A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
If there’s one word to describe veteran producer Scott Steindorff’s feelings about Jane Got a Gun, it’s humility. The indie Western, starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor, opens Jan. 29 after a journey to the big screen that was more fraught than a cattle drive caught in a rising river.
Nearly everything that could go wrong did, beginning when original director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) no-showed the first day of production in New Mexico in March 2013. She later quit amid a showdown with producers, followed quickly by the exit of star Jude Law, who had specifically signed on to work with the Scottish filmmaker. (Producers sued Ramsay, but the case settled.)
“I met with Natalie and said I wanted to keep going,” recalls Steindorff. “She just rolled up her sleeves and went for it. We sat down … in a conference room at our production offices in Santa Fe and started getting flooded with calls from agents and directors.”
Gavin O’Connor later signed onto direct, and Bradley Cooper agreed to replace Law, only to depart days later to make American Hustle (McGregor replaced Cooper).
Then the $25 million movie’s financing unraveled as a result of Ramsay dropping out and cast changes. Famed attorney David Boies — who loves Westerns — became the hero of the day. He had already signed on to produce Jane Got a Gun via Boies/Schiller Film Group, a production venture he runs with Zack Schiller, son of his law partner, Jonathan Schiller. Mary Regency, Boies‘ daughter, also is a producer.
Steindorff says he logged an urgent call to Boies on March 26, 2013, the day the Supreme Court heard arguments on same-sex marriage stemming from the lawsuit filed by Boies and Theodore B. Olson challenging California’s Proposition 8. “I told David we needed to make payroll,” says Steindorff. “He was on the steps of the Supreme Court. He said, ‘Can this wait?’ I told him no.” Boies/Schiller came through with a $15 million infusion, according to sources. (The company declined comment on its investment.)
Production was underway within weeks, and the project received some good news when Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media and The Weinstein Co. partnered in buying U.S. rights in a high-profile deal announced at the Cannes Film Festival. (Harvey and Bob Weinstein are friends with Boies as well as clients, and had unofficially helped bring O’Connor aboard).
But Relativity twice delayed Jane‘s release date because of its own money problems before producers in July 2015 decided to pull the project as Kavanaugh’s company careened toward bankruptcy. Harvey Weinstein and his brother agreed to get Jane into theaters, but via a service deal rather than a traditional release, and the film isn’t getting much marketing. Put another way, they didn’t put up any money. And there was no official press junket, though Portman and Edgerton hosted a Jan. 27 premiere in New York,
Jane Got a Gun could find itself riding off into the sunset quickly. Prerelease tracking suggests Jane will have trouble reaching $3 million in its U.S. debut. “The project was turned upside down at times, but it was about never giving up,” says Steindorff. “We persevered, and we made it through. For me, I had to keep a level mind when the insides of me were being tortured and tormented in every direction, and what came out of my mouth had to be pleasantries. It was definitely an advance course on producing.”