Antoine Fuqua’s operatic cop drama Brooklyn Finest, starring Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke, debuted at Sundance in January and was instantly acquired by neophyte distrib Senator, whose CEO Marco Weber invested in a new cut of the film, seven minutes longer, which just screened at the Venice Film Festival. (Fuqua isn’t happy with that cut, which boasts a new ending, and wants to spend more time in the editing room.) Now Senator is under financial duress and several of its films, including Brooklyn’s Finest, are finding new homes.
Senator did not fulfill all the delivery terms on the Brooklyn’s Finest deal, nor was it able to cover costs of music rights, which gave financeer Avi Lerner the wriggle room to withdraw the movie from Senator and set it up with Overture for North America instead, according to both Lerner and Overture CEO Chris McGurk, who are at the Toronto Film Festival. Lerner already has deals in place to release the film around the world. “It was a very painful situation,” says ex-William Morris Independent chief Cassian Elwes, who helped to resolve the impasse. “I really like Marco, so did Avi; we wanted it to work. He has a credit on the movie.”
Meanwhile, Senator has shuttered its L.A. offices and Weber is nowhere to be found. (“He’s in Venezuela looking for funding,” reports one source.) Ex-ThinkFilm exec Mark Urman defected from Senator in June when the company lacked the requisite P & A funds he deemed necessary to properly release their slate. He and several of his former ThinkFilm execs are still owed money that Weber promised them. It’s deja vu all over again for the ThinkFilm refugees, who went through similar torture with ThinkFilm owner David Bergstein. “Senator bit off more than they could chew,” says one source close to the situation. “There was no there there. Marco does not have one toe of one foot on the ground.”
[Photos: Brooklyn’s Finest stars Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke; Marco Weber and Mark Urman at Sundance in January 2009]
Senator is trying to raise some P & A money with help from Canadian Jeff Sackman, who used to run ThinkFilm. And Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group president Steven Bersch is still trying to keep some of his deals with Weber together. Already released is The Informers, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Mickey Rourke, which bombed. Senator titles in flux include Gregor Jordan’s timely ticking bomb thriller Unthinkable, starring Samuel L. Jackson, which has neither resolved its delivery terms nor its final cut and was once scheduled to open in October; two long-on-the-shelf films, Fireflies in the Garden, starring Julia Roberts, and horror title All the Boys Love Mandy Lane; and Splice, starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley and produced by Guillermo del Toro. Senator was supposed to have already released Public Enemy Number One, a French gangster pic starring Vincent Cassel scheduled to open in November, which premiered in Toronto last year, but its print is being held by a lab which has not been paid. “Senator is tapped out,” says one producer with a film in limbo who is also owed outstanding money.
Urman set up his indie distribution company Paladin in July; he’s already lined up a slate and is in talks to take over another movie he acquired for Senator in January, Shana Feste’s The Greatest, produced by Lynnette Howell and starring Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon and An Education star Carey Mulligan. According to the Hamptons International Film Festival, Urman booked the film for the fest.
It’s possible that Senator’s Weber will pull a rabbit out of a hat. But his chances of pulling out of this spiral of unfulfilled promises and debts appear unlikely.