In an explosive moment before a packed opening weekend crowd, Fruitvale became this year’s Sundance hit and by late Monday afternoon, filmmaker Ryan Coogler had earned gushing praise from The Weinstein Co. co-chair Harvey Weinstein and a reported $2M deal for his dramatization of 22-year-old Bay Area resident Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), who lost his life at the hands of BART Transit Police New Year’s Day 2009.
Other buys at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival include Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s sexy comedy Don Jon’s Addiction (Relativity), the Steve Carell comedy The Way, Way Back (sold for a festival record $9.75M to Fox Searchlight) and the Beat Movement drama Kill Your Darlings (Sony Classics) but Fruitvale is arguably the film with the best shot at following in Beasts of the Southern Wild’s footsteps and being this year’s indie awards breakout.
But despite all the sales talk swirling around him and his Fruitvale team, Coogler says he’s most pleased about the positive response from Oscar’s family.
"For me, to be honest with you, making this movie was never about the sale," Coogler tells us. "It was always, even here at Sundance, how do you make the best film possible that impacts audiences in the best way. To be honest, we made it under such a short schedule we never had a plan for sales. Our goal was never to make money. It was always to get it seen. So for me as a filmmaker, the sale of the film is a means to an end. I want to get it seen. It’s not about getting this thing sold. It’s about getting out there and getting it seen. Distributors have the ability to do that."
Many key details about release patterns and marketing support are ironed out in a Weinstein contract that promises a major release for the movie and questions remain about whether Fruitvale and its tough tale can transform its Sundance launch into crossover box office success later this year.
However, one question remains clear. Ryan Coogler is a Sundance Fan Favorite now. His time as an unknown filmmaker, thanks to being the festival’s first deal, was very, very brief. He’s now a director-to-watch and his next movie, whether personal in nature or not, will arrive with great anticipation.
Before getting up to continue his publicity responsibilities, Coogler offers advice for future Sundance filmmakers hopeful for their Fruitvale moment.
"It’s not the artist’s job to be thinking about money. Marketability and business is the antithesis of art. That’s why Sundance exists and it’s so popular. Independent filmmakers aren’t thinking about making money. Studios are thinking about that. My advice to people working in the independent landscape is not to think about making a sale but making a film that’s true to your goal and has the impact on the audience you desire. All the other stuff will take care of itself."