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A version of this story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Given the deluge of soccer headlines over the past two weeks in the wake of the FIFA bribery scandal, the world’s most popular sport could use some good news.
Alas, it likely won’t come via the biopic Pele, which is struggling to find distribution. The long-gestating film, directed by brothers Michael and Jeff Zimbalist and produced by Imagine’s Brian Grazer, chronicles the rise of the Brazilian star regarded as the best soccer player ever.
Though Pele began production in 2013, the project was finished only in May — one week before the Cannes film market. Reshoots and lengthy postproduction caused delays, and its foreign sales company Exclusive Media imploded. CAA and WME began shopping the film to U.S. buyers in Cannes, while Alex Walton‘s Bloom presented it overseas, but there were no bites, say sources.
“It was trying to be too many things to too many people,” says a U.S. distributor who saw it at a private Cannes screening. “You have the directors, who are documentarians and are going for a cinéma vérité style, and then you have Imagine, which is commercially minded. And then it’s also a family film.”
Pele, 74, who makes a cameo in the film, exerted control over it (his manager, Paul Kemsley, is an executive producer). And financier Ivan Orlic brought yet another vision.
The latest struggles for Pele are particularly troublesome given that the film was one of the hottest market titles at the 2013 European Film Market, with several major territory deals struck for a planned 2014 release to coincide with the World Cup. But those deals, which included Entertainment One in the U.K. and A Company in Germany, fell apart.
“Without the World Cup hype as a marketing tool, soccer movies can be very difficult to sell to audiences,” said one European buyer who was initially interested in Pele but deems it too art house for mainstream audiences and not mainstream enough to play multiplexes in Europe, the territory where it would be expected to make the bulk of its box-office returns.
Even without the new FIFA corruption scandal, soccer movies are a tough sell. While 2003’s Bend It Like Beckham scored, films such as 2006’s Goal! flopped even in soccer-mad territories. (The FIFA-produced United Passions, which hit U.S. theaters on June 5, was dead on arrival in the States.)
Still, Orlic, who is producing alongside Kim Roth and Colin Wilson, downplays problems: “The producers feel that the extended timeline only served to allow for the best version of this film to be made, and they, the directors and Pele are all proud to be a part of it.”
Scott Roxborough contributed to this report.
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