Toronto: James Gandolfini, Cory Monteith and Selling a Movie After Its Star Dies
This story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Cinetic Media's John Sloss found himself in the delicate position of selling a film featuring a dead star as he prepared to bring The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus to Cannes in May 2009. The Terry Gilliam-helmed adventure fantasy, which includes Heath Ledger's final performance, was scheduled to premiere out of competition. But to avoid the inevitable media glare, Sloss opted to sell Imaginarium days before the festival by presenting it to buyers during a hush-hush DGA screening in Los Angeles. The film sold quickly to Sony Pictures Classics for mid-seven figures, though the deal wasn't finalized or reported for three months.
"I wouldn't say it's harder to sell a film with a star who has died," says Sloss. "It just adds a layer of complexity."
Although such cases are rare for festival organizers and sellers, this year's Toronto Film Festival happens to feature three. Fox Searchlight will unveil Enough Said, in which James Gandolfini plays Julia Louis-Dreyfus' love interest, and two new films starring Glee's Cory Monteith will be looking for buyers: McCanick, in which he plays a drug-addicted criminal, and All the Wrong Reasons, in which he appears as a store manager. (There also is a new film, Life of Crime, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, who died Aug. 20.)
"There's a tremendous amount of grief and emotion associated with distributing and releasing an artist's final work," says Lisa Gutberlet, senior vp worldwide distribution at Myriad, which is selling international and shares U.S. rights with Preferred Content on Reasons. "That being said, everyone, including Cory, was proud of this film, and we believe it stands on its own merits independent of the additional press. But there are genuine challenges in keeping the backstory and the project as separate entities, which may be impossible."
Given the intense media attention surrounding the two deaths -- Gandolfini on June 19 of a heart attack and Monteith on July 13 of an accidental overdose of alcohol and heroin -- Toronto programmers also are trying to keep the spotlight on the films.
"The media frenzy around tragedy unfortunately tends to take focus off the quality of the work," says the fest's senior programmer Steve Gravestock, who spearheaded the selection of Reasons before Monteith's death. "I hope that the hard work and accomplishments of these filmmakers is not overshadowed."
Enough Said, directed by Nicole Holofcener and premiering Sept. 7 at the Elgin Theatre, promises a parting glimpse of Gandolfini, one of his generation's most iconic actors.
"You get concerned that the story about Jim overshadows the film," says producer Anthony Bregman. "We all sat down to talk about, 'How do we deal with this?' But with the film, you lose yourself, and it's no longer about Jim Gandolfini and whether he's alive or dead. The fun parts are still funny, but the sad parts are even more poignant."