
Jan
08

Leonid Rozhetskin via BuzzCheck

Sundance BuzzCheck™:

The festival’s top seller, ‘Hamlet 2′

Jan 23, 2008, 07:48 PM | by Pop Watch

Categories: Sundance Film Festival 2008

Cooganhamlet2_l To sell or not to sell? That has been the question dogging every fledgling filmmaker at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where sales have been remarkably slow. But it wasn’t a concern for the producers of Hamlet 2 — the bizarro comic farce about an about an eccentric high school drama teacher (Steve Coogan, pictured) who tries to save his drama program and his marriage to his fed-up wife (Catherine Keener) with his production of a sequel to Shakespeare’s masterwork. Their quandary was more about how much to sell their movie for, and to whom.

The raucous comedy had been the subject of tremendous buzz coming into Sundance…before it was even completed, and without a mere mention in the event’s catalogue. Indeed, the unfinished film was such a late entry into the festival that Park City’s primary premiere location, the Eccles Center, was fully booked. But that didn’t stop Hamlet 2 from knocking Sundance out of its mid-festival doldrums with a rowdy debut screening Monday night at the Library Center theater. The room erupted in hysterics about two minutes into the show, and things stayed that way for nearly two hours.

Afterward, Harvey Weinstein hovered by the door, ready to kick off the deal-making. He was far from alone. Producer Eric Eisner and Leonid Rozhetskin, whose L+E pictures financed the film, fielded offers “from all the usual suspects,” including Fox Searchlight and Lionsgate. But it wasn’t until after he spent the whole night hashing things out at the bargaining table in his condo that he finally settled on a deal to sell the worldwide rights to Focus Features for an astronomical $10 million — one of the highest sums ever fetched by any movie in the history of Sundance. Eisner insists it wasn’t simply Focus’ deep pockets that helped that distributor win the bidding war. “We love their whole overall approach to marketing and filmmaking,” say Eisner and Rozhetskin, who will confess that Hamlet 2 outperformed even his high expectations. “It’s been quite a ride. Now it would be nice to get some sleep.” —Christine Spines (with additional reporting by Missy Schwartz)

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