In the last six years—ever since the economy took a sh*t in the world’s bed—the markets at film festivals have drawn down. Deals still get made at a comparable rate to pre-economy-sucking-it-hard days, but where once distributors were willing to throw money around to make a statement, expenditures on acquisitions have gone down, and now it’s not uncommon for even well-regarded films to sell for “paltry” sums in the low six figures.
Apparently TIFF 2014 didn’t get that message, though, as there was an honest-to-god, all-out bidding war for Chris Rock’s new feature, Top Five, with bidding soaring into EIGHT FIGURES. The movie premiered at the festival on Saturday and immediately sparked the bidding war, fueled by strong reviews. The deal closed Monday afternoon and Paramount emerged with the winning bid, rumored to be nearly $13 million. This is incredible for two reasons: 1) It’s been years since there’s been a deal like this (and a real bidding war! So exciting!), and 2) Top Five is written and directed by Rock, who also stars alongside Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, and Gabrielle Union.
This is serious money being spent by a major studio, on a movie from a black filmmaker and featuring a marquee, predominately not-white cast. With this kind of money on the table, Paramount will have to give it a wide release in order to justify their investment. The fact that not only Paramount but ALL of the major studios were willing to bid—and bid so high—on this movie means that they ALL think Top Five can play to a wide, diverse audience. Diversity is a commitment, but it’s also good business (see also: Fox’s TV model, which is going gangbusters). Hopefully this isn’t just a festival success story for Chris Rock—though he well deserves it—but a sign that the studios are committing to the business of diversity.