It was 2:05 a.m. on Jan. 23 when Artisan drew blood.
Riding a wave of propitious Park City mojo (it nabbed [Pi] in 1998 and Blair Witch in 1999), the closely watched indie hit Sundance looking for a threepeat — and battling expectations after it scared up $140.5 mil for Blair Witch. Just 24 hours into the festival, the studio found its newest flick: Chuck & Buck, from director Miguel Arteta.
Exactly how did this creepy stalking comedy become one of the first major Sundance acquisitions? Before the festival, Artisan had ranked the Sundance slate, using factors like marketability, buzz, and cast. Buck was somewhere in the middle. But after senior VP Patrick Gunn attended a Jan. 21 screening, the chase was on. ”I loved it,” recalls Gunn, ”but it was 1:30 a.m., so I had to wait to tell Amir Malin [president] and John Hegeman [president of worldwide marketing].”
Prompted by Gunn’s scouting report, ”John and I got into a 2 p.m. press screening, turned to each other, and said ‘This is the one,”’ recounts Malin. Adds Hegeman, ”We saw two characters we could have a lot of fun with — in TV, radio, trailers, [Internet, and] print campaigns.”
Malin quickly set up a meeting with Arteta, producer Matthew Greenfield, and their attorneys, Carlos Goodman and Linda Lichter. Chuck & Buck had as many as three bidders by Saturday afternoon, Jan. 22 — including Fine Line — with at least one offering more than the final selling price. How did Artisan get the edge? Says exec producer Jason Kliot, ”They wanted to make a deal right…now.”
At 10:30 p.m., Artisan and the film’s reps set up shop in three adjoining rooms in Goodman’s Park City condo. ”Like the Middle East peace talks,” jokes Malin. By 12:45 a.m., the financial terms were in place — though negotiations stalled when Artisan demanded prequel, sequel, and TV rights. (Artisan got them.) Another sticking point: Would screenwriter and costar Mike White’s TV contracts (he writes for Freaks and Geeks) prevent him from signing away the rights to Chuck & Buck? (They didn’t.) At 2:05 a.m., the deal closed: Artisan and overseas distributor Summit Entertainment would pay $1 million for Chuck & Buck and provide $100,000 for finishing costs – going dutch on the potential theatrical profits.
Malin insists Chuck is a worthy heir to Blair Witch. ”There was a hipness [that] should attract a left-of-center audience.” And it wouldn’t hurt, of course, if they threw in a few twig crucifixes.