Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Relativity and The Weinstein Company are in advanced negotiations to team in the acquisition of U.S. distribution rights for Jane Got A Gun, the Western that is being directed by Gavin O’Connor and star Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich and Rodrigo Santoro. The deal is for a wide release but they haven’t finalized a slot for the film. CAA is brokering the deal. I hear CBS Films and Focus Features were also in the mix.

The film’s backers showed footage of the picture on Wednesday, and they were looking for a deal with no upfront money, a discounted distribution fee and a small equity percentage of the gross until the film’s overages are covered. Relativity was negotiating with JGAG producers and it became clear that Weinstein wanted a piece of the movie. Harvey Weinstein has a close relationship with David Boies, the hot shot attorney who is partner in Jane backer Straight Up Films. His daughter, Regency Boies, is a producer on the movie for Straight Up Films. Relativity will handle distribution, I’m told, and TWC is taking the lead on marketing the film, and they decided this would be a good strategic fit. The film is produced by Scott Steindorff, Portman and her Handsomecharlie Films, Aleen Keshishian, Terry Dougas, Scott LaStaiti and Straight Up Films’ Regency Boies.

It’s the latest bit of good news–now this picture is guaranteed to have the funds to compete production–for a film that has had to overcome more adversity than most. Usually, when the picture’s director (Lynne Ramsay) doesn’t show up for the first day of shooting (there were problems making her final deal), that is a first round knockout blow for a small indie. The producers held the crew together in Sante Fe and Warrior helmer Gavin O’Connor rode in to save the day. He began shooting four days later, and then he and partner Anthony Tambakis worked on a polish. It has been hairy, as Jude Law exited after Ramsay did, and then Bradley Cooper took the bad guy role but had to back out because the film he was shooting in Boston had delays because of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing.

I’ve chronicled all of the twists and turns on the picture, and there has been an undercurrent that somehow I’ve been soft on the film’s producers. I don’t believe it’s good form to over scrutinize or sensationalize the troubles of a picture that’s on the rocks, because it is easy to create a self-fulfilling prophecy and doom a film that’s funded by piecemeal financing. I chalked that negativity up to bitterness from some corners over the fact Deadline broke every story, starting with Ramsay’s stunning exit, but just for a reality check, I sat down at Cannes with one of the film’s stars, Emmerich. I asked him if it was as harrowing a set as some has made it sounds. Doesn’t sound like it to me, but here’s what Emmerich told me:

“It has been an interesting duality,” said Emmerich, who plays Portman’s outlaw husband who returns home to the farm to heal. She hires a gun-capable former lover to help her, knowing the leader of her husband’s gang (McGregor) is coming back to finish him off and everything around him. “Inside the bubble of production, I feel like it’s going well. It’s a great cast, good script and beautiful story, and Gavin and Anthony made the script significantly better. Inside the bubble, it feels like we’re just making a great Gavin O’Connor movie. Outside, there’s all this chaos and people are talking, and the cast is changing and there is a high wire act to keep it together. For us, from action to cut it feels not only normal, but really special.”

Emmerich wasn’t hired until after Ramsay exited; he was brought in by O’Connor, for whom he has made five films. O’Connor also drafted Emmerich into the FX series The Americans, for which O’Connor directed the pilot. “I wasn’t here for the Lynne chapter, but the crew seemed exuberant, like Gavin had saved the movie. They all thought they were losing their jobs for sure. How do you hold together a movie without a director? By the time I got there, morale was super high. They said, we were saved, we’re glad you’re here, we got Bradley Cooper and everything’s great. Then came the Boston Marathon tragedy, and schedules got changed and Bradley realized there was not enough time, it would have been impossible.

“That was the first hit I was part of being there,” Emmerich said. “There was concern, but also a sense of, we got through the director not showing up crisis. We can handle the recasting of an actor. The role had never been scheduled to start until June, but there was a little bit of ‘uh,oh.’ Within a matter of days, Ewan stepped in. I love his work and this is a great role for him, it’s a different color palette, he has never played as dark a villainous character as this. He’s a bad guy, but a complicated one. Now, we all think, we’re in good hands, Gavin O’Connor’s hands. I’ve seen him do this before, he just makes it work. There are some days where we went to work not knowing who was going to play what role, or whether we had our financing totally in place, but we knew we had our financing today. So it was, take what you have in front of you and make the most of it. We’ve got the day, shooting scenes 37b-42, let’s go kill it. We don’t know if tomorrow will be there, but we’ve got today. Step by step by step. Keep your eye on the ball in front of you. As for the noise in Hollywood…I keep telling people, remember Titanic? Everybody said, it’s over, the tank’s not working, the budget’s booming, who cares about a boat that sinks. And it became the most successful movie ever made. My mantra is, remember Titanic. We’re much more on the radar because of all that has happened. Otherwise, we’d be a smallish independent movie.”

If Emmerich was worried about anything, it would be explaining to his Beautiful Girls cast members how he happens to be married to the character played by Portman, who was a precocious child in Beautiful Girls, while he played a married guy with kids. He said that it makes sense in the plot, but he expects to get a fair share of grief anyway.

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