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How Indies 'Dallas Buyers Club' and 'Out of the Furnace' Got Made: Relativity's Robbie Brenner Talks Bale, McConaughey and Leto

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 3, 2013 at 7:20PM

Relativity's Robbie Brenner backed two movies in the year-end awards derby, "Out of the Furnace" and "Dallas Buyers Club."
Christian Bale in "Out of the Furnace"
Christian Bale in "Out of the Furnace"
Relativity's Tucker Tooley, Robbie Brenner, Ryan Cavanaugh
Relativity's Tucker Tooley, Robbie Brenner, Ryan Cavanaugh

Producer and Relativity production executive Robbie Brenner is having quite a year, as she helped to make two indie features in the thick of the year-end awards fray. The $4 million true-story AIDS drama "Dallas Buyers Club" (which this week won a Gotham for Matthew McConaughey and a New York Film Critics' Circle Awards for Jared Leto) might never have been completed without Brenner's tireless support over the years. And another hardboiled drama, Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace," was backed by her own Relativity Media, where she's been working with production chief Tucker Tooley and chairman Ryan Kavanaugh (pictured) for five years. 

The NYU Tisch School of the Arts film grad got her "bootcamp training" at Miramax in New York, where Brenner started as an intern in 1985, working her way through the ranks through such releases as "The Piano," "Pulp Fiction," and "Cinema Paradiso." "The hallways were buzzing with people who were excited and passionate about films and filmmaking," she says during a phone interview. "Harvey [Weinstein] is as good as it gets, because of his vision and tenacity for stories."

Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club"
Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club"

Brenner took that tenacity with her when she left Miramax in 2000 to produce on her own. She worked with some old friends, writers Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten, on "Dallas Buyers Club," a script that she had tried to get Miramax to buy. "It was such an incredible story that it stayed with me," she says. "I don't read scripts like that very often." The writers hadn't been able to get the project off the ground and asked her to put some muscle behind it. In 2001 she sent the script to her friend, director Marc Forster, after seeing "Monsters Ball," and he became attached, at which point she showed the film to Brad Pitt, and set it up with them attached at Universal. 

Then the movie went into big studio development for a few years and Brenner took a step back. "I wasn't that involved," she says. "They developed different incarnations of the bigger version of the movie we ultimately made. The writers brought it to me after they got it back in turnaround and gifted me the script. And then I called Matthew."

This was before "Mud," "Bernie" and "Killer Joe." "He has a quality that Ron [Woodroof] has, inherently likable, charismatic, can sell you a used car," says Brenner. "He was the perfect guy to play Ron, he has a depth you see in 'A Time to Kill' and some earlier work. You get to a point in life where you say 'ok, I want to do things that mean something, leave a mark on the world.' This was the role that Matthew was destined to play."

When Brenner saw "Young Victoria" she was impressed by French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee, who seems an odd choice for a movie about a Texas cowboy. "It was because it was so traditional," she says. "and so diametrically opposed to 'Crazy.' I knew he would bring an organic quality that I thought it needed, he was something of a wild card, he had a je ne sais quoi. In all three of his movies his characters seemed to feel real and organic. I didn't ever feel like there were movie moments."

The filmmakers shot basically the original script Brenner had submitted to Universal in 2001. "It's a miracle we got it back," says Brenner, "so we could make it with the spirit we had in mind all along over two decades with Craig and Melisa. Hollywood is an interesting place. You have highs and lows, and I needed to complete the circle for us all. We needed to make it right and tell the story and move on. Catharsis. There was no 'no' in the equation. This was not a universe where we were not going to get movie the made, if it was the last thing in the world I ever did."

This article is related to: Out of the Furnace, Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey, Scott Cooper, Scott Cooper, Christian Bale, Christian Bale, Relativity Media, Relativity, Universal/Focus Features, Focus Features

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.