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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."
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'Out of the Furnace' lineup at AFI Fest
'Out of the Furnace' lineup at AFI Fest

Relativity produced Paramount's Oscar-winning "The Fighter" and Sony romance "Dear John," and released its own thriller "Limitless," "Act of Valor" and "Safe Haven," and acquired "Catfish," Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Don Jon," and Luc Besson's "The Family." "When you are building a studio you create a balance between commercial releases and ones that will feed people's souls," she says, "by creating something special and indelible."

Harrelson and Bale face off in "Out of the Furnace."
Harrelson and Bale face off in "Out of the Furnace."

That's where "Out of the Furnace" falls, a script that was getting nowhere at Relativity until Scott Cooper made it sing. Brenner has known the writer-director for 20 years; he was one of the first people she met when she came to LA. "He started as an actor," she says. "It was a pleasure developing this with him and championing the film. Look, Scott is talented. I witnessed that with 'Crazy Heart.' He has a confidence about him, an unflinching vision, for better or worse, which I think is better. He crafted and wrote the script, which is a personal story for him. I knew what he wanted. He was steadfast in his vision."

The movie almost didn't happen. "We had a short window to put it together. Christian [Bale] read it several years ago when he was playing Batman. Scott sent it to him and he responded to it, had him locked in to do the movie. Then he decided not do it. The timing wasn't right. Now we had to move on, put it on ice. Scott went his way and I went mine."

That Christmas, Brenner had lunch with Cooper and producer Michael Costigan. "Scott had exchanged some emails with Christian," she says. "There was an open door there. 'If we got him, would we make the movie?' I said 'yeah.' Scott reached out and reengaged with Christian. His agent said 'you know he has a slot in the spring, he's going to do the  Terrence Malick at the end of May, can you get the movie together that quickly? 'Yeah we can do it, don't worry.' Come January Christian was committed. We had to be out by the end of May. It was crazy, we were going 100 mph trying to fit into the budget number, meeting every day with the A.D. and line producer figuring out how it could happen in the days."

It would be more expensive to shoot in Cooper's location of choice, rural Braddock, Pennsylvania, but she felt it was worth the $3 million hit on a budget in the mid-$20 million range. (With Bale on board, foreign sales company Red Granite raised the budget via foreign pre-sales.) "There was no tax credit. Scott said, 'I don't' care.' It was 100% the right choice, it is a character in the movie, so palpable. This is the kind of movie, it gets under your skin, you can feel it and taste it, it's tangible, the setting, the mood, the way to shoot, the cinematography. All the characters are movie throwbacks to a 70s movie like Michael Cimino's 'Deer Hunter.' It's a very slow burn, private and deep. Everything doesn't happen in five minutes. You need to settle back into it and engage and it draws you in from the first frame."

"Out of the Furnace" is admittedly a tough sit for some, so it's hard to understand why Relativity skipped the critical support film festivals might bring in favor of a late-breaking AFI Fest premiere and wide December 8 release. "It's not for every single person," Brenner says. "It can have a critical and commercial fan base and hook in people. It's incredible filmmaking with an all-star cast and a nostalgia element. People will find it. It's different from everything else coming out, it will stand out. It has star power and we believe audiences, especially males, will respond to it, it's harder for females. So we decided to go wide with it."  

Still to come at Relativity is Natalie Portman's beleaguered "Jane Got a Gun," a remake of "The Crow" with Spanish director F. Javier Gutiérrez ("Before the Fall") and Luke Evans, who starred in Tarsem's "The Immortals." "He was so fantastic in a role that could have been laughable," says Brenner, "but he grounded it with a crown and a bullwhip; he's confident and can sell you anything." Relativity is also embarking on their third collaboration with Nicholas Sparks, Michael Hoffman's "The Best of Me," in the spring, as well as an Imagine co-production, "The Most Wonderful Time," a dysfunctional family Christmas comedy written by Steve Rogers and directed by Jessie Nelson ("I am Sam," "Corrina, Corrina") to go in the spring. Casey Affleck is writing and directing the Josh Hamilton sports drama "The Miracle Shot." And Brenner is developing a heist film called "Den of Thieves" to round out the "whole eclectic slate," she says. "We want to make good stories. When the right script, director and cast come together, we make the movie." 

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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Thompson on Hollywood

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.