EXCLUSIVE: Here’s a testament that good projects sometimes rise above development hell. Benedict Cumberbatch, who figures to be a big man on campus at the Toronto Film Festival with 12 Years A Slave, The Fifth Estate and …
Toronto: As Magnolia Turns 10, Owner Todd Wagner Says It’s Not For Sale And That VOD Strategy Is Thriving
EXCLUSIVE: Along with everything else about the 2001 Toronto Film Festival, the launch of Magnolia Pictures was quickly forgotten on September 11, as co-founder Eamonn Bowles and other indie film execs scrambled to find ways to get home. Magnolia marked its 10th anniversary at 2011 Toronto. While the company still doesn’t carry the profile of some other indie distributors, Bowles and co-owner Todd Wagner said their model — mixing traditional indie theatrical distribution with emerging digital technology — has made them distinctive and profitable. VOD revenues now often outpace theatrical for Magnolia films, and they return profit to filmmakers because of low P&A spends. Bowles and Wagner have been honing the VOD model since they were branded charlatans by theater chains in 2005 when Steven Soderbergh’s micro-budget film Bubble was released simultaneously on movie screens, VOD and DVD. Wagner and partner Mark Cuban put Magnolia and other film assets under the 2929 Entertainment banner on the selling block earlier this year, but pulled them back when they didn’t get a high price. Wagner said he’s staying.
Magnolia releases 35-40 films each year now, with upcoming releases that include the 2011 Toronto title Melancholia (which got Lars von Trier banned by Cannes for making dumb pro-Nazi comments). Some Magnolia efforts follow a theatrical release cycle, others go direct to DVD. But VOD has increasingly become the distributor’s calling card and Wagner said proof of its viability came when Harvey Weinstein poached Magnolia execs Tom Quinn and Jason Janego to start a VOD venture for The Weinstein Company.
“Harvey’s been in the industry forever, and he thought it was a good enough model to hire some of our folks away,” Wagner told me. “I’m flattered. There are other people doing this now, from IFC to John Sloss. To me, it’s validation that we’ve hit on something. But we’ve got an advantage, a unique collection of assets in the Landmark Theater chain, a home video division, and HDNet. The big theater chains still absolutely won’t play Ultra VOD titles, so having a theater chain is helpful. As is having the television network for the relationships it has made us with all the MSO’s. These synergies allow us to be freewheeling in how we license content. And producers are coming back to us with films because we are cutting them checks. That rarely happens elsewhere because of all the P&A that stands in front of them.”
EXCLUSIVE: A major shake up is taking place at Arnon Milchan’s New Regency. Co-chairmen Bob Harper and Hutch Parker will not renew their contracts when they expire in December. I’ve confirmed with Harper that he and Parker are negotiating their exits. There had recently been a ripple of rumors about this, and there will be the inevitable speculation over whether the duo are jumping before being pushed. Harper didn’t get into that, but said that he was confirming because he and Parker were aware of the rumors and were most concerned with reassuring filmmakers with Regency projects that the duo would continue to be closely involved and see those films through to release. Harper also said the decision came after months of conversations with Milchan over whether or not to renew. Recently, they came to the conclusion that this was the best course. Milchan could conceivably name a replacement quickly, but Harper told me that he and Parker will continue to see through the completed films as well as some of the projects that are gearing up for production starts, regardless of how quickly the succession takes place.
Harper had been in the job for four years (he moved from the post of vice chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment and has worked for Fox since 1986), and Parker had been in the post for more than three years (he moved over from the post of 20th Century Fox vice chairman, and had been with the studio 13 years when he took the job). They have been involved in every facet of New Regency films, including production, marketing, distribution and administering the library. Harper said it is unclear what will happen next year, and that he and Harper haven’t solidified their plans. I wouldn’t be surprised if they remain on the Fox lot as producers or in some other capacity.
BREAKING: Brad Pitt will star in the New Regency action movie The Gray Man. James Gray was set in January to direct the film, an adaptation of Mark Greaney’s thriller novel. I’d heard Pitt’s name back then, but the studio and actors reps denied the Moneyball star was doing it at the time. The question has always been timing, because Pitt and partner Angelina Jolie don’t work at the same time. They usually rotate. Jolie directed In the Land of Blood and Honey, and now Pitt is starring in World War Z. Jolie has been seriously eyeing the Disney film Maleficent, but that picture needs a director. If she took her turn, then the timing of The Gray Man gets thrown off. If Pitt makes two movies in a row, he’ll finish World War Z in late fall and The Gray Man will begin production in January or February. That’s how it’s looking now, because I’m told that Pitt has been locked down for that first-quarter 2012 slot.
After making a splash by funding the wildly profitable Darren Aronofsky-directed Black Swan, Timmy Thompson and Brian Oliver’s Cross Creek Pictures has become an increasing presence in the independent film producing and finance game. To help manage the growing project volume, they’ve hired Becky Sloviter to be senior vice president of development and production. She started work yesterday and had most recently been veep of development and production at MGM, where she worked on such titles as the Kevin James-starrer Zookeeper and the Drew Goddard-directed The Cabin in the Woods, as well as the musical Valley Girl which is on a fast track at MGM. Before that, Sloviter had been a production exec at Stuber/Parent Productions.
EXCLUSIVE: We Own The Night writer/director James Gray is fast mobilizing his next film. It’s called Low Life, and it will star Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix, with Jeremy Renner in discussions to play the third lead. The project is being packaged by CAA. Several financiers are in the mix, but I hear that Wild Bunch will likely get it. Discussions are also taking place with domestic distributors, and deal is expected to be sealed shortly. The Hurt Locker‘s Greg Shapiro is producing.
I’m told that Cotillard will play a woman attempting to immigrate from Poland. Her American dream turns into a nightmare. While sailing to Ellis Island and a new start, her sister grows deathly ill and she is forced to trade sexual favors for medicine and food to keep her sister alive. Once they land, she is warned to keep quiet about what happened. Though she does, she walks away with immigration papers that deem her a woman with bad morals. With no place to go, she falls prey to a charming sleazebag (Phoenix), who persuades her to turn tricks in New York. Renner is close to signing on to play the sleazebag’s cousin, a magician who sweeps the young woman off her feet and is her best chance to escape the nightmarish life she has fallen into. This will be Gray’s fourth film with Phoenix, who previously starred in The Yards, We Own The Night and most recently Two Lovers.