When Lionsgate/Roadside scooped up U.S. distribution rights for some $2 million for Nicholas Jarecki's Wall Street drama "Arbitrage" at Sundance last January, they were banking on the film being as much a crowd-pleaser as their last Sundance acquisition, sleeper indie "Margin Call."
Roadside will follow the template they used so effectively for Oscar original screenplay nominee "Margin Call," with a VOD as well as theatrical release, which works well for films with name actors. with a name cast led by Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto, "Margin Call" grossed $5 million domestic. Some argue that with more theaters it would have earned far more (most theater chains refuse to book VOD titles; Roadside four-walled many of the houses). But distribs don't break out VOD numbers.
As bankable as Gere is overseas, it's still tricky to sell a stateside wide release on movie stars these days. "Arbitrage," which also stars Brit Marling, Susan Sarandon and Tim Roth, will hit theaters September 14, day-and-date on VOD and in more theaters than "Margin Call," Roadside confirms, although they don't yet know the theater count.
"Gere is a draw for women and men," says producer Laura Bickford ("Traffic"). "This is the kind of film the studios used to make. It's an emotional family story, a suspense thriller, and a policier."
The question Roadside has to answer, with Gere generating Oscar buzz, is how to position the film for Oscars. It's a tricky balancing act. Tip your hand that you expect awards consideration and a commercial crowdpleaser can be burdened with too-high expectations. (Roadside is skipping Toronto after opening San Sebastian.) It can be a better bet to build a commercial hit and then let the Oscar chips fall.
Producer Bickford helped first-time feature director Jarecki, 25, the youngest of the Jarecki brothers, to land his name cast, led by Gere, who made it possible for sales company Parlay to raise enough pre-sales to get bank loans for a $15 million budget. Gere happened to be getting on a plane when he got the script, read it and immediately wanted to meet Jarecki, who directed the James Toback documentary "The Outsider" and wrote the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation "The Informer," which flopped at Sundance 2008 after he and Ellis were thrown off the movie.
Ellis introduced Bickford and the filmmaker in 2009, who was developing the "Arbitrage" script with Kevin Turen. The filmmakers met with Gere at his upstate New York restaurant; it didn't hurt when "Traffic" stars Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones came over to urge Gere to do the movie.
The filmmakers let go of one financeer who wanted the Wall Street movie to be shot in New Orleans, but Bickford took to the phone and found five more equity investors; Yorick Le Saux, Director of Photography of "Carlos" and "I Am Love," shot the film in New York, where Jarecki's parents were commodities traders. "Nick knows that world," says Bickford.
Susan Sarandon joined the cast for her second film with Gere, playing his wife, while the filmmakers cast former investment banker Marling just after her 2011 Sundance success. "You could believe she was running her father's company," says Bickford, "not the bimbo playing the brain surgeon." Up-and-comer Nate Parker, 32, starred in "Red Tails" and Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer."
Sundance trade reviews were positive:
Variety: In Hitchcock movies, innocent men struggle to clear their names. In "Arbitrage," the opposite is true: Billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is guilty of fraud, infidelity and murder, but he walks free of consequence in a system fueled by money. If that cold business-as-usual philosophy sounds cynical, don't tell writer-director Nicholas Jarecki, who seems oddly nonjudgmental about the iffy morality in his high-toned narrative debut. "Arbitrage" never lets Miller squirm for long, whether cooking the books or covering up the accidental death of his mistress. Such smart, adult-targeted fare should pay dividends for the right distrib.
THR: The threat of a Madoff-like collapse adds timeliness and tension to Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage, a screw-turner about a man whose greed may have finally caught up to him. Familiar but not stale, and greatly helped by Richard Gere's fine-tuned performance, it has strong commercial potential.