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Netflix and MRC Hit Fincher Reality with 'House of Cards'

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by Anne Thompson
March 7, 2012 6:28 PM
3 Comments
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David Fincher on the set of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
David Fincher on the set of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Surprise.

In a much ballyhooed deal that was too good to be true, Netflix and MRC (Media Rights Capital) outbid HBO to stream and finance, respectively, the $100-million production "House of Cards," an American remake of the 1990 hit Brit TV series about a politician's rise to the top. Now on the verge of production, reality intervenes.

Kevin Spacey, who is one of six executive producers along with his Trigger Street partner Dana Brunetti, stars with Robin Wright Penn in the "Richard III"-inspired story, which "Ides of March" Oscar nominated co-writer Beau Willimon describes as "bad people doing bad things in the world of Washington." (Video below.) Willimon has been working with the project's uber-boss, executive producer David Fincher, for months; the start date has been pushed from March to April.

Yes, Netflix and MRC managed to get hold of prime content that HBO wanted. (HBO refuses to license its high quality exclusive content to Netflix, which recently lost its Starz deal.)  But are these distributor/financeers equipped to supervise production with such high-level talent? (This isn't Netflix-backed "Puffy Chair.")

Of course, THR reports, Fincher wants more money. Why wouldn't he? Although he showed his ability to shoot frugally on $40-million "The Social Network," which was a high-profile but not overtly commercial project, Fincher tends to spend heavily on such studio projects as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which was exquisitely executed and won the editing Oscar, but too expensive at $90 million. Most directors are more invested in making their films and series come out as well as possible than the bottom line.

Whether or not "House of Cards" keeps Fincher, many in Hollywood are skeptical about how you commit to spend $100 million on 13 much less 26 episodes in advance, before you've seen them, and before they have proven that they will draw an audience. A-list talent like Fincher require careful handling from supervisors with power, such as producer Scott Rudin or Sony's Amy Pascal. MRC, which tends to be hands-off with productions like "The Adjustment Bureau," is on the hook for the money; Netflix is the distributor. Will MRC chiefs Asif Satchu and Modi Wiczyk get tough? That is the question.
 

3 Comments

  • Not really an Interview, Ken | March 8, 2012 8:04 AMReply

    Yeah, it's going to be interesting to see if Netflix will be able to compete in the original content market - and whether or not they'll be able to focus on high-quality, big budget productions like HBO pulls off or if reality will force them to focus smaller.

    But Anne, I take exception to the tone of this article and a few you wrote regarding Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo implicating that David Fincher goes out of control with money and therefore, needs careful oversight from producers.

    Everyone by now should be aware of what they're in for when the work with or for Mr. Fincher. He's known for being incredibly demanding on actors and his crew to achieve a rich aesthetic. That's what makes him one of America's most culturally significant directors.

    Now I understand you're trying to come at this from a more pragmatic point-of-view but directors like Fincher, Malick and (Paul Thomas) Anderson don't need babysitting from studio heads. Studios need to stop thinking of immediate returns for their investment in what (should) be considered a cultural venture. One final well-made film like Dragon Tattoo is worth ten films of lesser significance such as Sony's: The Vow, Jack and Jill or 21 Jump Street. Those films will be forgotten in less than six months. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will not due to the quality of the final product.

    Studios should invest in high-quality, culturally important films that will pay off in the long run both in terms of prestige and the monetary value commanded with such work.

  • a | March 10, 2012 10:58 PM

    Ken is talking about the video interview with Willimon at the bottom of the article. I agree with what you say, but I don't think Anne is implying he's really out of control with money, just that he's "more invested in making [his] films and series come out as well as possible than the bottom line," which is why he (in her pragmatic POV) needs to be held in check by people like Rudin and Pascal.

    Anne, while they are committed to making all 26 episodes, Deadline said this in their initial report: "[The first episode] will ... be evaluated like a pilot, and adjustments will be made if needed before production on the remaining episodes commences." So I don't think it's *quite* the blind buy it sounds like.

  • Ken | March 7, 2012 7:09 PMReply

    Nice interview Anne...looking forward to this.

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