Cannes: Natalie Portman's Troubled 'Jane Got a Gun' Worries Buyers

Natalie Portman Horizontal Vanity Fair Party - H 2013
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Natalie Portman Horizontal Vanity Fair Party - H 2013

After losing one director and three stars, the Portman-led Western faces a tough road to revive distributor enthusiasm and close out remaining territories.

A year ago, when the Natalie Portman Western Jane Got a Gun first was coming together at Cannes, no one could have predicted that one of Hollywood's hottest projects would unravel so spectacularly. The number of stars bolting the movie have left all sides reeling -- and that’s on top of the departure of original director Lynne Ramsay.

Jane finally corralled both its leading men when Joel Edgerton was joined last week by Ewan McGregor, after the project lost Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper. The film is weeks from wrapping production in New Mexico. But the danger isn’t over as sales company Exclusive Media reintroduces the movie, with a dramatically different cast, to foreign buyers.

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While most buyers have stuck with the project on a wait-and-see basis, some have opted out -- notably, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, which had nabbed a multi-territory deal in Berlin for Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

Back in February, Exclusive Media president of sales Alex Walton was signing deals left and right with foreign distributors clamoring to get a piece of Jane because of its script and dazzling cast. But days after Berlin wrapped, Fassbender, whose deal hadn’t been finalized, exited. By the end of March, on the eve of the first day of shooting in New Mexico, Ramsay walked off after a three-day standoff with producer Scott Steindorff over final cut. Law -- who’d taken over Fassbender’s role -- also high-tailed it, since he had come aboard specifically to work with Ramsay, who was quickly replaced by director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior).

When Cooper signed on, Walton and the producers breathed a sigh of relief since he is one of only a handful of actors viewed as an international box office star, thanks to The Hangover franchise and recent Oscar contender Silver Linings Playbook. But then suddenly Cooper was out because of a scheduling conflict (he’s still shooting David O. Russell’s American Hustle, which was interrupted by the Boston Marathon bombing, and Steven Spielberg signed on to direct American Sniper, which Cooper will star in and produce). Finally, McGregor replaced Cooper to play the villain, a role previously belonging to Edgerton, who now is playing Portman’s love interest.

Rival sales agents say they feel bad for Walton. "It's a nightmare," says one agent. "The question is, will anyone survive financially?"

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The budget of the film is $25 million, and the producers — including Portman — had hoped to take a loan against foreign pre-sales to cover some of the budget. But banks often won’t release funds after key cast members exit a production since international distributors can opt out of their contracts. Those foreign distributors who stuck by Jane Got a Gun say they are biding their time until they see a cut of the film.

One buyer even says it's a win win. "It still has Portman, and there is no pressure on me as a buyer to do anything until it gets done and they have something to show,” one says.

When asked about Jane in a recent interview with THR, Exclusive Media co-chairman Nigel Sinclair was circumspect: “As Sherry Lansing once said, the more stress there is, the better the film creatively.”

During Cannes, Walton, who remains high on the film, will show footage from the in-production film to pump up foreign distributors, as well as sell rights in the remaining available markets. And, in a final twist, Exclusive’s Cannes office is down the street from the festival headquarters, where Ramsay is now a jury member.