Tonight at 9 PM, American Masters for its 200th episode unveils the Shane Salerno-directed documentary on the life of J.D. Salinger, followed by Charlie Rose’s interview with the filmmaker who spent a decade and his own money uncovering secrets of the reclusive author. The PBS version of Salinger is 15 minutes longer than the version released theatrically by The Weinstein Company last fall, and here is a fascinating new clip in which Tom Wolfe describes an encounter between Salinger and a young Charles Portis, who went on to write True Grit:
BREAKING: WNET’s American Masters will open its 28th season by showing a director’s cut of Shane Salerno’s feature documentary Salinger that will be 15 minutes longer than the theatrical version. The prestige program has promised that the longer cut will bare more previously unseen photos, testimony and secrets about reclusive author J.D. Salinger, including his harrowing days fighting the Nazis in WWII.
American Masters was the first to close a deal for the movie, followed by a book deal with Simon & Schuster and then a theatrical pact with The Weinstein Company. The latter later announced it would work with Salerno to develop a narrative movie about the life of the author of such literary classics as The Catcher In The Rye.
American Masters: Salinger airs January 21. I’ve watched this documentary come together over the past five years (back when I saw an early cut) and I didn’t really understand some critical resentment over baring the life of an author who was phobic about his privacy, because, after all, isn’t every worthy biographical documentary invasive? Salinger made its theatrical debut at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, with the book and movie fueled by Salerno’s unearthing of numerous bombshell revelations culled from years of research. These ranged from previously unseen photographs to, most significantly, the reveal that Salinger was in fact writing books from his bunker while he was in seclusion, and that those will eventually see the light of day.
After all the secrecy that went into the deal making for the book and documentary about reclusive author J.D. Salinger, it is all off to a strong start. The book by David Shields and Shane Salerno is debuting in the sixth slot of The New York Times bestseller list. The Salerno-directed documentary Salinger, which launched last Friday in four theaters, finished with a $22,742 per screen, which was tops in the marketplace. Even Salinger’s work benefited: The Catcher In The Rye hit the top ten on Amazon.
Deadlne readers have known since J.D. Salinger’s death in 2010 that Shane Salerno’s feature documentary would spill secrets about the reclusive author. And Harvey Weinstein took to asking journalists to preserve reveals as he got them to do during The Crying Game. But they strategically let the first big one out of the bag today, after 100,000 books were shipped. The New York Times reports that the docu Salinger reveals that there are plans to posthumously publish five new tomes starting in 2015, works that the Catcher In The Rye author penned from his concrete bunker after he went into seclusion and stopped releasing his works for public consumption. They include The Family Glass, expanding on characters from Franny and Zooey; The Last and Best of the Peter Pans; a manual of the Vedanta religion; a WWII-set novel inspired by Salinger’s own marriage; and a novella drawn from his time in the Army. The Weinstein Co. releases Salinger on September 6.
Sixty-plus years after The Catcher In The Rye began the public’s fascination with enigmatic author J.D. Salinger, a new documentary and book are ready to spill some secrets about him. Just keep them to yourselves, please. The Weinstein Company is teaming with publisher Simon & Schuster for a new campaign called “Uncover the Mystery but Don’t Spoil the Secrets”, which asks people not to reveal details from the movie and book — both titled Salinger – because of their “revelatory and confidential nature”. The film has only been allowed to be screened by a select group of press and insiders, the Weinstein Co. said, and those seeing it before its theatrical release are being asked to sign nondisclosure agreements. If the tactic sounds familiar, think back two decades. “Back in 1993, when Miramax released The Crying Game, we asked journalists and moviegoers not to reveal the film’s secret to their friends,” Harvey Weinstein said in a statement. “With Salinger, we have a similar situation: The joy of this documentary is discovering information that, until now, has been kept under wraps for decades.” Shane Salermo co-wrote the book with David Shields and directed the docu, which began production in 2004. It opens September 6.
EXCLUSIVE: The Weinstein Company has acquired theatrical rights to Salinger, the Shane Salerno-directed feature documentary on the reclusive author of The Catcher In The Rye. The deal is seven figures, around $2 million, and covers world rights except for the previous deal that licensed U.S. television rights to PBS’ American Masters. The plan is to release later this year for Oscar season, and the deal came after Harvey Weinstein, David Glasser and the acquisition team were shown the film Sunday morning, the day of the Academy Awards. TWC was the only distributor that saw the finished film, and closed the deal right after. While everyone was partying over the Oscar weekend, TWC acquired Grace of Monaco with Nicole Kidman and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom with Idris Elba. All three of these films will be in the Oscar season discussion, as will Fruitvale, the film that came out of Sundance with strong buzz, and which TWC also acquired. After two years of winning Best Picture, Harvey Weinstein watched Argo best his two candidates, Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained. Looks like he really, really wants to be in the winner’s circle again.
That validates an unusual sales strategy that Salerno employed on the film with his lawyer Robert Offer. It was first shown to American Masters, which quickly closed a 7-figure licensing deal. The plan is to make it the 200th installment of that prestigious series, early next year. It was then shown to Jon Karp and his editors from Simon & Schuster, and right after they saw it, they closed a 7-figure publishing deal for a biography that Salerno wrote with David Shields.
Now, the documentary distribution rights are being sold to the only distributor that saw the film. I’m told that the entire deal for theatrical, publishing and U.S. TV rights will be north of $5 million, one of the richest pacts ever for a feature documentary.
For Salerno, this completes an eight year odyssey, and he has been made whole after investing $2 million of his own money into the documentary and the book. It also closes the circle for me; shortly after I arrived from Variety to Deadline Hollywood, Salinger passed away. This was not long after I’d seen an early cut of Salerno’s film. I thought it was absolutely fascinating. I haven’t seen it since, and the discretion shown in the dealmaking process indicates there are secrets that were held back. But here is what I said about it back then:
EXCLUSIVE: Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, who scripted the Swedish The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and followed with the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee A Royal Affair, have found their next project. It’s a feature adaptation of The Power Of The Dog, the epic Don Winslow bestseller framed around the drug war and a 30-year struggle between a hard DEA agent and a family of cartel kingpins in Mexico.
Arcel will direct, and the script will be written by Heisterberg, Arcel and Shane Salerno. Salerno will produce through The Story Factory. This is the same Salerno who wrote, directed, produced and financed the J.D. Salinger documentary Salinger that earlier this week was licensed in the U.S. for an American Masters broadcast and is being shopped for feature distribution after a companion biography sold in a 7-figure deal to Simon & Schuster.
2ND UPDATE, 9:23 AM: It has been quite a week for J.D. Salinger. The Shane Salerno documentary Salinger has been shown to only two parties so far, and in both cases, the result was a smashing deal. First to see it was the American Masters team, which quickly paid low-seven figures to license U.S. domestic TV rights and make it the 200th installment of the prestigious program in January. Second to see it were the Simon & Schuster editors, who quickly made a worldwide rights deal on the companion book, The Private War Of J.D. Salinger. Agency sources tell me that deal was closer to $2 million than $1 million for the sprawling book by David Shields and Salerno. It will be published in September, just ahead of the theatrical release.
Next up: the feature distribution deal. I don’t get the impression there will be a big gang bang screening and then an auction; it will be a subtler, more selective process than that. But the goal is to lock in a distributor who’ll give it a nice theatrical play in the months before the American Masters premiere next year, and figure out DVD and those other ancillaries excluding U.S. domestic TV rights. By the time all this is done, it should be a nice outcome for Salerno and the eight years and $2 million he invested to assemble both the film and the book.