One of the many Weinstein films on parade at Cannes this year, John Hillcoat’s “Lawless” (August 31), started out its life in development with husband-and-wife producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher’s Red Wagon shingle at Sony. They brought in Hillcoat and Nick Cave, who wrote Hillcoat’s Aussie western “The Proposition.”
But like many movies these days that don’t fit inside the tiny studio box, the studio decided the period booze-running Virginia drama was not its cup of tea and passed. “It has heart but it was violent,” says Fisher. “It was not your movie programmer. Ten or fifteen years ago a studio would have made it in a second.”
So Wick and Fisher, producers responsible for such high-end fare as “The Great Gatsby,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Stuart Little” and “Gladiator,” did what everyone else does in this situation. They went indie.
The same weekend they sent out the script, they assembled a strong cast led by Shia LaBeouf, “who was in from day one,” says Fisher, “up or down he was always there.” Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska also joined the cast, more famous now than when they signed on. Jason Clarke is the third brother (he stars in Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama Bin Laden movie.)
The movie was a cinch to finance; billionaire Megan Ellison backed it with FilmNation pre-selling territories overseas at Cannes via early footage last year. The Weinsteins bought North America.
Fisher and Wick enjoyed the low-budget pitching-in ethos on the set. The movie, which filmed 49 days in Peachtree, Georgia, cost just $22 million after rebates, Wicks says. And thus has a chance to be profitable.
When the producers first read the 2008 novel “The Wettest County in the World”–even readers of the book didn’t know what it meant, so they changed the title–they saw a movie in Matt Bondurant’s true story of his grandfather and two brothers running alcohol during Prohibition.
“It’s kind of a gangster movie, but not from the point-of-view of city gangsters,” says Wick. “This story was from the point–of-view of the country, who were not used to interacting with sophisticated urban thugs. It’s three brothers, outlaws, breaking temporary laws, against a corrupt government. It’s a celebration of an independent spirit.”
It’s also about family ties, and emotional relationships among brothers. “They’re hard men,” says Wick, “but softness comes out in relation to the brothers and women. It’s touching.” Fisher thinks women will be attracted by the charismatic male cast.
“Lawless” screens in the Cannes competition Saturday.