With the WGA strike stopping the flow of new screenplays in Hollywood, the competition to land indie titles at the Sundance Film Festival, which starts January 17, is expected to be more cutthroat than ever this year. “Everyone will go looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine,” says producer Lynda Obst. “They’ll be a little more desperate. And that film will go for a bigger price.” On top of that, three smaller distributors have become major players recently—Summit Entertainment (Michael Clayton), the Yari Film Group (The Illusionist), and the Starz-affiliated Overture Films—and Tom Cruise is working to revive United Artists, which means there are more buyers vying for the same number of films. “I’m hearing from distributors that they need movies,” says John Sloss, a lawyer who reps sellers at the festival. “And it feels like the needs are greater than usual.” Hoping to score big at the festival, the studios are rolling out the big guns: Focus Features, for example, is sending its CEO, James Schamus, and other top execs in addition to its full acquisitions team. There’s also talk that stars of publicity-starved Oscar contenders might trek to Park City, too.
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