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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

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by Anne Thompson
December 3, 2013 7:20 PM
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'Dallas Buyers Club'
'Dallas Buyers Club'

Another reason that the movie had to proceed was McConaughey's dramatic weight loss. "He had started losing weight when we lost financing eight weeks before we started shooting," says Brenner. "It was a huge problem. We had no money. Everyone passed. Matthew had lost 35 pounds. I had to be transparent, I was freaking out. I had to figure it out and get it together, it's happening, he's showing up." 

Brenner got on the phone with producer Rachel Winter and ultimately producer Cassian Elwes stepped in to help to put the financing pieces together. "Everybody was of the mind that this movie is happening," Brenner says. "No one was getting paid anything. Vallee wanted 45 days, we cut back every week, and finally whittled it down to 25 days. He was screaming, 'no more, I can't. You won't take another day away. Lose the camera package, we'll shoot with available light, take away the lights and the gaffer.' I thought he was crazy. 'We need lights for the actors.'" 'No we don't, we'll use available light. The D.P. is amazing. I've done it before. Listen to me, trust me.'"

One night in Toronto, the cinematographer was shooting without lights, a dolly or a camera package, with the camera on his shoulder. "It was not a Steadicam," says Brenner. "And he didn't cut between the two actors. He'd run around to the other side or use a different angle by putting on higher shoes and do it that way. It was crazy, but the actors found this so freeing. Jared Leto stayed in character as Rayon, so Matthew became Ron Woodruff, and Jennifer Garner was the glue holding it all together. It was extreme for them, moving so quickly, there was no time to sit around talking to the grip about what you did yesterday and what was for lunch, no small talk. It was very focused, like a stealth fighter unit. You couldn't even find trucks. I'd be walking, 'where's the set?' There was no video village, nothing."

Vallee was able to deliver "Dallas Buyer's Club" with no lights on the rather astonishing budget of $4 million in 25 days-- including post-production. 

Focus acquired the movie after the production had wrapped and Brenner flew to Montreal to see the director's cut projected on a wall at Vallee's house: "It feels so real, it's not false, he got it right with Rayon, I knew it was the right casting, it could have taken you out of the movie, but he had the nuances, he doesn't pander. It was everything I had imagined and then some."

CAA had been showing a three-minute promo reel to buyers, but Universal/Focus had first look and last rights of refusal and were interested. Jeb Brody, the president of production at Focus, called and she urged him to step up. The next day he flew up to Montreal with his Focus bosses James Schamus and Andrew Karpen; they loved it, and bought it. (FilmDistrict's Peter Schlessel has since taken over the division.)

For Brenner, Vallee's skills resonate in the scene near the end when the movie crosscuts between Ron and Rayon: "There are butterflies in the freezer, no swell of music, just hot fluorescent light bulbs, in the stillness of the moment. There are a lot of moments like that, of rawness and realness."

Out of the Furnace

Five years ago Brenner signed up to head production at Relativity Media, working closely with Relativity president Tucker Tooley, who runs the company day to day. She loves her job, which is "demanding, with any company evolving and growing," she says. "We're only distributing movies going on three years, creating a studio from scratch. There's a lot to do and figure out about our identity: who are we, what's the best way to work, what's the message? We've made mistakes, but we managed to pick up ball and run."

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