EXCLUSIVE: Universal has taken rights in multiple key markets to Jacques Audiard’s Annapurna-backed western The Sisters Brothers, I understand, following local intrigue over its UK distributor.
Universal will distribute in UK, Italy and Australia/NZ and is lining up an April 2019 release in the former (which seemingly removes it from BAFTA contention). IMR handles international sales.
Audiard and his regular writer Thomas Bidegain’s humorous crime-drama, which debuted to some good notices at the Venice Film Festival, is a faithful adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s excellent novel about a gold prospector who is chased by the infamous assassins, the Sisters brothers. Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed star.
Annapurna was co-financier and has U.S. rights to the good-looking but sizeably-budgeted (allegedly $30-40M) pic, which was released in U.S last month and sits at $1M after a contained four week-release.
The film’s UK prospects have been a talking point in Blighty since Venice. Buyers were surprised to see the film screening at Toronto with the UK available for acquisition. There was widespread understanding among them that Nigel and Trevor Green’s outfit Entertainment Film Distributors, a key local player, was on board to release the movie, which initially had a UK asking price of around $2M.
Some sources close to the movie have told us that process was far enough along that litigation has been considered as an option to try to claw back some of the MG that was anticipated. But another told us Entertainment is safe because a deal was not signed, sealed and delivered. Entertainment is primarily a commercial indie and this is a movie which ultimately skews art-house so some are speculating that the firm got spooked by either the price tag, the finished product or both. Entertainment, IMR and Annapurna declined to comment.
Whether the Universal deal sweetens the pill enough for IMR and Annapurna to brush any frustration under the carpet remains to be seen. Universal will not have paid the equivalent of $2M+ for the UK rights.
There are connections that might have helped arrive at the Universal pact. Sisters Brothers producer Michael DeLuca has a deal at the studio and there has been speculation in recent weeks that Universal, which already has international rights to the next Bond, could step in on that movie to take domestic should Annapurna back away from distribution.
Entertainment’s supposed misgivings over the acquisition speak to the challenges inherent in the tough UK market, which has become a nightmare for buyers and sellers. But in this tumultuous period for Megan Ellison’s outfit, those misgivings also chime with widely reported concerns over the cost of some Annapurna movies, many of which haven’t followed through at the box office.
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