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A version of this story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
After partnering with Sony Pictures Classics on eight movies, Woody Allen has opted for a younger distributor for the next.
Amazon Studios, which was launched just six years ago and has been on a buying spree over the past six weeks, acquired North American rights sight unseen to the untitled movie with Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively and Kristen Stewart. The deal, which sources peg at a huge $15 million upfront (more than $20 million with prints-and-advertising costs), sent shock waves through the indie film world. By comparison, SPC paid $5 million for Allen’s last outing, Irrational Man ($1 million upfront and $4 million for P&A).
Whether the move was irrational or savvy is being hotly debated within indie film circles.
“It’s not crazy after the $10 million they paid for Manchester by the Sea,” said a rival distributor, referring to Amazon’s big buy at Sundance, one of its seven festival pickups. But for Allen, 80, it’s something of a leap into the unknown. Since teaming with SPC’s awards-season gurus Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, the writer-director has enjoyed a career bounce, with the eight films having earned 10 Oscar nominations and two wins — one for Allen’s original screenplay for Midnight in Paris and the other a best actress win for Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine.
“We have always been exceptionally pleased working with Michael Barker and Tom Bernard at SPC,” says the film’s producer Letty Aronson. “Amazon made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, and we have a responsibility to our investors. Woody wishes SPC could be the subdistributor for this film, but apparently they would not. It’s their policy to not do that. We certainly look forward to working with them again in the future.”
But a source says Allen himself was most exposed after the film went over budget (he put in his own money to finish it). Still, another source says he wanted a change. After all, Irrational Man was poorly received by audiences, earning just $4 million domestically. And as further enticement, Amazon, which already is working with Allen on his first TV series, committed to an aggressive theatrical release with a theatrical distributor to be determined. (Amazon is currently partnered with such companies as Bleecker Street and Roadside Attractions to release its films). Seasoned indie veteran Bob Berney, the former CEO of Picturehouse, will oversee all aspects of the film’s marketing and distribution.
As for Bernard, there are no hard feelings: “We’ve got a great relationship with Woody, and we look forward to seeing his next film.”
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