One of the stories of last year's award season was the small, but vocal campaign to give Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" more recognition than its studio, Fox Searchlight, was willing to. Already delayed thanks to a protracted and ugly legal and creative battle, that the movie hit theaters at all was something of a minor miracle. But as most who followed the tortured production knew, the cut released in theaters was a compromised version of what Lonergan set out to achieve. Nonetheless, whether you thought the film was a masterpiece or not, there was no doubt he had created something that was special: a post 9/11 drama that used one teenage girl's coming-of-age as a metaphor for a city dealing with the emotional fallout of a national tragedy.
Well, #teammargaret will be happy to know that an extended cut of the film lands on Blu-ray/DVD next month, coming as close to what Lonergan wanted to make when lensing got underway in 2005. While we may never know the full story of what went on behind the scenes -- Lonergan is legally restricted from discussing certain matters regarding the production -- a recent New York Times profile nevertheless offers up a variety of intriguing insights into the film, and some of the bitter rivalries that eventually took over, stymying some of the best efforts to get the movie out there.
“I wrote it to sell it, I knew what that meant,” Lonergan says of writing the smash hit comedy "Analyze This." At the time, the now Pulitizer Prize nominated playwright was a rising writer, and in order to get a foot in the door in Hollywood, he decided to toss out creative ideals and just sell something that was commercial. And well, it paid off. As things typically go in Hollywood, it was rewritten and rewrritten and rewritten, but he retained a story credit, though he dismisses the finished product. “I was aware that it was very likely that it would be rewritten to death by others, which isn’t something I’m comfortable having done to work I’ve written for love, as opposed to for money,” he said. “And while I make a living off that system, I disapprove of it, and I don’t take any pride of authorship in something that’s been rewritten by 14 other people.”
Regardless, the comedy starring Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal allowed him to meet Martin Scorsese, who hired him for "Gangs Of New York." The result? A second Oscar nomination alongside co-writers Jay Cocks and Steve Zaillian.
To recount the ins and outs of the legal battles surrounding the film would take all day, but here's the short version. Lonergan (for still unspecified reasons) wasn't able to get a cut under the 150 minute limit he was given on his contract, and he borrowed "several hundred thousand dollars" from close friend Matthew Broderick to keep the editing bay open, and give him more time to cut. “I don’t want to say how much it was,” said. “I just wanted to help him get it done. It wasn’t a carefully thought-out thing. He’s my best friend, and if he’s really stuck, I would always try to help him.”
After much heartache and legal tangles, in 2008 -- three years after the film shot -- Longergan delivered his cut, which we saw in theaters running exactly 150 minutes, however there were two more versions that were in the mix. In 2007, financier and producer Gary Gilbert ("Garden State") -- frustrated by the delays -- hired editor Dylan Tichenor ("Brokeback Mountain") to deliver a two hour version known as "the Peggy cut" (named after Gilbert's Peggy Productions). Legal entanglements held up the release of the film, but in what was hoped could be a compromise between all interested parties, Martin Scorsese was hired to do his own version (he had previously seen Lonergan's 3 hour cut). Waiving his fee, Scorsese snipped the movie into a 160 minute version.
3. Producer Gary Gilbert killed any opportunity to use Martin Scorsese's cut
However, as reported last fall, Gilbert refused to sign off on it, and reportedly was a factor in keeping the movie out of having a premiere at TIFF. By some accounts, it wasn't a business decision, so much as a personal one -- Gilbert wanted his "Peggy cut" to be used by Fox Searchlight, and given the rift between him and Lonergan, wasn't about to meet anybody halfway.
“There comes a point where people cut off their nose to spite their face, and I certainly witnessed that,” Lonergan's frequent collaborator Ruffalo said. “Whatever bad blood went down between them, I never felt like Gary ever got over it and actually tried to ensure that the movie and Kenny would be harmed.”