AFM: Buyers Swoon for Biopics of Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Janis Joplin
This story first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Producers at the American Film Market have been raiding their record collections. As serious drama becomes harder to package and sell globally, music biopics are enticing foreign buyers.
A sampling at AFM included Don Cheadle's Kill the Trumpet Player, about legendary jazz maestro Miles Davis, which IM Global is selling; Good Universe's Elton John story Rocketman with Tom Hardy; Foresight's Spinning Gold, with Justin Timberlake as music producer Neil Bogart; Arrow Entertainment's Sexual Healing, starring Jesse L. Martin as Marvin Gaye; John Cusack playing Beach Boy Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, from sales group Lionsgate; and biopics on Janis Joplin (from IM Global), Keith Moon (Exclusive Media), and Tupac Shakur (Morgan Creek and Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films).
"These projects have a built-in global audience in music fans," says IM Global CEO Stuart Ford. "They offer obvious marketing advantages." When the music biopic goes right, it can mean gold: Ray made nearly $125 million and won Jamie Foxx an Oscar. Walk the Line took in $186 million and scored best actress for Reese Witherspoon. But adapting a music legend's life is a difficult and sometimes decades-long process.
"Roger Daltrey has been trying to make the Keith Moon film for 20 years; the Janis Joplin project has been around for 12 years or so," says Exclusive co-chair Nigel Sinclair. "It's difficult clearing music rights, but the hardest part is finding a way to tell stories of people who were larger than life but who often, personally, had things happen to them that were sad and disturbing."