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Paramount, MTV do the ‘Hustle’ for $9 million

Times Staff Writer

In one of the bigger sales ever to come down at the Sundance Film Festival, Paramount Pictures and MTV Films purchased writer-director Craig Brewer’s “Hustle & Flow” for $9 million as part of an agreement, under which producer John Singleton will make two other films, that brings the total package to $16 million.

The independently made film about a pimp amid a midlife crisis marks the first acquisition under Paramount’s newly appointed studio chief, Brad Grey, who viewed the film at his home in Los Angeles with other studio executives while MTV executives attended a simultaneous screening here at the festival. Grey won’t officially take the reins at Paramount until around March 1.

The deal calls for Paramount to work with Singleton in developing two films for $3.5 million each.

Sources said New Line Cinema had offered a higher price, in the range of $10 million, for “Hustle & Flow” but that Singleton ultimately decided to go with Viacom’s MTV and Paramount.

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“We think the movie’s great,” said Robert Friedman, the vice president of Paramount’s Motion Picture Group, who said this is exactly the kind of film that the studio, under Grey, wants to cultivate, one that is low cost but has a high opportunity of connecting with young people.

David Gale, executive vice president of MTV Films, said “between the filmmaker and the music of the movie, the vibe of the movie, the attitude, we feel very comfortable working with them.”

Gale said the lofty price tag did not so much reflect the intense bidding-war mentality that sometimes afflicts Sundance -- where Castle Rock famously plopped down $10 million for “The Spitfire Grill” nearly a decade ago -- but what executives perceive is the commercial appeal of the film, which stars Terrence Howard in the lead and Ludacris as a rap hit maker.

“As far as movies go in Hollywood,” Gale said, “this is a very good deal.”

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