Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After the disappointing box office returns on Paul Greengrass’s thoughtful but vastly expensive action polemic Green Zone, what’s gonna happen with The Master, a new Paul Thomas Anderson drama that won’t get made by Universal because of its $35 million budget? I’m hearing talks are serious for Bill Pohlad’s River Road to fully finance a film that will star Philip Seymour Hoffman as a charismatic intellectual who in the 1950s becomes the leader of a start-up religion that takes off like wildfire. The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner is circling the role of a young drifter who becomes his right hand man but begins to question his mentor and the whole belief thing. The presence of Oscar winner Hoffman and Oscar nominee Renner gives PTA another Oscar-bait movie, and a topical one, as the storyline questions long established religions as well as comparative upstarts like Scientology and Mormonism. But the $35 million price tag was blasphemy to some indie distributors who considered the package.

Jeremy Renner-7I’m also hearing that PTA’s longtime agent and former Paramount honcho John Lesher is likely to join as producer alongside Anderson’s longtime collaborator, Jo Anne Sellar. River Road seems a strong fit, given Pohlad’s affection for auteur fare. He made possible the Terrence Malick-directed The Tree of Life with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, as well as the Warner Bros castoff Fair Game, the Doug Liman-directed drama about outed CIA op Valerie Plame which stars Penn and Noami Watts. Pohlad is principal investor and partner with Bob Berney in the distribution shingle Apparition. It’s unclear if Berney will get the PTA film, though it seems right in the distributor’s wheelhouse. Apparition next distributes The Runaways for Pohlad.