It looked like CBS and Relativity were in the final bidding for bootlegger drama Wettest County, starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce, after Focus and FilmDistrict dropped out. The price was climbing toward $6 million for a Prohibition-period adventure directed by John Hillcoat that looks good in the promo reel but could go either way, several buyers suggested. Also, Hillcoat is a gifted director who hasn't shown commercial instincts, at least so far.
FilmDistrict backed off because they didn't want to release the film before the end of the year. So now Hillcoat fan Weinstein, who released The Road, seems to be hungry for more, even after having acquired the Meryl Streep-starrer The Iron Lady, as well as period martial arts movie Wu Xia, which was well-received here, along with silent-era black-and-white film The Artist. Weinstein is reported to be stepping up to between $4 and 5 million for U.S. rights to Wettest County.
Wettest County, which FilmNation is selling, is an example of a new production trend on display in Cannes. As the studios have pulled back from producing mid-budget-range movies of quality, especially character-driven dramas, the indies have stepped in. Agencies like CAA, UTA and WME are packaging films for clients who are not getting enough work, and are helping to find investors and foreign sales companies for projects. And now several distributors are filling the breach, including producer Graham King's FilmDistrict (which often partners with Sony on such films as Soul Surfer and Rian Johnson's Looper) and Ryan Kavanaugh's Relativity, both of which boast Netflix pay-TV output deals. They don't have to worry about such ancillary windows as pay-TV the way the studios do.
Summit, Lionsgate and CBS are other indies that release commercial wide-release genre fare. New distrib Open Road, owned by theater chains Regal and AMC, with Tom Ortenberg at the helm, is seen as a move by exhibitors to hedge against the studios' recent trend to shorten post-theatrical ancillary windows by making premium VOD available within 60 days.
Point is, if the studios don't want to make these movies, someone else will. It's exciting to watch. Even if The Weinstein Co. is going to repeat history with a long list of projects they can't possibly release in a timely way. There will be tears before bedtime.