I broke the news that Paramount is moving Shutter Island from fall 2009 to February 19, 2010. Weird, because the studio’s adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel directed by Marty Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio looked entrenched for October 2 and the upcoming awards season. For God’s sake, the pic is already on people’s early Oscar list. Such a surprise delay will only compound all the bad buzz surrounding the picture and its trailer, which was released in June.
But an insider tells me the pic is good. “It tested in the high 80s/low 90s, and Scorsese even brought it down to two hours.” So what’s the problem?
I hear Paramount told the filmmakers it doesn’t have the financing in 2009 to spend the $50M to $60M necessary to market a big awards pic like this. (But a studio source insists to me it has the cash, just not the home video sales: “Given where the DVD business is in 2009, our only hope is the economy and the retail business rebound in 2010, because the hardest-hit segment has been movies that play to an older adult audience.”)
I’m also told that, among the many reasons for the move, Leo wasn’t going to be available to promote the pic internationally. So the studio settled on the release date of February 19 because “that’s when Silence of the Lambs came out,” in 1991, and it won the Oscar. “Now that the Academy has expanded Best Picture to 10 films,” my insider notes, “it will be easier for a movie that came out in the beginning of the year to be nominated.”
Paramount Chief Brad Grey released this statement in response to my scoop: “Our 2009 slate was green-lit in a very different economic climate, and as a result we must remain flexible and willing to recalibrate and adapt to a changing environment. This is a situation facing every single studio, as we all work through the financial pressures associated with the broader downturn.”
Ever since the Cannes Film Festival, when reviews of Inglourious Basterds ranged from good to mixed to really rotten (“Gott-Awful,” “Grisly-Comic,” “Camp-Operatic,” “Subverts Expectation”), how the pic would do at the box office when it opened in August had been hotly debated. Even more, how it would affect Quentin Tarantino’s future and The Weinstein Company’s fortunes.
Now that official numbers are in, the controversial spaghetti Western–meets–World II film — an homage to 1967’s The Dirty Dozen and its derivative, the more extreme 1978 Italian movie Quel Maledetto Treno Blindato released in the U.S. under the title Inglorious Bastards — opened bigger than anyone expected, with $38 million, plus $28M from abroad. “The Weinsteins live to fight another day,” quipped one rival studio exec to me.
Really? At one point, it wasn’t clear whether The Weinstein Company even had the $30M necessary to adequately release IB domestically. There’d been questions about whether TWC had depleted all its cash reserves, especially because of the company’s new attempt to restructure. But taking out a $75M loan, and putting all of its other movie releases on hold helped The Weinstein Company to hoard its cash. But even now that the film has given Tarantino his biggest opening ever, thus erasing Quentin’s and Harv’s worst nightmare that this would be a Grindhouse-like flop, they aren’t out of the weeds.
Universal has both foreign theatrical distribution, and international and domestic home video, while The Weinstein Company is self-distributing in North America and also has pay-TV. There’s a single-pot worldwide deal split 50/50.
But Inglourious Basterds had a negative cost of $72M. I’ve learned that there’s a humongous first-dollar gross participation — as much as 25 percent — for both Tarantino and star Brad Pitt. Those in film-financing circles tell me the movie must make more than $60M, and others say it’s $80M, in North America in order to earn out. But they also expect a 70 percent drop for Inglourious Basterds beginning on August 28 because most college students nationwide will head back to school, which is bad for biz. Which is why The Weinstein Company’s release of its 100 percent–owned Halloween 2 that weekend is so inexplicable.
I’ve learned that the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences wanted Tom Hanks to serve as president for the new term. And that he was nominated by Tom Sherak, who thought Hanks could be a “Gregory Peck–type” AMPAS leader. But insiders tell me Hanks declined, saying he “didn’t feel he could put in the time.”
So his name was withdrawn, and that’s when Sherak got the gig. At least it’s comforting to know that AMPAS’ and Sherak’s heads were in the right place by wanting an actor instead of two back-to-back studio shills. (Sherak follows Sid Ganis.)
But what an awful decision. Formerly a 20th Century Fox mogul, Sherak is a four-decade marketing, distribution and production executive vet who currently consults for Marvel Studios. Previously, he was a partner at Revolution Studios, which he helped to run into the ground. Now he’s going to do the same thing with AMPAS because he’s been responsible for the two worst recent decisions by the “Acadummy.”
For instance, Sherak, as chairman of AMPAS’ Awards Review Committee, was outed as the “major advocate” of the worst idea ever in the modern history of the Oscars: the recent decision to have 10 feature films vying in the Best Picture category. So Sherak helped to devalue the rarity of an Oscar nomination and belittle the judging process.
And Sherak was primarily responsible for lobbying the board to choose Jerry Lewis to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the last Oscars. Immediately, protests came into the Academy over Lewis’ repeated and public antigay slurs. This, at a time when Hollywood was already on edge because of the passing of Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex unions in California.
So the vote by the AMPAS board to select Lewis seemed like “salt poured into an open wound,” as one of my sources described it. But Sherak, who raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and has a family member with MS, got his way. Despite Lewis’ own laudatory 42 years of raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, his public debasement of gays doesn’t make him a humanitarian in my opinion.
Here’s more AMPAS news: Larry Marks and Bill Condon have told the Academy they’re not available to produce and direct the Academy Awards broadcast again because they’re both working. I understand that the AMPAS board wanted them back. Now the panel must come up with a new producer within 30 days. Singer-dancer Hugh Jackman was a decent host, so AMPAS wants another multitalented big name this time around, too.
Finally, Hollywood will know as soon as the AMPAS executive committee votes on September 10 who’ll be honored at the first “rubber chicken” black-tie dinner to present its testimonial awards — the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the Honorary Award.
Previously, these honorees were chosen at the board’s December meeting. Now winners will be acknowledged at the Oscars, yet not given a career retrospective. But it’s a way for the Academy to work through the backlog of Hollywood legends who want an award to cap their careers.
Some tell me Brian Grazer is near the top of the list being considered for the Thalberg. But others say some worthy geezers may be moved ahead of him.