Miller, who studied film at Eastern Michigan University and now lives in Brooklyn, said he was impressed by the executives' questions, including queries on how he had gotten certain shots.
"They got into the technical stuff that no one else asked us," he said.
The distributors were impressed by Miller, too, and upped their offer. They wanted to enter into an exclusive negotiation, but there was a caveat. They needed a response by 1:30 a.m. Friday.
By now, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, other interested parties had emerged, including IFC, HBO, Netflix and Magnolia Pictures. Braun called representatives of several companies and told them there was a "ticking clock."
At the last minute, another potential buyer — Braun wouldn't say who — came in with what he called a substantially higher offer than Lionsgate and CNN.
Braun quickly telephoned the Lionsgate-CNN representatives to tell them about the new offer. They agreed to give him a chance to talk things over with Miller, but refused to counter with a higher bid.
"They said, 'If you don't call us back in five minutes, we are turning off our phones, going to sleep, and the deal is dead,'" Braun said.
Miller talked by phone with his attorney, Evan Krauss, and Braun. In the end, the filmmaker decided to go with CNN and Lionsgate. The partnership would give Miller the best of both worlds — a prestigious theatrical release by Lionsgate, followed by expected repeated airings on CNN and its promise of a much larger audience. One of last year's Sundance hits, "Blackfish," was acquired by Magnolia and CNN and shown by the cable news company 17 times, and seen by about 21 million people.
"Doing this film, you learn very quickly to go with your gut," Miller said. "I felt very comfortable with these guys."
As soon as Miller said yes, Braun hung up and dialed the Lionsgate-CNN group two minutes past the deadline. If the call went to voice mail, the deal was dead.
But the prospective buyers hadn't gone to bed. They picked up. Braun told them, "I hope you have hundreds of thousands of dollars of love for Todd, because that is what he is giving up to go with you."
The roughly $1-million deal for all North American rights to "Dinosaur 13" was the first sale on the ground in Park City. The price was in the ballpark of recent high-profile documentary sales. Last year, Submarine made $1-million-plus deals for "20 Feet From Stardom" and "Blackfish."
Vinnie Malhotra, CNN's senior vice president for development and acquisitions, said it meant a lot to him that Miller went with his group's offer even though another potential buyer had made a higher one.
"With a film like 'Dinosaur 13,' we really want to make it part of the national conversation," Malhotra said.
Braun went to sleep around 4 a.m. Friday, sneaking in three hours of rest before a busy day of screenings and deal making. Miller, coursing with excitement and nervous energy, turned in three hours after him and slept for only 30 minutes.
On Friday morning, they went to a 9 a.m. showing of "Dinosaur 13" and embraced at the theater. At 9:16 a.m., a press release went out announcing the deal.
While the film was screening, Miller was inundated with congratulatory text messages. He stepped out of the theater and, having not eaten a meal in almost 24 hours, celebrated with a piece of banana bread and a Gatorade from the concessions stand. He was so ravenous that he scarfed it down before paying.
After the movie ended, Miller walked onstage and announced the deal.
The audience roared.