Apple’s $25 Million ‘CODA’ Acquisition Smashes Sundance Sales Record

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Chris Lindahl
·3 min read
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CODA,” the coming-of-age drama that premiered Thursday to raves, has sold to Apple for around $25 million, smashing the sales record set last year when Neon and Hulu teamed up to buy “Palm Springs.” Deadline first reported the news.

It’s as sure a sign as ever that this year’s virtual program won’t equal sluggish market activity. Sources say Apple and Amazon were among the buyers engaged in a bidding war for the film shortly after it premiered on day one.

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Written and directed by “Orange is the New Black” writer and “Tallulah” helmer Sian Heder, “CODA” offers a fresh perspective on a coming-of-age family drama: Emilia Jones stars as the teenage child of deaf parents (Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) caught between her love of singing and the expectations she faces as the only hearing person in her family, who run a fishing business.

The online response was rapturous, quickly painting a picture of a crowd pleasing movie with a lot of heart, exactly the kind of film that streamers can’t resist spending a huge amount of money on in this era.

“I have been so moved by the outpouring of response to the film and am so excited to have found a partner in Apple that loves and deeply gets this movie, the spirit in which it was created and is committed to having this film reach the widest audience possible in a thoughtful and meaningful way. The whole CODA team is also so grateful to Sundance for being a part of the film’s journey,” Heder said. “I hope that this film and Apple’s powerful support will help kick down some doors standing in the way of inclusion and representation and pave a path for more stories that center characters from the Deaf and Disabled community. The world has waited too long for these stories to be told. Now is the time. No more excuses.”

ICM Partners and CAA Media Finance negotiated the deal.

The big buy out of last year’s festival was Andy Samberg comedy “Palm Springs,” which sold to Neon and Hulu somewhere between $17.5-22.5 million. That bested the previous record set by “The Birth of a Nation” in 2016, sold to Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million.

That the sales record has been smashed a second year in a row in a deal with a streamer shows just how powerful a force new digital players are. Streamers judge deals in much different ways than theatrical distributors, chief among the differences is that streamers don’t have to worry about grosses. It’s an environment that has increased the number of deals styled like the “Palm Springs” one, where a savvy arthouse distributor can release a film in theaters to build prestige buzz, but without the worry of selling enough tickets to afford such an expensive movie.

Earlier Friday, Neon made the first deal of the 2021 festival when it purchased Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee” in a low seven-figure deal. The animated documentary traces the story of an Afghan refugee and was met with acclaim after its Thursday premiere.

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