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Sundance BuzzCheck™: The festival's top seller, 'Hamlet 2'

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Cooganhamlet2_l

Cooganhamlet2_lTo sell ornot to sell? That has been the question dogging every fledgling filmmaker atthis year’s Sundance Film Festival, where sales have been remarkably slow. But it wasn’t a concern for the producers of Hamlet 2 — thebizarro comic farce about an about an eccentric high school drama teacher (SteveCoogan, 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 rowdydebut screening Monday night at the Library Center theater. The room erupted in hystericsabout 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 thedeal-making. He was far from alone. Producer Eric Eisner, whose L+E picturesfinanced the film, fielded offers “from all the usual suspects,” including FoxSearchlight 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 adeal to sell the worldwide rights to Focus Features for an astronomical $10million — one of the highest sums ever fetched by any movie in thehistory of Sundance. Eisner insists it wasn’t simply Focus’ deep pocketsthat helped that distributor win the bidding war. “We love their whole overall approach tomarketing and filmmaking,” says Eisner, who will confess that Hamlet 2outperformed even his high expectations. “It’s been quite a ride. Now it wouldbe nice to get some sleep.” —Christine Spines (with additional reporting by Missy Schwartz)

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