Cannes' $50M Bombshell: Why STX Won the Bidding War for Scorsese's 'The Irishman'

The Irishman- Martin Scorsese and Robert Simonds-Split-H 2016
J. Countess/Getty Images; Todd Williamson/Getty Images for CinemaCon

"I was hearing Fox was in, Fox was out. Universal was in, Universal was out. But everyone was in the dark," says STX International president David Kosse, who negotiated the deal poolside at Vanity Fair's festival party.

Martin Scorsese's next project is the Oscar-winning director's long-awaited return to mobster epics, and the haggling for its rights would make the toughest negotiator proud.

STX Entertainment prevailed in a deal worth $50 million for foreign rights to The Irishman after a bidding war whose final points were hammered out poolside at Vanity Fair's May 14 Cannes bash, where erstwhile Scorsese collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Mick Jagger partied while a handful of dealmakers representing disparate studios were sitting on pins and needles.

"A lot of the people who were potential players were all at that party," says STX International president David Kosse, who fine-tuned his company's offer between canape bites. "I was hearing Fox was in, Fox was out. Universal was in, Universal was out. But everyone was in the dark. No one really knew anything until the next morning."

The deal finally was struck hours after the final straggler left the Hotel du Cap. The bidding was fierce and also included IM Global and Bloom, but Mexican financier Gaston Pavlovich's Fabrica de Cine, which is fully financing the $100 million movie, opted for STX. Paramount, which will handle domestic distribution, will collaborate with STX on marketing.

The Irishman, written by Gangs of New York's Steve Zaillian based on a best-seller by Charles Brandt, reunites Scorsese with his original muse, Robert De Niro, who will play Frank Sheeran, a high-ranking Teamster with ties to the Bufalino crime family. Shortly before his death in 2003, Sheeran confessed that he killed fellow Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, whose body never has been found. He also claimed that he played a role in John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Al Pacino also is on board the long-gestating project, and The Irishman would mark the first collaboration between the actor and fellow gangster-movie icon Scorsese. But one question mark is the involvement of Joe Pesci. Sources say Pesci, who largely has retired from the film business, repeatedly has told Scorsese no, but the director remains hopeful that he can lure back his Goodfellas star.

As for how STX landed The Irishman, Kosse had one advantage. When he was head of Universal International, he helped the studio acquire foreign rights to Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, which became a big hit overseas, earning $275 million of its $392 million total haul internationally.

"I'm not convinced that gave us an inside track, but it probably helped," says Kosse. Instead, he thinks STX won with a pitch that emphasized the film's importance to the upstart studio, which Robert Simonds launched in 2014.

"We certainly pitched that to have a film like this on our release schedule, it would be our most important project," adds Kosse. "Maybe they wanted to be at a place where they would be the No. 1 or No. 2 film on a slate, as opposed to No. 3 or No. 4."

So far, this year's Cannes has been a major coming-out for STX. A day before the Irishman deal, the studio prebought U.S. and China rights for Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, Molly's Game, starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, for $9 million.

This story first appeared in the May 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.