Picturehouse has acquired Robert Altman‘s “A Prairie Home Companion,” nabbing North American rights to the film just days after it first screened for buyers in New York and Los Angeles. Written by Garrison Keillor, host of the popular long-running weekly radio program, the film revolves around the performer and writer who plays himself in the film and the movie features an ensemble cast including Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen, Maya Rudolph, and Lindsey Lohan. Picturehouse is eyeing a June ’06 release for the movie.
Described as a fictionalized look at preparations for what could be the final episode of Keillor’s radio program, the film explores the fallout over a big corporation buying the theater home of the weekly radio show. According to an announcement, “As passions erupt, secrets emerge and a mysterious stranger lurks in the shadows, the vigilant stage manger must hold it all together since the ‘show must go on’.”
“I love it because it’s about putting on a show,” Picturehouse president Bob Berney said Sunday in a conversation with indieWIRE, adding that he is a fan of the radio program. Praising the movie as “down home and clever and sophisticated,” Berney called the film one of Altman’s best, saying it’s hilarious and singling out the film’s musical performances from the cast including Streep, Harrelson and Reilly, among others. “I hope that it can be the kind of film that plays to the Altman audience in New York and L.A., but it is really a wider commercial film,” Berney said, adding that he also sees potential for the film’s soundtrack.
For 30 years, Keillor has hosted the live Saturday night radio show — typically from Minnesota — taking just a short break from the program in the late 1980s. Today, “A Prairie Home Companion” with its mix of comedy sketches, live music performances, and Keillor’s famous monologue “The News From Lake Wobegon,” reaches more than 4 million listeners weekly on more than 550 U.S. public radio stations, and some 35 million homes around the world.
Robert Altman’s Sandcastle 5 Productions produced the film and it was co-financed by GreeneStreet Films and River Road Entertainment at a budget under $10 million, according to one insider. Cinetic Media and CAA sold the film, brokering a deal after screening the film for buyers on Thursday in New York, with senior execs from both coasts watching the film at a cast, crew and friends screening in Manhattan. On Friday, lunchtime screenings were held in Los Angeles for West Coast execs whose senior buyers had watched the movie in New York the night before.
Berney saw the film Thursday night with New Line’s Michael Lynne and HBO’s Colin Callender. New Line Cinema Sr. EVP of worldwide business and legal affairs Ben Zinkin and Picturehouse SVP of acquisitions Sara Rose negotiated the pact with John Sloss from Cinetic and Rick Hess from CAA, closing a deal Saturday with a number of companies vying for rights. Berney noted that George Sheanshang, attorney for both Altman and Keillor played a key role in the genesis of the film, introducing the two to one another.
The deal was pegged at a value of $3.75 million by Variety, but an insider declined to corroborate that figure Sunday, instead noting that the pact will be quite lucrative for all involved should the film perform well. Capitol Films is handling foreign sales.