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Fox Searchlight's Crazy Heart Acquisition Marks Changing Market

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 21, 2009 at 6:49AM

In one of the first acquisitions since Peter Rice left Fox Searchlight to run Fox TV, Searchlight co-presidents Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula acquired worldwide rights to rookie director Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, which stars Jeff Bridges as an aging country star and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a young reporter. T-Bone Burnett supervised a country music soundtrack. The distrib paid low seven figures. "We just liked it," says one Searchlight executive.
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In one of the first acquisitions since Peter Rice left Fox Searchlight to run Fox TV, Searchlight co-presidents Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula acquired worldwide rights to rookie director Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, which stars Jeff Bridges as an aging country star and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a young reporter. T-Bone Burnett supervised a country music soundtrack. The distrib paid low seven figures. "We just liked it," says one Searchlight executive.

There's more to it than that. Until recently, most specialty distribs conservatively pre-bought, co-financed or acquired completed films out of festivals, so this pre-festival-season worldwide acquisition marks a sea change. Searchlight is not alone in seeing more submitted films ahead of fests, now that a North American sale is far from guaranteed. In this case, the main reason for a distrib to pick up a movie like this: an Oscar play for Jeff Bridges. If that were the case the movie would be booked at Telluride or Toronto, which both wanted it. But Searchlight is heading for 2010 release. That's because yes, they do want to put Bridges in play. But they also want to tweak and cut the film--and not show it at festivals until it's polished. The old strategy of throwing a swiftly edited film into a fest and seeing what happens is foolish. People are more wary of taking those chances. "People are more likely to take a bird in had than wait for the bird in the bush," says one studio acquisitions exec. "They may not get one."

The foreign market isn't what it was, and neither is the domestic. Financeers want to make sure they get domestic distribution. That's the only way they'll get their money back.

The good news for Crazy Heart: with engaging stars and an accessible country soundtrack, the movie has commercial potential between the coasts, which makes Searchlight the distrib best-positioned to take that advantage.

The full press release is on the jump.


 Fox Searchlight Pictures Presidents Stephen Gilula and Nancy Utley announced today that the company has acquired worldwide rights to the moving drama CRAZY HEART.  Written and directed by Scott Cooper and adapted from Thomas Cobb‚Äôs book of the same name, CRAZY HEART stars Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Duvall with an original soundtrack by T-Bone Burnett.  The film was produced by Judy Cairo, Scott Cooper and Butchers Run's Rob Carliner and Robert Duvall.  The film is scheduled to be released in Spring 2010.

 

‚ÄúJeff Bridges delivers the performance of a lifetime and the entire cast is fantastic in Scott Cooper‚Äôs powerful film,‚Äù said Utley and Gilula.  ‚ÄúWe are thrilled to be bringing this film to audiences everywhere.‚Äù

 

“Being acquired by Fox Searchlight is the highlight of my professional career. Their illustrious release record speaks for itself,” says Cooper. “I’m thrilled to be working with Nancy, Steve, and Claudia, and I'm elated CRAZY HEART has found such a special home.”

 

CRAZY HEART stars Jeff Bridges as an aging country music legend wrestling with his loss of fame at the hands of younger prot√©g√©.  Struggling to make ends meet playing one small gig to the next in the twilight of his career, he finds unlikely inspiration in a small town reporter (Gyllenhaal) and her young son.

 

The deal was brokered on Fox Searchlight‚Äôs side by Executive Vice President of Worldwide Acquisitions Tony Safford and Vice President of Business Affairs Megan O‚ÄôBrien.  ICM arranged financing on the project and acted as the worldwide sales agent.  ICM represents Duvall, Cooper, Carliner and Butchers Run. 

 

Fox Searchlight Pictures is a specialty film company that both finances and acquires motion pictures.  It has its own marketing and distribution operations, and its films are distributed internationally by Twentieth Century Fox.  Fox Searchlight Pictures is a unit of Fox Filmed Entertainment, a unit of Fox Entertainment Group.

 



This article is related to: Indies, Awards, Genres, Headliners, Studios, Oscars, Independents, Jeff Bridges, Fox Searchlight


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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.